Waiting for the Lord

As Jeff Marlett commented last week on this page, now is an opportune time for Christians to draw again to the well of Christ; who is our spiritual drink in the desert of this world. One of the beauties of the liturgical calendar, in this regard, is that its regularity and cyclical nature points us continuously back to the mysteries of the faith. Amid natural, social, and political disturbances, the calendar always reminds of the unchanging and eternal nature of God. And that this God does not forsake us to the seemingly haphazard and tumultuous events of history. Rather, He entered human history in order to sanctify it, to draw us into communion with Himself and, thereby, with each other.

Channeling the beginning of Dr. Marlett’s last post, then, I would state: “in case you missed it,” we’ve begun a new liturgical year! The first Sunday of Advent marks the start of every liturgical year and, perhaps now in a most needed way, directs us to anticipate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. By commemorating the anticipation of his arrival, we are reliving the history of our spiritual forefathers and foremothers, i.e., ancient Israel. In many and various ways, the liturgical celebrations of the Church remind us of this communion we have with ancient Israel. Just as they longed for the coming of the Messiah, so too do we anticipate his return. And not only us but, as St. Paul vividly and strikingly phrases it, “the whole of creation has been groaning with labor pains together” (Rom 8:22) in anticipation of redemption.

adventA key word which is often used in the study of liturgy is anamnesis. While this word literally means “remembering,” in a liturgical context it does not simply mean this. In Christian worship, anamnesis refers to “making the past a present and lived reality by remembering.” One way that we Catholics do this during Advent is by reciting – ideally, chanting – the “O Antiphons.”

The “O Antiphons” are those antiphons sung for the Magnificat during vespers between December 17th and 23rd. They all petition the coming of the Lord using a foreshadowed title for Christ found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Though these titles appear scattered throughout the OT, they can also all be found somewhere is the book of Isaiah. For example, the “O Antiphon” for December 17th asks: “O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge” (cf. Is 11:2; 28:29; Wis 8:1; Sir 24:3). Here is the beginning of each “O Antiphon”:

December 17: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)

December 18: O Adonai (O Lord)

December 19: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)

December 20: O Clavis David (O Key of David)

December 21: O Oriens (O Dawn)

December 22: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)

December 23: O Emmanuel (O God with Us)

Significantly, when the first letter of title is taken in reverse order it spells out E-R-O-C-R-A-S. In Latin, ero cras translates as: “I will be [there] tomorrow.” Thus, like the disciples before Pentecost (Lk 24:49), we await the fulfillment of the promise of the Lord.

By reciting the “O Antiphons” we make ancient Israel’s anticipation of the arrival of the Savior our own. With them we pray: Maranatha, “Come, Lord” (1 Cor 16:22). And like them, as today’s Gospel reading reminds us, we should be prepared for his arrival. “Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Mt 24:44).

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for the Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology Program.

Proper Alignment in a Crazy World

In case you missed it, there was a presidential election earlier this month.  The outcome surprised almost everybody—certainly the “experts,” including theologians—and the aftermath has been decidedly traumatic.  What will happen over the next two to four years? Which policies will be reversed and which new ones will be established?  Like many Americans, I stayed up late watching the election returns.  The national media scrutinized every bit of available data.  I found myself learning more about counties in other states christ-kingthan I had known before.  Due to an unavoidably early work schedule, I went to sleep with the election undecided.  I woke to a new president-elect, a result very few anticipated.  Juggling that news with my regular routine, I ran across a reminder for this blog post’s deadline.  A glance at the liturgical calendar told me all I needed to know:  today is the Feast of Christ the King.

This knowledge made all the difference as the nation continues to struggle with the election’s aftermath.  Before, during, and after any human, earthly endeavor, Jesus Christ is Lord.  Stating this does not, despite the Marxist criticisms, relegate one to the realm of naïve spirituality and blithe indifference to the world’s problems.  No, God calls us simultaneously to the Church and thus into the world, too.  Vatican II states clearly: “God’s plan for the world is that men should work together to renew and constantly perfect the temporal order” (Apostolicam Actuositatem #7).  Politics is not some necessarily dirty, utilitarian struggle for hegemony.  Rather, political activity along with the whole gamut of economic, social, and aesthetic pursuits can and should foster and advance the good.  We need each other to come anywhere near accomplishing that goal.

