First Sunday of Advent
Show us, O Lord, Thy Mercy, and grant us Thy Salvation. Today’s alleluia verse, taken from Psalm 84 which is one of the great Psalms of Advent, has become part of the daily liturgy of the Mass. It is recited immediately before the priest mounts the steps of the altar at the beginning of Holy Mass. The Mercy and Salvation of the Lord, is first and foremost a Person; it is His Son Incarnate who comes to us as the Saviour of the world, bringing God’s mercy for our sins. This makes it clear that the Psalm was essentially a prayer to obtain the grace of the Messiah. For the Church, who has already received the Messiah, it is a plea for the grace of a special visit of Jesus which means above all now through the sacraments, but also at the end of time when He will come with power and majesty to judge the living and dead. Such will be the second coming of Our Lord, which is one of the fundamental articles of the faith, one which we are invited to reflect upon especially during this time of Advent. For 2,000 years now the Church has been waiting for that blessed event, and it has never been closer than it is now.
And yet, it sometimes seems long. We need patience. We are often like little children who get all upset because they want something right away, whereas they have to learn to wait patiently for it.
All they who wait on Thee, O Lord, shall not be confounded. So we repeat four times during this Holy Mass. Clearly Holy Mother Church is trying to get something across to us. The wait can sometimes seem long. But St Peter reminds us that for the Lord one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years is one day. God is outside of time. We are in time, and like children, it can seem like forever. Whence the command to wait for the Lord.
We’ve all known people who do not have the patience to wait for an outcome. They want immediate results, and if they don’t get them they go off and do something else. And this being the case, they never accomplish anything worthwhile. In the religious realm we see the same thing. Today there are many who leave the Church because they have lost hope in the promised return of the Lord. They are a bit like the foolish virgins who fall asleep waiting for the Lord, and they will awake to find that the Lord was not far at all. But it will be too late.
Whilst it is day, we must work the works of God, for the night is coming in which no one can work (Jn 9). Such is one of the major themes of the season of Advent. It does not matter how long we might have to wait; any amount of time is insignificant compared with the reward that awaits us. In reality, the wait is not long, for life is so terribly short.
So what are we to do while we wait? Keep watch. How do we do that? St Paul tell us succinctly in today’s epistle, that famous passage which achieved to convert the hesitant St Augustine: Now is the hour to rise from sleep… The night is passed and the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day: not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy: but put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
In just a few words, the apostle has summarised the works of evil that tempt us: pride, envy, anger, licentiousness in all its forms. The ways of evil are like a roaring sea that tosses up hoards of impurities and filth. Whereas the way of the Lord is a path of peace and tranquility. There is no peace for the wicked, saith the Lord. For thus saith the Lord God the Holy One of Israel: If you return and be quiet, you shall be saved: in silence and in hope shall your strength be (Is 30:15). If you return and be quiet, if you remain in silence and hope, you will be rewarded. But do not give up and run away, for you would then be left empty handed.
In our wait, Our Lady is the model. During this season of Advent, the Church will guide our thoughts frequently to her, urging us to unite with her as she awaits the birth of her Son with loving expectation. In the mystery of the Annunciation, we contemplate her in the attitude of humble expectation for the Lord. She knew He would come to save His people, and with all the Hebrews at the time, she prayed that the hour would not be far. There is a tradition according to which many Jewish girls prayed that they might be privileged to be the mother of the Messiah, but Mary prayed to be just a handmaid in the house of the Mother of the Messiah. Such is the humility with which one should await the favours of God, and which is so far removed from the spirt of vindictiveness which thinks it has a right to everything right away.
St Ephrem urges us in a homily for this Sunday: “Get ready to go forth to your work, and gird yourself to cultivate your field. The field is your present life, and for a hoe take with you the Old together with the New Testament. Put a hedge of thorns about your field and your soul, by prayer and fasting together with instruction. … Tend your soul after the manner of a beautiful vineyard. And as the guardians of the vineyard strike at the thieves with their fists, and call out to them with warnings, and keep them at a distance with stones, so you cry out in prayer, and shout with the song of psalmody, and put to flight the thieving fox, that is, the devil. Be watchful of your enemy, lest he pierce your heart with some obstinate and unfitting desire… Resist and oppose Him with the shield of faith. Put on the helmet of hope. Draw the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. And so armed against the enemy, stand fast, and be not unwatchful in the battle, but show yourself sober and vigilant in all things.”
Let us ask Mary our Mother the secret of her loving wait. Let us ask her for the grace to implore with ever more intense supplication the return of Our Lord, that He may reestablish all things. But let us leave it up to Him to decide when that time is.
Tomorrow begins the novena of preparation for the feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December. Let us prepare ourselves well by offering Our Blessed Lady a beautiful bouquet of flowers, spiritual flowers above all, culled from the garden of our soul. Let us strive to practice all the virtues, to make sacrifices, to mortify ourselves in all things, so that when the day arrives, we may not be empty handed before the Queen of Heaven.
For us monks, part of this novena will consist in putting the final touches to the Church of the Immaculate Conception, making it ready to welcome Our Lord Himself when we offer the first Mass there on her feast day. As we prepare our church, may each of us take care to prepare his soul, so that the Immaculata may find there nothing displeasing to her virginal heart.
Finally, on 12 December we will celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is the patroness of the unborn, the Mother of the Living. Let us be insistent in asking her to come and save our world from the darkness with surrounds us. Let us plead with her to change the hearts of those in authority over us, that they may not compromise the value of each human life, and that they may oppose all attacks on the gift of God which is life.