This morning we read Saint Luke’s account of our Lord’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and the final days of the world. (Last Sunday we read Saint Matthew’s account.) If it seems strange to be hearing about the end of things at the very beginning of the Church’s liturgical year, it may help to consider that some things may be said to have a “final cause” just as much as they have a “first cause.” We can say that God is the first Cause of all things—that He brought all things into existence our of nothing, and fashioned the world that we know. But we can also say that all things in God’s plan of earthly creation move toward the Day of Judgment, were they will be incorporated into the new creation of eternal life. In that sense, the last days of our earthly existence can be thought of as our “final cause”—history is being pulled toward its ultimate purpose—somewhat as though it were being “reeled in” by a fisherman.
In a similar manner, we can think of the “final cause” of Advent to be the feast of our Lord’s birth at Christmas. The four weeks of Advent serve to remind us of the many centuries between the creation and fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden, and its promised redemption which began with the birth of its Savior. In some way, all of the things that took place after the fall of man set the stage for his redemption. Sinful man was being “reeled in,” as it were, to the life of grace which began with the Incarnation, when God became one of us, in order to show us a life that could be lived without sin.
Each year the Church has us start the liturgical calendar by observing this season of Advent. The vestment colors and the lack of the Glória in the Masses of the season point to this as being a season of introspection and penance. A new year is always a good time to take stock of what we have done in the past, and how we may do better in the future. But, instead of waiting until January 1st the Church asks us to begin now so that by the time we celebrate Christmas we will be spiritually prepared. By spending a few weeks examining our consciences and by doing some minor penance to atone for our sins, we will be ready to rejoice with all of Christendom at the birth of our Savior. Again, we can think of ourselves as being drawn through the season of Advent by the “final cause” of our Lord’s Nativity. And, ultimately, we can think of ourselves being drawn past the joyful days of Christmas and Easter by the “final cause” of our judgment and eternal life.
Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans adds some urgency to the season. We are to “arise from sleep because our salvation is nearer” than it has ever been before. A whole year has come and gone—perhaps many years since we “first came to believe” the truths of the Catholic Faith. We have no assurance that their will be much more time before we are drawn by that “final cause” at the end of our life. And that, of course, means that it is now time to get serious about the matter of our salvation. If we have found ourselves, all too often, clothed with bad habits of the world, it is now time to exchange them for the “armor of light” and to “put on the Lord” Himself.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, as well as in last week’s, our Lord advised us to be aware of the “signs of the times” around us. We may, or may not be, in the last days of the world. We see frightening things in society—both in the Church and in our civil life. We may feel that they are more disturbing than ever before in history—and we may even be right—but that does not necessarily mean that the world must soon come to an end. Certainly, as Catholics we must do our best to remediate the more disturbing things going on about us—working for the best, while accepting the possibility that God may will the Day of final Judgment sooner, rather than later—knowing full well that it will come in God’s good time, not ours.
But it is of much greater importance that we observe the “signs of the times” in our own lives. The “arrow of time” points in only one direction. Inexorably, even the youngest person here is a year older than a year ago! Understand, though, that aging is not necessarily a bad thing—it may be just the opposite side of the coin of the process that we call “maturing.” The spiritual life is very much like the natural life, and it is important that we move from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity. Hence, we must observe the “signs of the times” in our own development. If we see things in our life that will keep us from proper spiritual development we must see them and avoid them—if we see things that are good and helpful, we must try to move toward them and cultivate them.
So “now is the hour to arise from sleep.” Resolve to spend a profitable Advent season: a little extra prayer, a little extra penance, and a few weeks spent in the introspection needed to see the “signs of the times” in your own lives. Don’t become too caught up in the commercial hype of “the holidays,” for that will do nothing more than fuel the greed of an already materialistic society; and will contribute little or nothing at all to your own peace of mind, or to your observance of our Lord’s birth when it comes just four weeks from now.
Make a good Advent, so that you will be drawn by the joy of Christmas, drawn by the glory of Easter, and drawn, ultimately, by the “final cause” of your eternal salvation.