02 December 2013

Running to Meet Christ

First Sunday of Advent
Well, here we are again.  We are at the dawn of a new liturgical year, a new year of grace.  In our faith we have certainly had a big year: Pope Benedict XVI declared this past year a Year of Faith, which has just ended; Bishop Boyea declared this past year a Year of Prayer, which will end on 9 December at the Cathedral with Mass at 6 p.m.; Pope Benedict XVI resigned from being pope, the first time this had happened in centuries; the Holy Spirit, through the College of Cardinals, elected Pope Francis to be the new Vicar of Christ.  In our own families there have probably been momentous events: new life with the birth of a child or grandchild; the hope of eternal life with the death of a loved one; graduations, retirements, etc.  Whatever has happened, it has been quite a year!
            In this new liturgical year, I want to shift my focus a little bit in the homilies I preach.  Last year I tried to focus on the gift of faith and spreading the Gospel.  That certainly will still come up in my homilies, as it is a perennial aspect of our faith.  But this year I want to focus more on the prayers that I say in your name during the Mass as a way of encouraging us to participate more fully in the Divine Mysteries in which we partake, and challenging us to take that participation outside the doors of this church.
            We are probably now used to the new translations.  Some of us may not like them; that’s fair.  I personally love them, because I see in them the beauty which is contained in the mother tongue of our church: Latin.  The form of the prayer is much more deprecatory, that is, it does not treat God as an equal, but addresses Him as the Almighty, and takes the position of one who is a servant of God.  They are filled with Biblical language, and are sometimes taken from the words of our earliest saints.  For the most part, they are not long, but are very Roman in style: nobly simple. 
            Our Collect, what some refer to as the Opening Prayer, states: “Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom.”  As Advent is a time focused on preparing for Christ in His three comings—long ago as an infant at Bethlehem, at the end of time when the Kingdom of God is established in its fullness, and in our hearts each day—this Collect, this collection of all our private prayers, already points us to the coming Kingdom of Christ.  It asks for the strength of will, the resolve, to run forth with righteous deeds at His coming.  Now, I’m not a runner, like my parents and my sisters.  I’m a sprinter, so I don’t like to run for long periods of time.  And, to be honest, I don’t really sprint that much anymore, either.  But when I do run, when I try to get somewhere fast, it is often to catch up to somebody to give them something or to get their attention. 
There is a certainly excitement in running, especially to meet someone.  One need only think of movies where two people are running to meet each other, often with joyous, longing music in the background.  But our prayer asks us for the strength to run to meet Christ, not with our legs, but with our “righteous deeds,” our actions that help to build the Kingdom of God here on earth. 
            This idea of running is in contrast to what we hear in our Prayer after Communion: “May these mysteries, O Lord, in which we have participated, profit us, we pray, for even now, as we walk amid passing things, you teach us by them to love the things of heaven and hold fast to what endures.”  While our good deeds are meant to help us to run to meet Christ at His coming, we walk amid passing things, the things of earth.  Our prayer reminds us that the things of this earth, as good as they are, pass away, and should not give us the same excitement as the things of heaven and preparing for Jesus’ second coming.  As the first reading states, we should stream towards the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of God on Mount Zion.  As Christians, our real temple is the heavenly Jerusalem, the heavenly temple, where God reigns with the Lamb-that-was-Slain at His right hand.  We should be rejoicing to go to the House of the Lord, as our Psalm mentioned, the House that lasts forever, that is not built with human hands, but was built by God.
            And we should be prepared to rejoice at Jesus’ coming, because we do not know the day nor the hour.  For those who have their hearts set on the things of the world, that day will catch them off guard, as our Gospel said.  Just like those before the flood who “were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark,” and who perished, if we remain focused too much on the things of this earth, and not concerned enough with our eternal salvation, then Jesus’ coming will not give us cause to run towards him, but might cause us to slink away from him, backing up ever so slowly so as to avoid notice. 
            How do we prepare ourselves, then?  How do we focus on what is to come and want to run out to meet Jesus?  Our Prayer over the Offerings gives us a clue: “Accept, we pray, O Lord, these offerings we make, gathered from among your gifts to us, and may what you grant us to celebrate devoutly here below gain for us the prize of eternal redemption.”  When we take the things of the earth—our time that we spend here, our money that we donate, our attention, the bread and wine—and give them back to God, we show that we are first and foremost concerned with Him.  And then, as God takes our gifts that we have and offers us the most precious gift, the Body and Blood of His Son, that what we celebrate here below in sacramental signs, prepares us for receiving the prize of eternal redemption, the prize of being in heaven with God in perfect happiness. 
            As we walk amid the concerns of this earth, may we love the things of heaven, hold fast to what truly lasts, and be ready to run and meet Jesus Christ as we celebrate His birth at Christmas, as we prepare for His Second Coming in Glory, and as He comes to us each day to enter our hearts and make His home there.