Beware That Your Hearts Do Not Become Drowsy

These are Jesus’ words in the Gospel for today. We are all very busy in this season, but responsible people make time for the things that are important. And this is important.

We live between the First Coming of Christ to redeem the world and the Second Coming of Christ to judge the world and to give those who are worthy “the prize of eternal redemption.” (Prayer over the Offerings) Advent is the time to grasp this mystery anew so that we may “resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.” (Collect)

When True Religion is a clothing brand and Philosophy is a range of cosmetics, we know that we have to recover the meanings of words. Advent is a good time to start doing that.

In the Psalm at Mass today, we sing – so we own these words – “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.” We sing this prayer in the worshipping community of the Church. This is where the truth is spoken. This is where we can learn what the truth is and how to apply it to daily life.

About half of the Catholics in the United States do not believe the Church on major matters. Why this is so is a topic for another day.

But undistracted by the obsessive correcting that passes for public conversation we can affirm that: “The friendship of the Lord is with those who fear him, and his covenant, for their instruction.” (Psalm) Note – again – the confrontation with the truth that happens in the Church community.

Just as other words have had their transcendence removed, so very definitely has the word church. Advent is a good season so recover what the Church means by “church.”

Far from being an arbitrary gathering to appeal to a distant God, Vatican II said: “the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race.”

If our particular community is not such a sign then perhaps we had better roll up our sleeves and get cracking. Union with God happens in the Catholic Church and it will be a sign of that union the more we work on all facets of Church community life.

The Solemn Blessing today asks God that “as we run the race of this present life, may he make you firm in faith, joyful in hope and active in charity.” These are the virtues that grow as we relate to the others in the pews and in our neighborhoods. God is not distant but is working in our voices and our hands. Or not!

          Angel of the Last Judgment by Wassily Kandinsky (1911)

Advent is a time to reflect and pray – strange then how it becomes the busiest time of the year. First words lose their transcendent meaning now time does too.

We are facing toward the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord and so some prayer and reflection and fence mending is in order. Reading can help us do this.

The Breviary is particularly rich at this time of the year.

There is Pope Benedict’s latest book.

And to add a dimension that gets lost too easily, there is Robert Royal’s book, The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century.

I mention this last work because of the strong streak of sugary sentimentalism that substitutes for religion at this time. We believe, however, that God came into the world in Jesus Christ to confront evil.

This book presents the history that explains why John Paul II thought that the twentieth century was indeed the century of the martyrs – and so much for the myth of human progress except in the most sterile technological sense.

There is a robust public character to Catholicism. This is a Catholicism that is not nominal but an everyday mark of my and your public presence. This is a Catholicism that is not reduced to going to Mass on Sunday as important as that is.

Today in the Second Reading Paul prays “so as to strengthen your hearts.” He also says: “you should conduct yourselves to please God and as you are conducting yourselves [may] you do so even more.”

Then finally there is once again the mention of instruction: “you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” He is speaking of the community working as it ought, as the gathering drawn together by the Spirit of God so as to hear the Word of God.

Only then can the community offer true worship: “Accept, we pray, O Lord, these offerings we make.” (Prayer over the Offerings) This prayer is made after the Liturgy of the Word, the time of hearing the Word of God and instruction. Then “the Lord will bestow his bounty and our earth yield its increase.” (Communion Antiphon)

Blessed Advent!