COME, O RADIANT DAWN
The Spiritual Focus of Advent
The feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is the last Sunday in Ordinary Time (the 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time). It marks the very last days of the ordinal, or “numbered”, calendar (that’s why it is Ordinary Time). Jesus comes to take us to himself in his return at the Last Judgment. The title of king for Jesus is to express that because he is the Lord of Heaven and Earth, he is sovereign over all things. His provident action, the loving presence of his heart, is present in all places, throughout all time, and for all people. The universal nature of his kingship expresses both that he has authority over all creation and that he is the good shepherd, always and everywhere present to his people.
The sense of the readings for this weekend are that because of Jesus’ kingship he also has the responsibility of the Last Judgement. What is clear from these readings is that justice is about the appropriate love due to our neighbor (and especially for the Christian, our enemies). The parable expresses that at the Last Judgment we will be judged upon our ability to love the hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger, ill, and imprisoned. About this, St. John of the Cross expressed that, “In the evening of this life we will be judged by love alone.” We must love as Jesus loved, and whom Jesus loves, for the love of Jesus.
Advent is about the eager expectation of the coming of the Lord Jesus in Christmas. It is also a traditional time to reflect on the four last things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.
First, although it is a festive season of preparation, we can all be reminded about our mortality. The truth that someday we will die is easy enough – the challenge is considering, “How I would live this moment if I were to die today?” It is a sobering thought experiment. Am I living as if this life mattered? Am I speaking as if this life mattered? Am I doing my duty each day as if the gift of time could run out?
Then, let’s be real, no one really likes talking about Judgment. It is one of the least popular of the doctrines of Christianity unless you trust the Just Judge. The Final Judgement is that awe-inspiring day when Jesus returns to “sort out the good from the bad” for one final time, before the good inherit eternal life and those apart from God receive the fruit of their sin: hell.
The possibility of heaven and of living life with the Lord who comes to earth in the manger should inspire us with hope. Heaven is the place of final rest and peace for the dead in Christ, who “stayed awake” for the coming of the Lord, with their prayers, sacrifices, and good deeds. Christmas should remind us that Jesus’ birth is heaven coming to earth. We see this played out, especially in the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration.
The possibility of hell is sobering. The possibility of the eternal separation of the damned from the God of goodness can inspire terror. But those damned to hell are those unrepentant sinners who have marred their covenant with God by unconfessed mortal sin that separates them from God. This possibility should inspire us with perseverance for the Final Judgement. It can inspire us with the same thought that St. Alphonsus Ligouri wrote, “Lord, grant that I may love you always and never let me be parted from you.” The truth of hell should inspire us with a more profound desire for heaven.
As Advent prepares us to look forward for the coming of Christ at Christmas, so reflecting on the four last things, should prepare us for the coming of Christ at the End of Time. Attentiveness to the sobering truth of death, judgment, and heaven or hell can build in us a vigilance for the coming of the Lord, and a desire to prepare our hearts to stay in a state of Grace for the coming of Christ at Christmas.
Father Adam Laski