Friday Week III, Office of the Readings

The first part of psalm 69 that is read in today during the Friday Week III of the Office of the Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours (using the Christian Prayer breviary) really jumped out at me today during my prayer. I would like to share the psalm extract with you here as well as some Lenten flavoured reflections.

Antiphon: I am worn out with crying, with longing for my God.

They offered me a mixture of wine and gall (Matthew 27:34)

Save me, O God,
for the waters have risen to my neck.

I have sunk into the mud of the deep
and there is no foothold.
I have entered the waters of the deep
and the waves overwhelm me.

I am wearied with all my crying,
my throat is parched.
My eyes are wasted away
from looking for my God.

More numerous than the hairs on my head
are those who hate me without cause.
Those who attack me with lies
are too much for my strength.

How can I restore
what I have never stolen?
O God, you know my sinful folly;
my sins you can see.

Let those who hope in your not be put to shame
through me, Lord of hosts;
let not those who seek you be dismayed
through me, God of Israel.

It is for you that I suffer taunts,
that shame covers my face,
that I have become a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my own mother’s sons.
I burn with zeal for your house
and taunts against you fall on me.

When I afflict my soul with fasting
they make it a taunt against me.
When I put on sackcloth in mourning
then they make a byword,
the gossip of men at the gates,
the subject of drunkards’ songs.

What an amazing psalm to read in the middle of the Lenten season! What an insightful and powerful Spirit guided the hand that ordered the Hours in such a way.

Part of my Lenten obligation for this season was a commitment to begin praying the Liturgy of the Hours more completely and in order to do that I reasoned that it was about time to get the prayers off of my phone and into my hands in physical book form. Last week, my Christian Prayer book came in and since that time I have been that busy Catholic with book tabs and prayer cards marking the various points of prayer through out the day. Having the large book and making a real attempt to pray the Hours entirely means that I have to lug the thing around with me wherever I go– including work. Right now the book sits on my desk with me and I have had some people ask about it. A few times I’ve walked around my work with it in my arms (usually headed toward a quiet spot to pray a particular hour) and I’ve heard some sneering. A big thick red book with gilded pages, coloured cloth book tabs and gold lettered “CHRISTIAN PRAYER” in the front, it becomes pretty obvious that I am carrying some sort of religious book around. The prayers themselves have caused me to “burn for zeal for [God’s] house” as we say in the psalm but they have also caused “taunts against [God] to fall on me.” This psalm speaks to me on such a deep level, it actually gave me a little shiver after I read it this morning.

Reflecting on the Way of the Cross this Lent (which is something I try and do each Wednesday after Low Mass in the evening), Jesus calls us to take up the cross and pick up the yoke. He assures us that “my burden is light” but the devil is literally in the details here, because the Evil One is the reason Christ has to remind us that the burden is light. Satan is always there to make things far worse, or rather seem far worse than they really are. But this psalm put that reluctance and that struggle into context and by context I mean it puts it right at the feet of Christ Himself. This is more than just a poem complaining about life, this is a person reaching up toward the Heavens and calling out to God, placing their burden and their own struggle at the feet of God. What a powerful and moving sentiment. What a perfect image for the middle of Lent when our obligations and our own temptations are beginning to mount.

During this Lenten season there is no doubt in my mind that when you fast you will be taunted. When you wear sackcloth and mourn and deny yourself certain pleasures in the face of those who take no issue indulging during the Lent season, you will be taunted and call out. You will be made to feel small and worthless and made to feel as if the waters are indeed rising all around you. Your throat will become red and raw from crying out to God but this is what we are meant to do, this is how we deal with struggle in our faith. We lift up, we reach up and we lay our struggles at the feet of the Lord.

I feel that it is appropriate to end this reflection with the prayer from Morning Prayer (Friday, Third Week of Lent), which also the prayer I used today to close out the Office of the Readings.

