Monday, 3 December 2007


Advent. Okay, everybody knows it is a season that is sidelined in the polular consciousness. We get homily after homily about its meaning being lost in the frenzied, commercial run-up to Christmas. But what is the meaning of Advent? Most Catholics (including myself until recently) see it vaguely as a time of preparation and restraint, awaiting the Birth of Christ our Saviour at Christmas. Fr. Tim Finigan calls it an extended penitential season, though according to our liturgy classes it is not as charcteristically penitential as Advent - we still have the Alleluia in Advent, for example.

But more than that, Advent is a season that looks both backwards and forwards; backwards to the First Coming of Christ, and forwards to His Second Coming. That is why the Mass readings of the first few weeks of Advent reflect on Jesus as Judge: 'He will wield authority over the nations and adjudicate between many peoples.' The Gospels are not the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, but the accounts from Jesus about the end times: 'you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.' Coupled with this are the miraculous works of mercy Jesus performs, healing the lame and crippled, feeding the hungry, giving sight to the blind. On the Last Day Jesus will come as merciful judge, healing those who sought his forgiveness and acknowledged his lordship in their own lives, and standing as the Eternal Truth before all those who sought to evade the truth while they lived. This might sound scary, but it is meant to help us recall our duty to love and serve the Lord as he asks of us, and to help us reflect how we are fulfilling that duty at this moment in time: 'stand ready.'

I haven't had a chance to read Pope Benedict's new encyclical yet, but glancing through it he seems to emphasise that we will never get by on mere fear: 'Hiding through a spirit of fear leads to "destruction"' (Spes Salvi, 9). Rather, what keeps us going is hope, of whom 'God is the foundation' (SS, 31). In this season we are called particularly to hope for our fulfilment in God when we come before Him, the One who is the justification of all our daily trials. In looking forward to the end times, we are better able to appreciate the Incarnation as the salvific event in which our hope was given shape: when all seemed lost, God became man to bring man back to God.

I've written more than I set out to, but I wanted to instil something of the new appreciation I have found in Advent, as a season that prepares for the past through a remembrance of the future! May our Advents be abundantly blessed.