On Sunday, December 2nd next, we begin our annual observance of the Season of Advent. During the Season of Advent, the Church draws our attention to the most fundamental reality of our life: eternal salvation in Jesus Christ. Advent draws our minds and hearts to the truth that God the Son has been made man, has taken our human nature, in order: 1) to save us from our sins and their fruit, eternal death; and 2)to win for us the inheritance of true sons and daughters of God, that is, the inheritance of eternal life.
The all-glorious reality which captures our attention and inspires our wonder during the Season of Advent is the coming of Jesus Christ, God the Son Incarnate, into the world. The reality is greater than we can ever fully comprehend. Our annual observance of Advent keeps our eyes fixed on the truth which is fundamental to our everyday life in Christ, the truth that God the Son has come into the world and remains with us always in the Church, above all, in the Sacraments.
If you wish some spiritual reading for the Season of Advent, I commend to you two books of Pope Benedict XVI: God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life (Ignatius Press, 2003), and The Blessing of Christmas (Ignatius Press, 2007); and two books of the lay theologian John Saward: Redeemer in the Womb (Ignatius Press, 1993), and Cradle of Redeeming Love: The Theology of the Christmas Mystery (Ignatius Press, 2002).
A Eucharistic Season
Advent is, first of all, a Eucharistic season. When we recall, with wonder, Christ's coming into the world by His birth of Mary at Bethlehem, our hearts understand immediately the oneness of the manger, in which the Blessed Virgin Mary placed her Infant Son to rest, with the altar upon which our Lord comes down to be with us and the tabernacle in which he remains with us always. The glorious Body and Blood of Christ which we receive in Holy Communion and adore in the Most Blessed Sacrament, first came into being in the womb of Mary and were first visible to the world in the manger at Bethlehem. Even as the neighborhood shepherds and kings from the various parts of the inhabited world came to worship the Infant Jesus at His Birth, so we, too, hasten to visit and adore our Lord Jesus, really present with us in the Most Blessed Sacrament. We should come before His Eucharistic Presence with the wonder of those who first beheld the Savior at His Birth.
The Advent Season is a special time for us to grow in faith in the Real Presence of Christ and, thereby, in faith in the Church which is His Mystical Body. How often we take for granted or, worse yet, neglect and ignore the manifold ways in which Christ Who was born in time at Christmas remains with us in the Church. May Advent be a time for us to be with our Lord Jesus through Eucharistic adoration and visits to Him in the tabernacle; through meeting Him regularly in the Sacrament of Penance, in which He receives the confession of our sins and absolves us; through the study of His Word given to us in the Holy Scriptures and the Magisterium; and through His presence with us in His "least brethren," the hungry and those in need of the basic requirements of life, the lonely and the imprisoned (cf. Mt 25:31-46).
The Season of Our Destiny
Advent is clearly also a time in which we grow in appreciation of our true destiny, the inheritance which is ours in Christ Who, by His Coming, has made us His true brothers and sisters. God the Son has loved us so much that He wishes to share with us the eternal glory, joy and peace which are always His with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. As we contemplate the Coming of Christ at Christmas and His abiding coming to us in the Church, above all, in the Holy Eucharist, we are filled with wonder at the great dignity which is ours, namely, to be truly, in Christ, sons and daughters of God, and, therefore, to share in Christ's destiny, eternal glory in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Advent Season brings us strong grace to view everything in our lives under the aspect of our final destiny, eternal life, that is, sub specie aeternitatis. With what greater care we approach even the simplest matters of our daily living, when we recognize that everything in our lives is meant to prepare us to welcome Christ at His Final Coming, His return to us in glory on the Last Day. With what greater wonder we will look upon the world, of which we are the stewards, when we are looking forward to its final transformation into "a new heaven and a new earth," at the end of time (Rev 21:1).
If we have been tempted to discouragement or to doubt our own dignity, the Advent Season opens our eyes to see ourselves as we truly are. Yes, we are sinners and make mistakes, even big mistakes, in our lives but, through it all, God never ceases to look upon us with the immense love with which He always looks upon His only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. If we have betrayed our destiny, as surely we sometimes have done, God has never ceased to love us and to draw us to Himself and to our final destiny which is eternal life with Him. May Advent open our eyes to see how much God loves us and, therefore, with what humility and confidence we should meet the challenges of our daily life in Christ.
So often, I am filled with deepest gratitude for the ways in which our Lord instructs our minds and captures our hearts throughout the days of our life. Our life in the Church is truly life in Christ, that is, hearing Christ's call and following Him along the daily path which brings us home to Heaven. Through the observance of Advent, we recognize more clearly Christ's presence in our midst and His calling us to follow Him, to be one with Him.
Our Lord gives us the Season of Advent to open our eyes anew to His Coming at Christmas, His Coming in the Church, and His Coming on the Last Day. He gives us the Season of Advent to inspire and strengthen our hearts to welcome Him with love and to remain in His company always, until we are perfectly with Him forever in Heaven.
May the Season of Advent be strong in grace for you, filling you with wonder and gratitude before the mystery of God's unceasing and immeasurably great love of you in Jesus Christ.