Merciful Father,
fill our hearts with your love
and keep us faithful to the gospel of Christ.
Give us the grace to rise above our human weakness.
Grant this thought our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Christ in Social Media and Current Affairs

The world is a complex and a complicated place. There is a lot going on whether we are talking about the local level, around your community, the state/provincial level, the federal or national level and right up to the international community. In our modern age, we seem to be bombarded with current events that are happening all around the world. The 24 hour/7 days a week news cycle and the instantaneous nature of the internet have collided to bring every day people reams of information and data about the world around them; not just what is happening close to home, but what is happening literally on the other side of the world. This is both a blessing and a burden in disguise. Never before in the history of our humanity have we have such readily access to such a vast and articulated amount of information. Never before has the entire human race been so connected, so close. And yet, it seems, never before have we felt so far from one another, so isolated in our own little worlds and ideologies.

Social media plays a huge role in how we see the world– certainly a larger role that I think most Christians realize. In a world where information is boundless and accessible, we have built systems that serve to filter what we see and hear and this in turn creates pockets of intense ideology and thought often with little or no dissenting opinions or ideas among the ranks of followers and collaborators. Take Twitter for example. Users are able to curate their own list of followers, they can block (and are encouraged to block) users which opinions or ideas that they do not agree– opinion and ideas that are fleshed out in 280 character snippets, leaving much to the imagination in most cases. If you are a Marxist, chances are your followers and people you follow lean along the same flavour of the political spectrum and chances are you are validated over and over by fellow Marxists, content in your own comfortable worldview without ever feeling challenged in your opinions and formulations on the activities of the world. This is not necessarily a good thing and from a Christian perspective I would like to unpack that issue a little here.

Anyone can create a social media account and begin spreading their thoughts and opinions on the internet. This is a good thing. It is wonderful to see such a broad range of opinions and diversity of those participating in the discussions. But what also comes from this is the fact that consumers of user generated content are left holding the bag to determine what is false, true and actually worth exploring more. Tweets generally do not contain enough information to dive deep into issues and explore all sides of a coin, generally they are short, snappy statements that capture a sentiment related to a larger concept or idea that is shadowed in the Tweet. This rapidly makes the fact that anyone can create an account a bad thing. Often the most retweeted and popular remarks on Twitter are not from so-called subject matter experts, but from clever users who are able to capture the perfect balance between wit and common sense in a 280 character Tweet that is relatable to the broadest group of people.

So what can Christ teach us about social media? Perhaps it seems a little silly to ask that question. Literally no one in the Bible had a Twitter or Facebook account. Jesus did not take selfies during His Sermon on the Mount to share on his Instagram account. Saint Peter didn’t create the hashtag #RealMessiah to share the Good News with his friends and family. And #HeIsRisen certainly was not trending in the aftermath of the Resurrection. But Christ does have a lot to teach us about the use of social media in our lives and the formation of our opinions on current affairs around the world. For the average Westerner, the message from Christ regarding these things may be a little hard to swallow, because in this age of social media and the internet, we’ve come to believe that as humans we are all little gods who are entitled to opinions and ideas based on the sheer fact that we are capable of cooking them up in our brains.

The first, and obvious, lesson that Christ teaches us about our use of social media as Christians is that we ought to comport ourselves online in a manner that does not permit us to surrender the fundamental aspects of our faith. Namely, our Tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook likes and Snapchats should be aimed at the glorification of the Lord. The anonymous nature of being online does not change the fact that we are held to account for our actions individually, and as much as Twitter doesn’t know who you are when you Tweet, God does. And regardless of the username and the creativity of the fake name you’ve used, God knows everything that you have said and done online. Everything. Even the “in cognitio” feature of Google Chrome cannot withstand the all seeing eye of God. The same rules of how we ought to act among real people in the world apply to how we act around virtual people in the online social media universe. So ask yourself, does your online presence bring glory and honour to God and to His Son Jesus Christ? Do you allow the Holy Spirit to guide your online footprint, or do you hide behind a false impression of anonymity and become a little less Christian when sitting behind the keyboard? If that answer is a yes, you need to rethink your use of social media and perhaps consider this warning from Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:

And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30)