Here we must always remember today’s feast.  Christ’s sovereign kingship transcends the created realm.  Our best accomplishments and worst failures occur therein.  St. John the Evangelist reminds us:  “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (1:5).  Therefore, regardless of who wins a presidential election or how shocked we are at such results, no human creation—political, social, or otherwise—enjoys ultimate status.  We cannot conflate Christ’s reign with our temporary politics.  We cannot become, as Rod Dreher puts it, a people who make politics their religion.  Christ is king, not us.

This reality holds true forever, of course, but we enjoy this reminder at the very end of the liturgical year.  Next Sunday begins Advent, and so once again we prepare for the arrival and birth of that very King we celebrate today. This feast appeared rather late, historically speaking.  Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925.  As blogged earlier here, I think Pius XI’s pontificate offers remarkable resources, both spiritual and political, for our twenty-first century reality.  This plenitude concerns us especially today:

Pius XI himself recognized the shift [towards secular totalitarianism] in 1925 with his encyclical Quas Primas. Released on December 11, 1925, the encyclical established the Feast of Christ the King, now celebrated on the last Sunday of the liturgical year. In so doing Pius XI returned to his papal motto and asserted Christ’s spiritual and temporal authority (see #s 15 & 17). Christian faith is necessarily embodied, and thus the Church stands in the world, but free from control by the secular state (see #31). The laity especially stand to benefit from meditation upon Christ’s kingship. If Christ died for all, then, Pius concludes, “it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire” (#33). Christ must reign in our minds, wills, hearts, and bodies. Each faculty contributes to both spiritual sanctification and social justice, and serves, Pius XI prays, as evangelical examples to all non-Catholics. The peace that passes understanding, if authentic, moves beyond the individual to include others, not just Catholics but all peoples. After all, each person possesses intrinsic dignity given by God alone.

Christ’s kingship lays claim to our entire selves—and this includes our relationships with all others:  marital, parental, emotional, social, economic, political, etc.  Today’s readings spell this out in great detail:  David’s ascendency, Psalm 122’s celebration of royal Jerusalem, and then St. Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians that Christ

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;
all things were created through him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church.
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the blood of his cross
through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.

The Gospel passage from St. Luke (23:35-43) depicts this in the most graphic terms. From the cross Jesus promises the repentant criminal they both will enjoy paradise that very day.  Interestingly, the Extraordinary Form readings—the ones Pius XI worked with himself when he declared the Christ the King feast—take a different path with St. Matthew 24: 13-25.  After prophesying apocalyptic signs of His return, Christ reassures the disciples: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words will not pass away.” Following this presidential election, this passage might speak to some believing voters more immediately!  Exemplifying the well-known Catholic “both/and,” these readings together draw out fully the immanence and transcendence of Christ’s kingship.  In proclaiming the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis speaks to this balance:

We will entrust the life of the Church, all humanity, and the entire cosmos to the Lordship of Christ, asking him to pour out his mercy upon us like the morning dew, so that everyone may work together to build a brighter future. How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God! May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the Kingdom of God is already present in our midst! (Misericordiae Vultus #5)

The Feast of Christ the King concludes the Year of Mercy, one in which we have sought to realize our spiritual convictions where we find ourselves.  This itself requires mercy, for we will make mistakes. Our sovereign Lord’s presence in the Church and the Eucharist repairs these errors.

God calls us to, and we should always seek, this proper alignment.  Then the wins and losses of our lives—personally and politically—regain proper perspective. After the inauguration the nation will see new endeavors and probably others continued from the previous administration. Just as with Obama, the Trump presidency will offer several opportunities to work with all people of good will to build and defend the common good.  Sometimes that pursuit will involve cooperating with government, sometimes perhaps not.  Regardless, we would do well to remember today’s solemn feast and readings and thereby recognize that only Christ reigns supreme. All other political claims are, ultimately, temporary.  To paraphrase St. Thomas More, we are the president’s loyal citizens—but God’s subjects first.

Guest blogger Jeffrey Marlett blogs at Spiritual Diabetes.

What to Do as the Year of Mercy Comes to an End

year-of-mercy-logoPope Francis declared an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy for the Universal Church beginning on December 8th, 2015 and ending on November 20th, 2016.  It’s outside of the normal cycle of Jubilee Years that occur every 25 years, and it draws our attention to how, as baptized Christians, we are all called to reflect the goodness of God in our lives.  The goodness of God begins with mercy, so we are all called to become agents of mercy.

