Preparing for the Coming of the Christ
The Second Sunday of Advent. Is 40:1-5,9-11; Ps 85:9-14; 2 Pt 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8
The readings for the Second Sunday of Advent present what might seem to be a surprising mix of themes. On the one hand these readings appear to be recall the past, the time nearly two thousand years ago when John the Baptist appeared in the desert to call the people to turn away from sin and to be ready for the coming of the Christ. This coming is the one we most closely associate with Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ in a stable in Bethlehem, born in obscurity to suffer and die for our sins on Calvary.
Today's second reading, however, describes Christ's coming in a very different way. Saint Peter describes this coming in dramatic terms. This day of the Lord will come like a thief, that is, at an unexpected time to those who are not keeping watch for him. The heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire. At this coming of Christ, this world will come to an end, the dead shall be raised, all shall be judged and the saints will enjoy the new heavens and the new earth. Saint Peter's description is a reminder that Advent is not only a time to remember the first coming of Christ, but also to prepare for the second coming of Christ and, in particular, to prepare for the Last Judgment. Now while this event may yet lie in the remote future, the time each one of us has to prepare for the second coming is limited by the span of our own lives, that is, to a few decades at most. God is patient, not wishing that any souls should perish, but the time each one of us has available to prepare for the second coming is in fact fairly short.
So how, then, should we prepare for the second coming of Jesus Christ? Well, the answer is very similar to the way that people prepared for his first coming, namely, by turning away from sin. When we turn from sin, God provides the means of cleansing our souls. For his first coming, God provided the baptism of John; for the second coming, he provides the Christian sacraments of Baptism and the sacrament of Confession. For those of us who are already Christians, Advent should therefore be a time when we make special use of the sacrament of Confession. Now the action of confessing our sins is a naturally good thing to do, but the grace of the sacrament provides so much more. In the sacrament of Confession, a priest has the apostolic power to absolve someone from serious sin, and it is important that we make regular use of this supernatural opportunity. Bishop Hermann, in a recent letter to priests of this diocese, asks priests to encourage the use of Confession during this Advent and he draws attention to three sins that are very prevalent in today's world. First, sins of impurity that degrade and debase the human body and mind, which is made to be holy and a temple of the Holy Spirit. Second, missing Mass on Sunday. Mass on Sunday is not an option for Catholics. To miss the Sacrifice of the Mass, when the Sacrifice of Calvary is made present on the altar for our salvation, is a grave offense to God unless we are ill or otherwise incapacitated. Third, to receive Communion in a state of grave sin is itself a grave sin. We need to go to Confession before receiving Communion if we have committed serious sin since our last Confession. While Sunday Mass is an obligation, it is not an obligation to receive Communion at Mass, and we should refrain from doing so if we have committed serious sin that has not yet been brought to Confession.
Now quite a few people have a fear of a coming to Confession, so I want to say a few words of reassurance. First, God and the priest in Confession welcome sinners with joy. A priest is bound by a seal of absolute secrecy. He will not be shocked by sin and, as a sinner himself, the priest also goes to Confession regularly. Second, if you have not been to Confession for some time, just ask the priest for help. He will guide you through the process, which is, in fact, very simple, yet gives incomparable relief to the soul.
This Wednesday there will be a special opportunity to go to Confession here at Saint Ambrose from 4:30 to 7:30p.m. I encourage you to make use of this opportunity or to go to Confession at some other Catholic church this Advent.
Father Andrew Pinsent, St Ambrose Church, St Louis, 7th December 2008
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