Happy New Year! This is our first Mass in the Christian year, because today is the first Sunday in Advent. We have begun another year in our life as followers of Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church. The word “Advent” tells us that someone is coming, obviously Jesus Himself. Most people will say that Advent is the time when we prepare to meet Jesus, the child whose birth we shall, indeed, celebrate on Christmas Day. But the season of Advent is split into two parts. The first lasts until the sixteenth of December; the prayers and readings at Mass for those days show that the Church is asking us to prepare not for the celebration of the first coming of Christ as a child, but for His second coming at the end of the world, when He will come as a King, to judge the world and to unite us, and all Creation, with God, our Creator. In the second part of Advent, the nine days from the seventeenth of December to Christmas Day, the prayers and the readings at Mass are all about the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. So we are being encouraged to do two things during this season. Our task is to prepare for the Coming of Christ at the end of time, and then to prepare to celebrate the first time He came to us, in the stable in Bethlehem. Lent is a season of penance and purification, but Advent is different; it is a time of hope, like the nine months a woman has to prepare for the birth of her baby.
How do we prepare to meet Christ at the end of the world? There are many ways, but I want to take you back to what I was taught as a child, in a Catholic school. We had a little book called A Catechism of Christian Doctrine, which is a book of questions and answers on all aspects of life as a Catholic. We had to learn the answers after our teachers explained the questions to us. It is generally not used any more, but it did contain some very interesting information. In a section on how we should organise our day, the Catechism tells us that it is useful to meditate every day, “for such was the practice of all the Saints”. The next question, obviously, is “On what should we meditate?” The answer is, “We ought to meditate on the four last things, and the Life and Passion of our Blessed Lord”1. But what are the four last things? The answer is: “Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell”2. The catechism also says that, after our night prayers, we should occupy ourselves with thoughts of death, and give the last thoughts of our day to our crucified Saviour3.
Some of those words can sound quite odd to people today, but the purpose was to encourage us to think every day about the aim of our life. We were asked to check that we were doing our best to live a good life, and we were asked never to lose sight of God.
The most important words in today’s Gospel are these: “Stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming…; you must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect”. Jesus will return, but it is easy to be too busy to think about it. Most of us are so absorbed by organising our lives that it is easy to forget about it. The catechism encouraged me to find a moment every day to ask myself: “will I be ready to meet Jesus?” I needed to learn that, and I am grateful our teachers helped me understand it. It is not natural to think of death, judgement, heaven and hell; the Church helps us in the season of Advent by encouraging us to prepare for the end of our life.
Most of you will not be able to come to Mass every day during Advent, so I hope that, on the parish web site, you will soon find a list of the Bible readings for daily Mass. If you find time to read them, I believe it will help you to focus on the fact that Jesus will come again. It will help you to stay awake and be ready to meet Him, even if you read only the Gospel. For the last nine days, it will help you to be ready to celebrate the night when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a night which changed the world. Other things will happen in the parish later in Advent. Please try to take advantage of them. We need to do something to avoid being totally distracted by what is happening in the shops and all around us. If we do, we will see more than most people will see as they prepare for Christmas. We can do it, and I hope we will.
1 A Catechism of Christian Doctrine, London (Burns & Oates & later Catholic Truth Society) 1914 and many subsequent editions, questions 358, 359.
2 Question 332
3 Question 370
Fr. Peter Fleetwood
The reading plan for the daily Mass Readings for Advent may be downloaded here: Advent 22 readings (English, Faroese and Danish)