The second lesson that Christ teaches us about social media is about the content of what we share and the opinions that we are forming while we use social media. Especially for those of us who are maybe a little more political when we are online with our social media accounts. A concept that I have been fleshing out for a long time in my head, but have been unable to fully grasp, is the idea that Christ was killed by real geo-politics that were alive and well at the time of His ministry in Jerusalem. You had a Roman governor who was already in hot water with the emperor of Rome for having some issues holding down dissent within the region. No doubt, Pilate was not a fan of his tenure in the Middle East and we know that historically the man was a careerist who most likely wanted nothing more than to end his time in the Holy City without issue so that he could move on to bigger and better things in Rome. On the flip side we have the leaders within the Temple who represent a segment of Jewish society that are affluent and are willing to work with their Roman overlords in order to keep the peace and maintain their own power over the Jewish people in the region. It was the mutual intersection of the Jesus-problem for these two worlds that the cross literally comes to bear upon the world. It would have been difficult for Jewish leaders to seek the crucifixion of Christ from the Romans had the Romans not already been troubled by any sort of dissent during the largest religious festival of the year at the time. Equally, it would have been hard for the Romans to assert their authority in the punishment and eventual killing of Christ had the Jewish authorities in power at the time in that region not wanted to work with the Roman leaders in order maintain the status quo. The death of Jesus in Jerusalem can easily be explained from a historical perspective using a cursory understanding of politics and specifically geo-politics that was present at the time of Christ. But what does that say about politics in general? I think it is a lesson of what happens when the wishes and desires of mankind (which are the driving force of all politics) do not include Christ. When we remove Christ from our political lives, we contribute to His death on the cross– and to add injury to insult, often under the guise of a well-intentioned policy or idea. Because no one would deny that keeping the peace during a large religious festival is a bad thing– unless in that process you murder the Son of God.

How often do we remove Christ from our politics? In the Western world, I would wager that for most of us it happens all of the time. Indeed, the vague concept of separation of Church and State has seemed to manifest itself into a public policy process that is completely void of Christ and worse void of almost any sort of Christian inspiration or basis. Given what we unpacked earlier, this is a dangerous road to be heading down. Separating the Church and the State when it comes to having an official state religion or having civil leaders who are interchangeable with religious leaders is one thing (and something that is good and Christian actually), but separating the State from the Church when it comes to how we individually formulate our ideas and opinions on matters of current affairs is dangerous and entirely unChristian. And I go back to the sentiment that I expressed earlier in this post; never before have we had access to so much information, so many events to form opinions and ideas over. For the Christian who has removed Christ from that opinion formulating process, it can all seem very confusing and overwhelming. Which is exactly why we need Christ in our lives and in the formation of our political understanding of the world. For example, perhaps you are confused over the migrant crisis and the issue of immigration to help those around the world who are poor and in need. Perhaps you are having trouble finding a balance between welcoming these people in need and the security of your own country. And yet, Christ is clear on all fronts regarding this issue. We are to help the poor. And if our brother strikes us, we are to turn the other cheek. Very clear. A funny thing happens when we bring Christ in our political realities, things start to fall in place and the path becomes very clearly illuminated. Albeit, no easier to walk and actually put into action (which is I wager the hang up for most people). The bottom line is that Christ teaches us that in our use of social media and specifically when formulating/sharing our opinions we must include Him, otherwise we are lost and confused without a compass to guide us through these current affairs.

Lent is the perfect time to reflect on how we are using social media as Christians and how we are formulating our opinions and ideas about the world around us. Do we cut Christ out of the equation? Do we find that we are lost and confused when it comes to working how we think and feel about a particular issue of the day? Do we profess to be Christians in the pews but rapidly lose that sentiment when we are typing on our phones in the church parking lot? Perhaps it is time to invite Christ into our political lives. Perhaps it is time to ensure our social media accounts and online presence is reflective of the Christian nature of our real lives. We also focus on fasting from certain foods during Lent, and this is an old tradition. But I propose an idea, perhaps we can start to consider fasting from social media and the internet. Just as food nourishes our body and can be bad for us if we eat bad food, so too does social media nourish our brains and souls and can be bad for us if we consume bad social media. Perhaps this Lent, consider fasting from social media and the internet. You might be surprised what starts to happen with your relationship with Jesus.

