Happy New Year!  The first Sunday of Advent is the beginning of the new liturgical year for Catholics.  The liturgical year is a teaching tool (technical term; catechetical) to help us understand God’s action in human history.  The four weeks of Advent actually represent the whole of human history before the coming of Christ that first Christmas, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:22).  Christmas is the celebration of the salvation of the human race by the coming of Jesus Christ into the world.  Something like two millennia ago reconciliation with God was made available when the Blessed Virgin Mary became the mother of the savior.  We celebrate His birth at Christmas.

However, we remember that He promised to return.  Advent represents the preparation of human history for the birth of the savior, but Advent is also meant to remind us that He is coming back.  The gospel for this Sunday is not very Christmassy, talking about judgement as well as being taken or left (Matthew 24:37 – 44).  We don’t know when Christ will return, but we should be confident He will.  The season of Advent is intended to remind us of the words of Christ, “you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Matthew 24:44).

How do we prepare for Christ’s return?  There is an old question in Christianity, “what would you do differently if you KNEW that Christ would return tomorrow?”  As a priest, I would answer that I would not worry about a homily for Mass tomorrow, because I would be a concelebrant with the Great High Priest, who is a far better preacher anyway.  Really the answer we should give is…nothing.  We should try to live Christian discipleship every day.  What does that mean?  We need to remember that Christ gave us direction for living in His preaching.  He gave that to the apostles at the last supper (John 14:26) and commanded them to teach His truth throughout the world (Matthew 28:19 – 20).  This is where we get Catholic Church teaching.  Christ gave us a sure guide for human life.

Also, Christ is still with us.  Before ascending into heaven, Christ promised to be with us to the end of time (Matthew 28:20).  He fulfills that promise in the sacramental life of the Church.  St. Bernard of Clairvaux preached about the three comings of Christ (Sermo 5, In Adventu Domini, 1-3: Opera Omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 4 {1966}, 188-190.  see Roman Office of Readings for Wednesday of the First Week of Advent).  His first coming was two thousand years ago on the first Christmas, the second when He returns for the final judgement, but the third is here and now.  We encountered Christ at our baptism.  We encounter Christ when He forgives our sins in Confession.  Most importantly, we encounter Christ at Mass when, by the words of Christ, bread and wine become His Body and Blood.  At Mass we encounter God in a way that is unique in life.

How do we prepare for the return of Christ, what is Advent really about?  We need to hear His word and spend time with Him.  We need to hear the words of Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church.  We need to seek the presence of God in Sacramental Confession, and most of all in the Sacrifice of the Mass.

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