The Year of Mercy goes back to ancient times (Leviticus 25).  The Jews were to celebrate a Year of Mercy every fifty years.  This was a special time of forgiveness during which slaves would be freed and debts would be forgiven.  It was a reminder of the mercy and forgiveness which are at the heart of the providence of God.  When he announced the special Year of Mercy, Pope Francis said, “Let us not forget that God forgives and God forgives always.  Let us never tire of asking for forgiveness.”  So, this Year of Mercy has been, and is, a special time for us to forgive and to be forgiven.

The Year of Mercy is an invitation for all of us to become what we are called to be as Disciples of Christ – people of mercy and love.  Jesus made it clear that mercy and love are virtues that are at the very heart of the Christian vocation.  The imitation of Christ can never be complete without the practice of mercy.  Jesus’ parables about the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin (Luke 15:1-10) are clear examples of the mercy and love of God.  Throughout the gospels we see Jesus applying the mercy of God to real-life situations.  The Woman at the Well, the Women Caught in Adultery, and the Good Thief on the Cross are just a few examples.  They demonstrate that our God is a God of mercy and love, a God of second chances.

God wants us to be people of mercy and forgiveness because he created us in his image and, as people created in his image, we are to reflect the mercy and forgiveness that he has extended to us.  We must see others as God sees each of us – as infinitely valuable.  No matter what we have done, no matter where we have been, no matter how late we experience conversion, we are all precious in his sight.  He wants nothing more than for us to respond to his offer of infinite self-giving love and mercy, so that he can forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life.

I love the way Henry Nouwen said it in this book entitled The Life of the Beloved: “From all eternity, long before you were born and became a part of history, you existed in God’s heart.  Long before your parents admired you or your friends acknowledged your gifts or your teachers, colleagues and employers encouraged you, you were already chosen.  The eyes of love had seen you as precious, as of infinite beauty, as of eternal value.”

This is how Christian author Max Lucado describes the love and mercy of God: “God loves you just the way we are.  If you think his love for you would be stronger if your faith were, you’re wrong.  If you think his love would be deeper if your thoughts were, wrong again.  Don’t confuse God’s love with the love of people.  The love of people often increases with performance and decreases with mistakes.  Not so with God’s love.”  God loves us just the way we are, but he refuses to leave us like that.  He wants more for us.  He wants us to become just like Jesus, because he knows that is what’s best for us.

God wants only the very best for us, and his love never ceases, never.  Though we spurn him, ignore him, reject him, disobey him, deny him and betray him, he never changes.  Our evil cannot diminish his love.  Our goodness cannot increase it.  Our faith does not earn it any more than our stupidity jeopardizes it.  God doesn’t love us less if we fail and more if we succeed.  Who we are, and who we can become, are more important to God than anything we’ve done.

Pope Francis - penitent

Pope Francis – penitent

We must all realize that our future is not determined by our past.  Our future is not determined by what we used to be.  Our future is not determined by what we used to do.  Instead, your future and my future is determined by who Jesus Christ is, and what he can and will do.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.  There is no secret – what God can do, what he’s done for others, he’ll do for you and me.  So great is God’s mercy that it is almost inexpressible.  God’s mercy knows no limit.  There is none who is beyond his saving power.  His mercy reaches to the highest mountain and flows to the lowest valley.

During this Year of Mercy, we are called to ask for mercy as well as practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  How do we do this?  Together, as his Church, we get alongside those who are hurting the most in whatever way we can: To feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to provide shelter for the homeless, healing for the wounded, a caring presence for the dying and comfort and support for the bereaved.  And we do this because the One we follow said clearly and unequivocally that in as much as we did these things for the least of our brothers and sisters, we did them for him.

Jesus said: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)  In other words, “The world may be falling apart around you, but having faith in me will save you.”  We live in a broken world, just turn on the news and you will hear all about it.  We live in a world where there is suffering, pain and sorrow.  We live in a world where many people would rather seek revenge than extend forgiveness and mercy.  No matter what happens and how bad things seem, just remember this: When it all comes to an end, there will only be one thing that matters.  When it all comes to an end, there will be Christ.

And so there is no need for us to be afraid.  Our God is a God of second chances.  We have each been given a second chance, and we have nothing to fear, if we will only place our hope and trust in him.  Even in our suffering and pain we have nothing to fear because our hope is this: Whatever the future may hold, God can be trusted to see us through.

In the meantime, we must demonstrate our faith and faithfulness by loving and serving as Jesus has taught us, and by reflecting his love and mercy in our lives.  Through Jesus, we know that it’s never too late.  If our God is a God of second chances, then we must become people of second chances.  God has shown us his face.  He has shared our life so that we might share His.  Each of us has been given a second chance, and now it’s our turn to extend that second chance to others.

As this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy comes to a close, Jesus invites each of us to trust in him, to reflect his goodness and to teach others to trust in him.  The power we possess is from Jesus Himself.  So, let us all continue to pray for his mercy and extend his mercy to others.  Let us continue to pray and for the conversion of sinners, for peace in the world, and for our newly elected leaders!

If we have not lived up to our Christian calling, if we have not reflected the love and the mercy of God in our lives during the Year of Mercy, it’s not too late.  So, contact that person who needs your forgiveness today.  You’ll be glad you did.

Deacon Greg Ollick teaches sacred scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online. He is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and runs The Epiphany Initiative website.

Times, They are a-Changing!

Yes, this is the weekend that we turn the clocks back one hour; moving to standard time. Hopefully you took advantage of an extra hour of sleep today – Yea! As a society though, are times really a-changing, as Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan would say?

If we were to listen to the secular pundits, then, yes, the times are really a-changing. We times-are-changingare becoming a progressive society, having removed discussion of God from public discourse, along with embracing moral relativism; discounting the moral truths set forth by God in the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the teachings of Christ. Examples of how we have embraced moral relativism can be seen in society’s overwhelming acceptance of same-sex marriage, abortion rights, euthanasia, and co-habitation outside of marriage. All of these things go against God’s Natural Law. Society is swiftly embracing these sins as the accepted norm. It’s called “entering the 21st century!” We’re told that we need to “get with the program.” People easily engage in this sinful behavior because “it feels right;” yet what they are really doing is ignoring the error-free advice of the Holy Spirit, who would tell them otherwise.

Proponents of moral relativism argue that the moral actions can be judged from a purely subjective perspective. This is a way of stating that moral standards are determined by personal dispositions and circumstances, and that the natural law no longer should serve as the ultimate litmus test for human behavior. This method of determining the morality of human actions leads to a situation in which each individual determines what he or she feels is right, justifying contrary notions as compatabile.1

Perhaps this is the cause for why we, as a country, are so divided as we enter the polling booths this Tuesday. As a society, we have lost our moral compass; we’ve discarded our “litmus test for human behavior.” Fifty years ago it was totally unacceptable to consider a candidate, for the office of President of the United States, who would consider an abortion or same-sex marriage as appropriate and acceptable. Today, we embrace such positions in the Democratic candidate for President. Twenty years ago, we deemed it totally unacceptable for the President of the United States to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage. In fact, when he lied about the matter, we impeached him for such action. Today, we look the other way as the Republican candidate has been accused of similar behavior toward women.

Yes, times they are a-changing; yet can we actually say that we are a more morally upright society twenty or fifty years later? No, we cannot.

Although times are a-changing, Christ’s moral truths do not change. What God declared as good is good for all time. What God declared as evil is evil for all time. God’s opinion does not need to change because God, with all of His Wisdom, is perfect. So, who, or what, then needs to change? We do! We need to move toward Christ and away from sin. We need to embrace God’s Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes and Christ’s teaching. We need to find our moral compass once again. We need to reapply the Natural Law as our ultimate litmus test for human behavior and discard moral relativism. This is a tall order, but one we must undertake with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. It all starts within each one of us assessing our own actions, in accordance with God’s Natural Law, for He infused within each of us, at birth, the ability to know right from wrong. Now all you need to do, is what you know to be right, in God’s eyes.

Virginia Lieto teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. She is the author of children’s book Finding Patience and blogs at www.virginialieto.com.

1 Armenio, Peter V. Our Moral Life in Christ, College Edition. Woodridge: Midwest Theological Forum, Print, 2009, p. 177.