First Sunday of Advent—29
November AD 2009
“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.”
of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text -
Blessing of the Advent Wreath
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the
start of the Church’s new liturgical year. Once again, as we attend the Masses
of the Sundays and important Feasts, we will have the chief events of our
salvation recalled to our minds. In Advent we recall mankind’s wait for
the Savior promised to Adam and Eve. The Christmas and Epiphany seasons
will center around the birth and early life of that Savior. Lent and
Eastertide will recall our Lord’s last months on earth, culminating with His
Ascension into heaven, and decent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. The
Sundays after Pentecost go back before Easter, detail some of the events of our
Lord’s public life, and culminate in the predictions of the end of the world
that we heard last Sunday, the last Sunday after Pentecost.
But we might ask ourselves, “if Advent
is the beginning of things, why did we hear again about the end of all things in
this morning’s Gospel?
The answer to that is philosophical.
Philosophy is what priests study in the years before they take theology.
Philosophy relies strictly on human reason, trying to figure things out without
the help of divine revelation. Philosophy studies the universe around us
in the most general of all possible ways. Instead of studying specific
things (as, for example, physics and chemistry do), philosophy asks questions
like: “What is common to all things that exist?” and “what is it that
makes a particular being unique, distinguishing it from every other being in the
universe?” and “what does it mean to cause something?”
It is this question of causality that
has us both begin and end the liturgical year with an account of the end times.
The philosopher will distinguish various kinds of causes. The ultimate
cause of everything is, of course, God who created the universe from nothing,
and set it in motion. But what are the cause or causes of the almost
infinite number of things and situations we encounter every day of our lives?
Let me take something simple: the pews,
the wooden benches on which most of you are sitting. Years ago we began
with eight metal folding chairs; there were no benches. What caused
the benches to be here? Well, we can look back and remember that someone
said something like: “Don’t you think the parishioners would feel more
at home at Mass if they had some more ‘church-like’ furniture to sit on?”
That person might be called the “intercessory cause,” asking that someone do
something that needed to be done, but not necessarily doing it himself.
That is like the Blessed Mother at Cana, telling our Lord that the bridal couple
had run out of wine for their guests, knowing that He would take care of the
The idea of the wooden pews sounded
good, and someone came up with a design or a pattern. In the terminology
of the philosopher, the design is the “formal cause.” You can’t
build furniture without a plan that, for instance, “the benches will be four
feet wide, so many inches high, be made mostly of oak plywood, and have kneelers
attached in back.” Actually, it has to be more detailed than that.
But with even the most detailed plan, you have only a “formal cause”—you
know exactly what form the benches will take, but you have not yet
a single bench.
Then we went to the lumberyard, and
bought oak boards, and nails, and hinges, and sand paper, and a clear sealer to
coat the finished product. In the words of philosophy, we now had the
“material cause,” the stuff that went into making the pews. But still,
there were no pews to sit on.
We already had the tools to build the
benches—saws, hammers, rulers, and such like—what the philosopher would call
the “instrumental cause,” the instruments that would cut the wood and drive
the nails. But still no benches.
Finally, there came the “efficient
cause” or “immediate cause.” People actually picked up the tools,
and cut the wood, and pounded the nails, and sanded the benches, and coated them
with that clear sealer that makes them shine in the light. Finally, when
the sealer dried, we had benches upon which people could sit, and kneelers upon
which they could kneel, and offer their prayers to God.
Now, I know that I have complicated what
most people would consider a very small and simple part of life. But there
is still one more cause to be considered, without which the benches would have
been relatively meaningless, and might not have been built at all. The
benches are here because people desired to glorify God. God is their
“final cause,” their reason for existence.
Just as we begin and end the liturgical
year with cataclysmic predictions, so too do things both begin and end with God.
It was He who created the universe from nothing—it is He to whom all things
are drawn as their end.
And don’t be misled by the fact that I
have been talking about the furniture in God’s house. The same kind of
chain of causes that brought the wooden benches into existence applies to
everything around us. Nothing exists without the “first cause” of
creation. And everything that was created was in fact created so that men
and angels might show forth God’s goodness in time, and share His happiness in
eternity. Ultimately, God is both the “first cause” and the “final
cause” of all that is.
Understand, please, that things can
still go wrong—particularly in the arena of angels and men. God has
given us free will, and that free will sometimes causes us to make mistakes if
we are not careful in exercising it. When we made the benches we sometimes
measured incorrectly; sometimes we drove a nail crookedly or in the wrong
place; some things had to be scrapped and started all over. The same is
true in the lives of men and women—we are sometimes blinded by something that
seems more attractive than it actually is; we sometimes miscalculate the
time the time we should spend with God; we sometimes get so befuddled that
we have to scrap what we were doing and start all over from scratch.
Nonetheless, God remains our “final cause,” our “ultimate end.”
This season of Advent is the
opportunity, so to speak, to start from scratch those things in our lives that
have not been properly directed toward God as their “final cause.” The
four weeks of Advent recall the four thousand years said to separate Adam and
Eve from their Savior, a period of desolation in which we can recognize
ourselves as being incomplete without Jesus Christ. The four weeks of
Advent are traditionally a period of somber reflection, prayer, and mild
penance, in which we can take stock of our lives and determine where they have
strayed from their “final cause,” and get them back on track. For the
things that we must start all over, a good Confession is the place to start, and
frequent Holy Communion a means to seeing that the new work is true and useful.
All of the things in the material world
come from God and find their final purpose in God. All of the things in
the material world are transient, but the things of God are eternal. We
have been given yet another opportunity to center on our “final cause.”
“The night has passed and the day
is at hand. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and
drunkenness, not in lusting and impurities, not in contention and envy; but put
on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Heaven and earth shall pass away,
but My words shall not pass away.”