God of power and might, wisdom and justice,
through you authority is rightly administered,
laws are enacted, and judgment is decreed.
Assist with your spirit of counsel and fortitude
the  government leaders around the whole world.
May they always seek
the ways of righteousness, justice and mercy.
Grant that they may be enabled by your powerful protection
to lead our country with honesty and integrity.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Ash Wednesday 2018

This year, Ash Wednesday falls on the Feast of Saint Valentine (otherwise known as Valentine’s Day). Christopher Hale is quoted on Millennial in a post on this very same subject as linking Valentine’s Day with Ash Wednesday as a reminder of the true nature of love. I would like to expand on that sentiment a little here.

Saint Paul provides the most clear understanding of love in his letter to the Corinthians. He explains that love is more than just words, love is an action. Indeed, as Hale points out, Paul goes so far as to say that love spoken without action is as worthless as a “clashing cymbal,” while a love that’s performed in deed “always perseveres.”

Ash Wednesday opens up the season of Lent. For forty days, Christians from all around the entire world will mimic the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert in the lead up to His own Divine Ministry, which was a further mimic of the forty years that the Jewish people– God’s chosen– spent in exile. Ash Wednesday reaches back in time to the very foundations of our faith, when the Jewish faith began to crystalize into something substantive for the world to consume and understand. The forty years of exile for the Jewish people was a time of great strife and unknown but it was also a time when some of the most beautiful and articulate aspects of the faith were explored, written down and shared among the people. It was indeed while in exile that the Jewish people found their true identity and place in the temporal world. The same can be said of Jesus during his days alone in the desert. Christ is tempted by Satan and rejects all of the Evil One’s presentations because He has a Ministry and a purpose, He has a place in this temporal world. He finds that place during his forty days in the desert and that understanding is manifested in his public ministry which follows. Just as Judaism traces its roots to the exile, Christianity can trace its roots to the temptations of Christ is the desert– that period of feeling lost, alone and in exile from the world where we don’t understand how we fit in.

To love is to sacrifice the immediate “now” for the long term “then”. Love that is served up immediately, in some impulsive manner, is not love, it is lust or at best infatuation. Real love demands an outlook toward the future, toward what is next and what is to be. For this reason, Christian weddings are celebrations about the present (two people declaring their love for one another), as it is a celebration about the future (promises of raising Christian children and growing old together). Love and sacrifice are inseparably linked and we can see the impact of a world that values one aspect over the other when we see how many failed marriages and miserable people there are in unhealthy relationships. Sacrifice demands equal respect for the future as well as the present. You cannot justify giving up something today for the betterment of tomorrow, if you have no concept, no idea of what tomorrow is, in fact it would be illogical to give up anything beneficial today if you cannot articulate an understanding of tomorrow.

Ash Wednesday is the first day when we take the time to put ourselves in our own exiles from the world, in our own deserts to be lost, lonely and confused. We do this because we sacrifice ourselves in order to be prepared and be ready for our own ministries to come. We remove ourselves from this world in order that we may more accurately find our own place within it. And we do all of this out of a spirit of love that is propped up by sacrifice and penitential acts.

Today is not about wearing a symbol of our faith proudly on our foreheads (as some secular minded people might have us believe). Today is about reminding ourselves that we are dust– we are from this world and into this world we will die again. We make this first act to remove ourselves from this world because of the immediate contrast to the message that Christ brings us. We are not meant for this world as a final destination, but we are here now and we are part of it now. We must detach ourselves in order to find our place within it– in order to craft our ministry and enter back with the confidence of a saint.

O almighty and eternal God, who hast dominion over both the living and the dead, and hast mercy on all whom Thou foreknowest shall be Thine by faith and good works: we humbly beseech Thee that all for whom we have resolved to make supplication whether the present world still holds them in the flesh or the world to come has already received them out of the body, may, through the intercession of all Thy saints, obtain of Thy goodness and clemency pardon for all their sins. Amen.

