Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent

An Advent approach to Spiritual Security

From 27 November, it’s 28 days to Christmas; I wonder if that terrifies you? What would be more terrifying, though, would be if Christmas became a moveable feast, the date changing each year. Could we consider a more terrifying thing? Imagine that, each year, we had no idea when Christmas would be, and Pope Francis calls a “family meeting” (like the ones we were used to with our President during lockdown) and tells us when Christmas would be: March one year, in June and August the following, cancelled the next. Homes would be turned upside down, with everyone donning an apron, peeling potatoes and washing windows in warp speed. Shopping sprees would rival Black Friday in intensity. It would certainly be exciting, if stressful and terrifying.

Fortunately, though, the predictability of this Great Feast reduces our alarm. It’s untouched by arbitrary shifting, being quite safe and secure. We can prepare well for the annual celebration of Our Lord’s First Coming in the flesh.

But the Second Coming will be a different matter. Mystery shrouds this return of the Son of God, Who will come to judge the living and the dead at the end of time, as we confess in our Credo. Heaven and Earth will pass away, being replaced by a New Heaven and a New Earth. And Our Lord, Who came once in humility as a baby, will come in majesty as the Just Judge, proclaiming a final judgement on all. The unconfessed sins of the living and dead, some saints tell us, will be broadcast to all creation; the secret works of charity and devotion will be made known too. This unknown day and hour will not afford us a pleasant, carefully planned opportunity to sort out our spiritual state. It will come, as Our Lord teaches, like a thief in the night. The end of the world will come suddenly.

In some ways, it mirrors the end of our own world, our lives, at the moment of death. Also unpredictable, there will come a time when our earthly pilgrimage is over. It will also include a judgement, the Particular Judgement, we call it: those who die in unrepentant mortal sin will suffer the tragedy of Hell forever; the saints who have no temporal punishment to have removed will come straight away to Heaven. For most of us, who want to live a life of holiness, but still have some justice to satisfy, will be given the second chance of a purification in Purgatory. Aided by the prayers and good works of those who love us, most especially when they offer Holy Mass for our repose, we will come to join the angels and saints in time. But even for this world-end, unique for each person, though death is certain, we are exposed to potentially terrifying unpredictability.

The Lord will come as a thief in the night.

Night-time thievery is something that the typical South African must think about more than is helpful. Our burglar bars and security gates are signs of this fear. What does it mean when we say that Jesus will come like a thief in the night? He’s certainly not going to take what isn’t His; all that we are and have is His. But the arrival will be stealthy and secret, taking us by surprise. To be ready for the coming of natural thieves, with ill intentions, we spend a fortune on securing our homes and possessions. We might have a high-tech system, with alarms and phone-enabled panels for arming and disarming; it’s all a basic mystery, really. Or we may have the old fashioned system – feed twice a day, scratch its tummy and call it a good boy. And that’s just the husbands! Dogs, cats and geese protect us from intruders, or those who come to us unawares.

The Holy Season of Advent may be a time for us to ask what spiritual security we have, and how can we protect our most prized treasure, our eternal souls?

1. Lock the door to sin

Basic security demands a simple lock of a door as a first step to securing the home. And so we should lock the spiritual home, this Temple of the Holy Spirit, keeping sin at bay. The Devil, we are told, is like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. And so it makes sense to prevent even a little entry of the Evil One into our lives. We sometimes make the mistake of allowing a little sin, because we think we deserve it or we deem it not so bad: but when Satan is invited into the home of our soul, disaster and destruction follows. We must lock the doors to sin. But not only sin, but also what the Church calls the “occasions of sin”: those moments which, of themselves are not sinful, but could lead us into temptation. We’re weak when it comes to sin; on our own, we faulter and fail. And the Devil is aware of those weaknesses that terrorise the sin-inclined flesh, weakened by the Fall. If we know that we become too angry while driving, we should avoid peak traffic. If we become impatient with shoppers, we might want to shift to online purchases. If we know that our relationships at home become a little wobbly after two glasses of wine, not to mention the wobbliness of the person drinking it, we might do well to stop after a glass, or not have more than slightly less than a glass and a half. It’s not just about avoiding sin and the occasion, but also about not avoiding confession. Advent is an excellent time, like the preparatory Season of Lent, to make frequent and integral confessions: what sin we confess is, how many times we’ve done it, and what circumstances surround the sin. We will find that the more we confess, honestly and without making excuses, the more we will be securely in the Hands of Our Lord and removed from the jaws of the Devil.

2. Activate the system

There’s no point having a good security system if it remains deactivated, or dormant. Our spiritual life is alive and active through prayer, engaging in a real, intimate communion with God, Who is deserving of our love and time. Deep within our souls, God has granted us the gift of His grace; it is freely given to us, and, without it, we would not survive. And yet we can sometimes be hesitant to let grace find a home in us. Grace will not only be poured into our hearts, but will change the heart that homes it. Especially during Advent, where many good spiritual books are available to aid our prayer, like Bossuet’s Meditations or Matt Fradd’s selections from Saint Thomas, we would do well to spent some more time in prayer this Advent, allowing God’s grace, which is ever-fruitful, to become active within our lives. It is God Himself, the source of all graces, Who gives it and makes it active. We, like good collaborators, could ask Him to enliven us, filling the hearts of His faithful, kindling the fire of love.

3. Learn the system

So many modern security systems have lots of things that beep, flicker or whirr. It’s difficult to know what each pulse or buzz means. But if we were to learn the system well, we would benefit more from the features it hosts. We could ask about the spiritual system, given by Our Lord to the Church, and how we could deepen our knowledge of it during Advent. We would do well to learn more about God’s plan for our salvation and what treasures He has entrusted to His Church. Advent Oratory (on the Tuesdays of Advent) are a marvellous time to learn more, and to pray more, followed by a chance for good fellowship afterwards at a bring-and-share supper in the Hall. Our Holy Faith has so much to offer us, if we were willing to learn. And as our knowledge of God and His love grows, we can only hope that our desire to do His Will will grow too.

More precious than any material thing, which we do so well to protect from harm or theft, is our soul, bought with so great a price. It was to redeem us that God took flesh at the First Coming; as we prepare for His Second Coming, and our celebration of the Christmas Mystery, let’s do our best to secure our souls for the Lover of Human Salvation. We should lock the doors to sin, and open the door to the confessional; we should let the Lord activate His love within us through frequent and regular prayer; we should learn more carefully the system of grace that the Lord has offered to us in His Church. And, by His grace, our souls would be made more secure by the One Who has the power to save us and make us His Own. Amen.