By F. K. Bartels
15 December 2009
While many find there is much to worry over, with the economic situation, war, rising unemployment and the like; there is, however, no need of worry; for Advent signals the coming eternal joy that awaits those who love the Redeemer. Whatever bothersome issue is at hand, all will soon pass away as smoke on the wind; what seems so looming now is, in reality, but only an insignificant wisp of discomfort. The Christ Child is coming! In such an announcement, transmitted from the unfathomable light of heaven, we find the Hope of hopes, striking a fiery joy within the depths of our soul. Our Savior is near, beckoning us to that place of eternal peace and wonder he has prepared for those who love him. Quiet tranquility, unheard-of peace, blinding joy: these are the wondrous gifts that await those who serve God. Thus Advent is a time of great hope and expectation. Advent shouts: “Fear not, my child, for My Son comes to you!”
What beauty we have before us, what life is on our horizon: heaven, eternal peace, immortality. And it is our God whose loving hands created these things for us! The Father: the Creator; the Son: the Savior; the Holy Spirit: the Sanctifier whose love courses throughout the human race. The graces our holy and glorious God has rained upon mankind are beyond words.
Advent, too, draws our attention toward our Lord’s Mother: Mary, the Mother of God. For we cannot know Christ to the extent to which we are called without knowing his Mother; we cannot be fully Christian apart from the ever-Virgin. As the Blessed Mother brought the Son of God into the world, so too she raises her loving hands each Advent, directing mankind toward her Son, saying again, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5). If we desire to open our hearts to the Son of God, it is necessary that we open our arms to his Mother, asking that she obtain for us the graces of knowing her Son more fully. The meaning of Advent is reflected in the depths of the Blessed Mother’s heart. Mary is a most perfect example of hope.
Further, during Advent we not only celebrate Christ’s “coming” but his presence in the here and now. The Beloved beckons us into his arms this very moment that he may draw us into himself, making of us his special little ones. God wishes to speak to us; the Holy Spirit desires to embrace us, transform us, and make as anew in holiness. God is here, waiting patiently, infinitely more present than the very air we breathe. The Father whispers: “Come my child; come home.” Therefore Advent marks a special and significant time of joy; it initiates an interior radiance that cannot be quenched; it ignites a love stronger than death; for we are all the nearer to that day when we shall live in eternal peace with our King.
If we love the Beloved we gaze upon him: he gets our attention, we love who he is, we love his Person, and we love all that he has done for us. If we sit in front of someone we love, for example, we face him; we are intent on what he says and does, what he is about; we do not ignore or reject any aspect of who he is. If we are to unite ourselves to Christ, to this Love of loves to the fullest extent possible, allowing for the hope of Advent to enter fully into our soul, it is necessary that we hold a fervent love for all of who Jesus is, for all that he has done. Nothing our Lord has willed is insignificant or unimportant. Therefore if we love Christ, justice demands that we too love his Bride, the Catholic Church he founded twenty centuries ago (cf. Mt. 16:17-19).
Jesus founded his Church as the sacrament of salvation in order that future generations would know of his divine plan in the fullness of truth, receive the sacraments of life he himself instituted, and be guided with sureness toward their eternal home. That Christ’s Bride should never be overlooked or downplayed is true, for he gave himself to her. Advent calls us toward Christ’s presence in his Church, where we unite ourselves with his presence as members of his Mystical Body.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church professes that the “Church is holy: the Most Holy God is her author; Christ, her bridegroom, gave himself up to make her holy; the Spirit of holiness gives her life” (CCC # 867). “The Church is the spotless bride of the spotless Lamb.” Christ has joined the Church “with himself in an everlasting covenant and never stops caring for her as for his own body” (cf. CCC # 796).
It is in giving ourselves in obedience to Christ’s Bride, the sacrament of salvation, that we attain to all that Christ has planned for us. If we desire to experience Advent to its fullest, it is the Church who points the way to such an experience.
The Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, tells us that “Lifted above the earth, Christ drew all things to himself. Rising from the dead, he sent his life-giving Spirit upon his disciples, and through the Spirit established his Body, which is the Church, as the universal sacrament of salvation. Seated at the right hand of the Father, he works unceasingly in the world, to draw men into the Church and through it to join them more closely to himself, nourishing them with his own body and blood, and so making them share in his life of glory” (LG 48).
On the Third Sunday of Advent, Pope Benedict spoke of “The Mother Church” at his Angelus address, in which he explained that “she accompanies us towards the holy feast of Christmas, [and] helps us rediscover the meaning and the delight of Christian joy, so different from that of the world.”
The Church accompanies us on our spiritual journey as a kind and nourishing Mother whose concern is constantly directed toward the salvation of her children. Her eyes are ever-watchful; her voice is ever-guiding. It is in the Church that the full meaning of human existence is taught; it is in the Church that the words of truth are sounded; it is in the Church that the sacraments of life are received; and, a glorious gift beyond what man could ever contemplate, it is in our Mother Church that Catholics receive the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. At the Eucharistic table, we receive the glorious sacrament of sacraments: Christ himself.
On receiving Eucharist we are filled with Christ, the Light of lights radiates through our body and soul, spiritually nourishing us with his divine flesh and blood. What wonders God has given us. Let us be drawn to the Eucharist this Advent. Let us come to the Church that she may nourish us with Christ’s body and blood, and so make us share in his life of glory.
Advent spurs us into prayer, repentance, and conversion that we may truly await our Lord with pure hearts and experience the inner joy which he has planned for us. As we look to the Christ Child we are reminded of salvation, its importance, and the need to work out our own salvation. As we set about such work this Advent, already strengthened by the grace of our Savior, we are assured that “the end of the ages is already with us. The renewal of the world has been established, and cannot be revoked. In our era it is in a true sense anticipated: the Church on earth is already sealed by genuine, if imperfect, holiness.” (LG 48).
Let us give ourselves to God and his Church; let us be truly Christian; let us live the Catholic life always and everywhere that, this Advent, we may embrace Christ’s coming with a lively faith, reignited by the knowledge that our life-giving God is present. We are never alone.
This Advent, be filled with hope and security, realizing that “The Lord, your God, carried you, as a man carries his child, all along your journey” (Deuteronomy 1:31).
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Photo Credit: photo of candles by Alex Harden, flickr.com/photos/aharden/332323561. Photo modified for Joy In Truth.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.