Christmas Eve-Eve

When I was younger and the lead up to Christmas had much more anticipation surrounding Santa Claus and presents, my brother and I would call the day before Christmas Eve, Christmas Eve-Eve. It was a childish joke that played on linking the night before Christmas (when we would have a big family party at the house and exchange gifts with our cousins) with the actual day of Christmas in an effort to shorten the countdown to the entire affair. As I grew older and left the house, Christmas Eve-Eve fell out of my lexicon and became a day to finish up last minute gift buying and preparations for the Christmas season. And now that I am an adult, I am enjoying reflecting back on how Christmas Eve-Eve came to be and how it still exists as a thing within my life, including my spiritual life.

Advent is all about preparation. “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). These words are giving true meaning when John the Baptist speaks out in John’s Gospel, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord…” (John 1:23). In the catholic tradition, we light a set of four candles one by one each Sunday as we count down the remaining days of preparation in anticipation for the feast which celebrations the Incarnation and birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We read passages such as those from John’s Gospel that speak of preparation from John the Baptist and readings from the prophet Isaiah who spoke clearly of the coming of Christ. We also look at letters from Paul which speak of the second coming of Jesus and our requirement to always be ready and on guard because “of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matthew 24:36). We reflect on the three aspects of the Incarnation of Christ; in the flesh as a child, in body and blood in the Eucharist and in glory at the Second Coming.

Christmas Eve-Eve started for me as a child trying to close the gap in the wait between the start of Advent and Christmas day itself. It was a childlike view of Christmas as a time to exchange gifts with my cousins and spent the night eating and playing around the house with them and the whole family. It meant no school for a chunk of time and spending time outside in the snow. I had very little responsibilities because I was a child and as a result the wait and preparation held little or no meaning. Today, as an adult, I do have responsibilities and there are certainly a long list of temporal duties around Christmas that add physical weight and meaning to the Advent preparation. This sort of preparation can add to stresses and anxieties that arise from the holidays, like those Anna Dimmel writes about here in A remedy for what we don’t like about Christmas. But we cannot forget, as she writes, we can find Christ and spiritual meaning in these stresses and anxieties as well. And this year in 2017 is especially unique because the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve will fall on the same day, with services occurring in the morning and late evening with two very different meanings. Linda Ryan writes about this in her post A Short Ending to Advent.

On Christmas Eve-Eve we all stand on the threshold of the whirlwind that becomes the next few days. In the temporal world we will visit with friends and family, eat a tremendous amount of food, keep warm, and expend a lot of energy being social. In the spiritual realm, hopefully a lot of us will find time to go to Church and listen to the Word of God and celebration His Incarnation and birth among us here as fully human and fully God. Indeed there is a longing to feed the unbounding joy that is within each and every one of us who acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, and joining with fellow Christians and celebrating that event is an expression of that joy and thanksgiving.

The Incarnation

It is fitting that in this final week (yes it is still the Third Week of Advent, but Christmas day comes very shortly after the Fourth Sunday of Advent this year) we reflect on the doctrine of the Incarnation and its meaning within Christianity and specifically the catholic church.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

This is the foundational line from the Gospels that articulate in a sort of mystic way the Incarnation of Jesus as both God and child. There is a story of the birth of Jesus in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew (and virtually no mention of the story in the Gospel of Mark) but I think that this line from John is perfect. It is simple and yet terribly complex; which is a spot on summation of a foundational event in Christianity. Indeed, what separates Christianity from every world religion is found within the Incarnation; a God who comes down and becomes fully human while remaining fully God.

