We finished the liturgical year last Sunday with the Feast of Christ the King. Today we begin the new liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent and we will be guided through it with the help of St Luke the Evangelist.
Surprisingly we begin at the very end. On this First Sunday of Advent we hear how Jesus predicts the end-times, the Second Coming. He warns his disciples that they will not know in advance when that dreadful day will be. Although there will be signs in the sky and on the earth, actually that day will be sprung on us suddenly, as Jesus says, like a trap.
Our task is to live our lives in readiness, prepared always for that final day of days. We are advised by Christ to stay awake, to be alert so that we may stand in confidence before the Son of Man when he comes in glory.
Those who live sinful lives will have reason to fear when that day comes. Those who are caught up in selfishness, licentiousness, deceit and such things will be shaking in their shoes when that final day arrives. However, for a serious Christian the proper attitudes to adopt in preparation for that day are alertness and readiness and a spirit of repentance for our sins. The whole of our Christian lives ought to be one of preparedness, getting ourselves fit for that Last Day.
What this means is living our lives in a proper manner; it means keeping the commandments as best we can; it means cultivating in our lives the Christian values; it means turning to God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation whenever we have broken God’s laws. And besides these things it also means that we should take seriously our duty as Christian Evangelists, especially in relation to our own children. It is our sacred duty to hand on the faith to our children, to teach them to pray and to show them how to love God and our neighbour.
God does not want us to live our lives in fear and trembling or in dread of that final day. As Jesus says in the final line of our Gospel today, he wants us to ‘stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’ God wants us to live our lives in such a way that we will have no fear of an adverse judgement at the end of time. Living our lives in accordance with Christ’s teaching will fill us with inner strength and self-assurance. We will have become better people and therefore see ourselves in a positive light and feel good about ourselves. Following the Gospel will give us integrity and strength and we will discover that we have become more fulfilled human beings.
The Season of Advent is a time when we prepare for two comings. The first is the appearance in our world of Christ on the very first Christmas Day; we get ourselves ready to celebrate the anniversary of that great event in the life of the world. But while we are doing this, we are also preparing ourselves for that Last Day, the day of Christ’s second coming.
It is often like this in the liturgy, we frequently find ourselves doing two things at once and during Advent we do precisely this. On the one hand we look back in time two thousand years as we prepare to mark once again Christ’s birth in the stable of Bethlehem. And on the other hand, we look forwards to the end of time as we anticipate Christ’s second coming.
But in looking back and at the same time looking forward we are actually considering the same thing namely our salvation. Christ comes as our Saviour. That is literally what the name Jesus means: ‘one who saves.’ He enters our world with the sole purpose of saving us from our sins and he carries this out by the sacrifice of his life on the altar of the Cross.
The culmination of this saving work occurs on the Last Day when the whole of mankind experiences what we call the general judgement. Our own particular judgement occurs at the moment of our death but in the Church we also believe that there will be a general judgement which will take place at the end of time. We are taught that there will be a great gathering of the whole of humanity and Christ will appear to judge the nations. This will be the definitive and final conclusion to his great work of salvation.
Christ tells us how to get ready for Judgement Day. He says, ‘Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen.’ From this we see that prayer is the key, because it is through prayer that we come close to God. Prayer is an essential aspect of the life of any Christian. And I would go so far as to say that if we do not pray then we can hardly even call ourselves a Christian.
Neglect to pray and you will find that you are neglecting all your other Christian duties. We cannot love God unless we are close to him and the way to get close to him is principally through prayer and the celebration of the sacraments. Prayer while it certainly involves the reciting of particular prayers such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Act of Contrition cannot be left at that. True prayer is that inner dialogue which we have with God. True prayer is realising that God is listening to our every thought. True prayer involves us in talking to God throughout the day. True prayer involves us adopting a listening attitude as we attempt to discern God’s intention for us.
To summarise, we acknowledge that we need to get ourselves ready to face divine judgement. And we do this by shunning sin, by adopting the Christian values and by trying to live our lives as Jesus taught us. It further means that we need to grow close to God in prayer. We do this by deepening the intimacy between God and ourselves so much so that over a period of time we find ourselves talking and dialoguing with God all through the day.
Doing these things will make us grow in faith and love so when that great day dawns on us we will be confident and ready and unashamed to face the Lord when he comes in glory and power.
Father Alex McAllister's sermons for the three year cycle are now available as a Kindle ebook.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket