Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
First Sunday of Advent—29 November AD 2009
“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.”[1]

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
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 problem.

    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.”[2]

“Heaven and earth shall pass away,
but My words shall not pass away.”


[1]   Gospel: Luke xxi: 25-33.

[2]   Epistle: Romans xiii: 11-14.


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