In the original Greek versions of the Gospel, John writes ‘the Word’ as Logos, which is a very important idea worth exploring some more as we speak of the Incarnation. The Logos was almost purely a Greek concept that was imported into various sects within worlds that were influenced by the Greeks (at that time the Greeks were like the United States when it came to culture and arts). It can literally be translated into English as the Word, which works well because such a label is illusive and broad, just the same as that of the Logos. The early catholic church was without question influenced by Greek culture and society. One of its biggest salesmen was Paul who was a hellenistic Jew that spoke and wrote in Greek. And rounding the early first century within the early church we see leaders like Justin Martyr and Cyril of Alexandria link the Logos to that of the Greek understanding of the concept; a seed-bearing Logos that would spread ideas of itself around humanity and then having that Logo dwell in humanity in the form of Jesus the man and Christ the Lord. Cyril of Alexandria himself would go further and add that the coming of Jesus through the Incarnation occurred in order that the Logos may be united to defiled human flesh thus making all humanity capable of sharing in His divinity. It is also interesting to note how early church fathers placed a clear distinction on Jesus as the Messiah (a purely Jewish concept) and Jesus as the Christ (a more hellenized concept). Despite the word itself being purely of Greek origins, it is likely that many gentile Greeks who would have been preached to about Jesus Christ would have assumed it was a familia nom as opposed to a title that bequeathed universal glory. But it was an intentional development by the church fathers which was undoubtably influenced by the Holy Spirit.

Saint Augustine writes that, “He whom the world could not contain was contained in a mother’s womb,” when remarking about the Incarnation. C.S. Lewis writes in a Grief Observed that “…the Incarnation leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins.” I am rather fond of this aspect of the Incarnation. It is indeed a concept that could not have been reasonably conceived by humans. It is impossible that anyone would have proposed and organized an entire religion around the idea of a God who becomes the nasty and brutishness of their creation. It separates Christians from every other religion in the world. Jesus had spit like we have spit. The coming of the Word in the form of flesh gives us a focal point in the material world in which all of humanity (and creation for that matter) is limited to. It is as if God is one cloth hanging against a separate cloth and creation is another hanging against it. They are separated at first, but are now united by the needle and thread that is Jesus Christ, made of the same substance of the Father and of the Father in every way, the Word becomes flesh and becomes the mediated between God and man forever. An entire focal point for all of creation. He breathed as we breathe (and probably had bad breath from time to time). He bled like we bleed. And yet He was totally God. There were no changes made to the Word when it became flesh, it remained fully and completely the Word, in addition to being full and completely human. And we know that He was different because although He spit as we spit, His spit made the blind see. And although He breathed as we breathe, His breath brought dead men back to life. And although He bled as we bleed, His blood paid the ransom for all of humanity as a result of the Adam’s Fall. He was both fully human and fully man.

And what better sacrament to we have in the catholic church than that of the Holy Eucharist to articulate this concept for us. Every day the Incarnation is not just replayed or reenacted at the hands of the Priest, it literally happens again and again. Since it was instituted by the Word made flesh. The bread and wine brought to the altar become the body and blood of Jesus in the same was as the body and blood brought into Mary bore a child that was the power and glory of God. And just the same as the body of Christ tastes and feels like bread even after the miracle of transubstantiation takes place on the altar, the body of the Son of God was like that of a human. If I can digress a bit here, and be permitted to indulge in a silly analogy in order to better illustrate my point. Suppose one of the children who came rushing to Jesus licked His face or hand, indeed His face would have tasted salty as ours and His hands probably clammy and perhaps a little dirty as our at times do as well. The same is true of the bread and wine after it becomes the body and blood of Jesus. And yet the saltiness, clamminess and dirtiness of the flesh of Jesus certainly does not diminish His glory and the fact that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

In fact we can venture to say with certainty that there is no Eucharist without the Incarnation and vice versa. Not just for the obvious fact that the Incarnation was how the man of Jesus was conceived into this world, but because you cannot have the body and blood of Christ without the flesh and veins of a human being. For reasons we will never be able to comprehend (but in faith we hope some day will be revealed to us), we require the body and blood of Christ as Christians for spiritual and temporal nourishment as part of the physical Body of Christ here on earth. In order for this life giving substance to exist and to be present here, God needed to take the form of man and literally create the body and blood of Christ in order that it may be shared from generation to generation to nourish the entire Body of Christ while we labour and wait for His Second Coming. The Logos became flesh and blood so that we may share and nourish on it indefinitely until He returns in glory. What an amazing cyclical existence and surely one that contributes to the entire concept of Christianity and a truth “hanging together” as C.S. Lewis once remarked.

