A slightly updated post from last fall… Here are some words from St. Charles Borromeo, a controversial church leader who lived 1538-1584, and is namesake of nearby St. Charles, MO where my parents were married:
“Beloved, now is the acceptable time spoken of by the Spirit, the day of salvation, peace and reconciliation: the great season of Advent. This is the time eagerly awaited by the patriarchs and prophets, the time that holy Simeon rejoiced at last to see. This is the season that the Church has always celebrated with special solemnity. We too should always observe it with faith and love, offering praise and thanksgiving to the Father for the mercy and praise and thanksgiving to the Father for the mercy and love he has shown us in this mystery. In his infinite love for us, though we were sinners, he sent his only Son to free us from the tyranny of Satan, to summon us to heaven, to welcome us into its innermost recesses, to show us truth itself, to train us in right conduct, to plant within us the seeds of virtue, to enrich us with the treasures of his grace, and to make us children of God and heirs of eternal life. ...
“The Church asks us to understand that Christ, who came once in the flesh, is prepared to come again. When we remove all obstacles to his presence he will come, at any hour and moment, to dwell spiritually in our hearts, bringing with him the riches of his grace....”
(From The Liturgy of the Hours, I, Advent Season, Christmas Season [New York, Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 1975], pp. 152-153.)
Advent begins tomorrow, Dec. 1st. For several years I’ve tried to make Advent a genuine beginning to the year: a time of reflection and resolution. My best-laid plans to grow spiritually are often thwarted amid the busyness of the season (including, for me, wrapping up a semester, and this semester runs a little later in the month than usual). My own typical struggle is to rejoice more deeply in the “riches” and “treasures” of God’s grace (as St. Charles writes here, echoing Ephesians), since my emotional disposition is often toward worry and blue self-dissatisfaction. This season , I am struggling with the deaths of my mother last year and my mother-in-law this year, which adds a new layer of emotional struggle to the time.
Our pastor calls attention to the fact that Advent is a liturgically enacted remembrance of Christ’s first coming and an anticipation of his second coming. That's always a good thing to remember: in a way, the nativity sets that we display in homes and churches orient us to the present and future, and not just to the distant Bethlehem past.
While the parousia is a vivid Christian doctrine, I like to think of the ways Christ can be return to our hearts, over and over again, as we struggle in our spiritual lives and “get back on track” when we’ve been blue or busy or distracted for a time.