Much can be said about the Incarnation of our Lord. It is after all the defining characteristic of the whole of the Christian faith. Along with the Holy Eucharist, the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ, we can look upon the Incarnation as linked faithfully to the Eucharist. Together they represent the two stable and everlasting bookends that is the Christian faith.

1st Sunday of Advent

And so begins a new Liturgical Year and how fitting it is that in this first season we slow down and remember the coming of Christ “in flesh in Bethlehem, in our hearts daily and at the end of days in glory.” The beginning of the year within our cyclical readings and liturgical arrangement commences with a period of waiting and preparation. The year before having ended after a stretch in Ordinary Time, the whole Catholic Church is now waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ. Just as the world, just over 2000 years ago, hoe hummed along into a period where the Word would become flesh and dwell among it. Just as it hoe hums along as Christ is born daily in our hearts through our devotion and obedience of His commandments today. And just as it will hoe hum to the last second of it’s own existence in the face of the glory of it’s Creator.

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’ (Mark 13:33-37)

The beauty and mystery in understanding the season of Advent and the coming of Christ in a threefold manner is manifested in the relevance of what Jesus is saying to each point. When we focus Advent on the coming of Christ in flesh, we see how the Word was made flesh in this world while all it stood in ignorance of His coming. Focusing how Christ in our own lives daily, we remind ourself and heed the call to “stay awake.” And it is certainly clear in this passage that Christ is speaking of the end of days here. All three understandings of Advent which are concurrent and distinct are present in Christ’s words from the Gospel of Mark.

In the part of the passage just before the readings today, we are reminded of the events that are supposed to culminate and signal the end of times. During his sermon today, Father O’Brian touched on this sensitive subject, especially with how some have come to view or articulate what Christ calls the “elect.” Indeed, all baptized Christians, who serve His Bride the Catholic Church are the elect. And what is important to note is that those who serve the Lord and His Holy Catholic Church will be separated by God at the end of time. However, the focus of today is on what Christ says in the readings, and we can look at what Christ is saying here as a quick addendum to what He spoke about earlier (but not officially captured in today’s readings), when He spoke about the end of days. We must be careful, because although the end of days will come and Christ will be glorified before all of creation once and for all (after a period of terrible events on humankind and the whole world), we do not, cannot and will not know when it will happen. It is as if the owner has left and he has not told us when he will return. We must continue to do all of the things the owner wants and likes around the house, for at any time he could return from his journey away.

There are many times in the Gospels when Christ illuminates a concept from the Old Testament (and His own jewish upbringing and teachings) and then swiftly tacks on a newer concept that is related and yet radically different than the original thought. It is what makes His explanation that He comes not to condemn the law but to fulfill it even more powerful. In this instance, Jesus speaks of the end of time, which would not have been a foreign concept to the group of Jews with whom He is presumably speaking. Indeed, the Jewish faith is enriched with the concept of God’s glory manifesting itself in totality at the end of the time. And furthermore, speaks of great retribution for God chosen people (we could say the Jewish concept of the ‘elect’) which comes alongside the coming of glory of God. I would wager that many in the crowd Jesus was addressing would have been nodding their heads in agreement as He spoke of the wars with nations against nation and kingdoms against kingdoms. It was not a foreign concept that the end of times would unfold in such a manner. But then Jesus speaks of something different. He humbles the Jews by saying very clearly that no one will know when the day of reckoning and glory will come. In one instance, He goes so far as to say that not even the Son knows of when the Father will impose His will for the end of time on humanity and the whole world. This is new and this is radical. It means that we cannot put off our requirement as the elect to serve God and His Church, to be a constant reminder and presence in this world of Himself. We cannot say that this debt shall be repaid tomorrow. We cannot say that this fight shall be ended tomorrow. We cannot say I will make amends tomorrow. For there may indeed never be a tomorrow.

Advent is about waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ in the flesh at Christmas, in our hearts daily and in glory at the end of time. May we recommit ourselves to Christ this Advent as we all wait and prepare for the coming of Christ. We do so today with an understanding that the end of days may come at any time, and without any warning, and therefore as the elect we are all called to be ready now and prepared now. Stay awake.