Advent is a God-given period of time in which we can and should meditate on our human frailty. I don’t mean that we should concentrate on our illnesses, our disabilities, our aches and pains. We do that often enough throughout the year. Advent is a period of time during which we should focus on the Incarnation of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The main element in the mystery of the Incarnation is the fact, so beautifully enunciated by Saint Paul, that Our Lord did not consider the majesty of his divinity as something to clung to but rather emptied himself and took to himself the nature of a slave.
Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ in an effort to portray the passion in naturalistic images unfortunately leaves one with the impression that Christ was superhuman in the way that he survived the inhuman torture inflicted on him and was able to make his way to Mount Calvary. The film redeemed itself by graphically showing the times Christ fell to the ground under the weight of the cross. The point is that Christ is a man, not superman.
By coming to us as a man with all the frailty and capacity for human suffering Christ elevated our own fallen human nature and opened up for us the possibility of our joining him in His glorified state.
Here are some of the thoughts of Father George W. Rutler on the subject
Our Lord is astonishingly patient with our culture, given that He has made the world so wonderful and yet those who live in it can be so banal in what satisfies them.
The season of Advent explores life’s wonders, but it is widely ignored by people rushing to celebrate a Christmas they do not comprehend. If culture is satisfied with banality, those who would know deep joy must be counter-cultural. In many places there will be no meditating on the four Advent mysteries: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. But these are the very things that save us from the insufferable boredom of life lived only on the surface of reality.
A good patron saint for counter-culturalism would be Pope St. Leo I. Although he lived in the fifth century, he is just what we need today, and Pope Benedict XVI often strikes me as his double. Pope Leo lived in a culture of political and moral decay. He confronted powerful barbarians threatening what remained of classical civilization. Attila the Hun and Gaiseric the Vandal were not the sorts you’d want to meet in a dark alley, and yet this pope faced them down in 452 and 455 and saved Rome. He was no less strong against various Christian heretics whose pessimism about life had created a “culture of death,” denied that Mary was the mother of her own true God, thought that Christ could not be truly human and divine, and assumed that they were morally fine without God’s help. Today we do not call them Manicheans, Nestorians, Monophysites and Pelagians, but they are alive in the schools and on television.
On the First Sunday of Advent, the new translation of the Creed renews the ancient formula for Christ as “consubstantial with the Father.” When this was defined at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the assembled bishops declared: “Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo.” The Successor of Peter as center of the Church’s unity knew that this inspiration was more important for civilization than defeating Vandals and Huns.
On this Sunday we also say in the General Confession an accurate translation of the Latin: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” striking the breast in an outward sign that our souls and bodies have fallen short of the God-given dignity that a superficial world tries daily to take away. In a sermon on how to prepare for Christmas, counter-cultural Leo preached: “And hence we warn you, beloved, in fatherly affection, to make this winter fast fruitful to yourselves by bounteous alms, rejoicing that by you the Lord feeds and clothes His poor, to whom assuredly He could have given the possessions which He has bestowed on you, had He not in His unspeakable mercy wished to justify them for their patient labor, and you for your works of love.”
In our culture, I fear that it’s too easy to get tripped up by the temptation to make Advent strictly a time to prepare only for gift-giving and gift-receiving (things which are good, by the way). What this usually means is that at this time every year, we tend to give more thought to what Christmas presents we will give to those who are dear to us. And once we get a list of the gifts we want to give to our loved ones, which for many people constitutes a bonafide work project given the number of people they know, we then must brave the chaos of the stores, purchase the gifts we want and then leave without being trampled upon and “left for dead”. In short, our Advent becomes a time of anxiety and worry, and we lose sight of the real reason for the season. I myself have been guilty of this, and I’m going to try not to fall into the trap this year!!! So, I beg you to pray for me with the knowledge that I do pray for you.
Ubi Petrus ibi Ecclesia. Darn good rule.
I think we are losing a sense of the Infinite Majesty of God. The once sublime and lofty sense of God among many Catholics has now been replaced with a low view of God. I remember reading [as a young theology student] about the Divine Ideas. I was awestruck by the words of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure. God is utterly Infinite and complete. Holy. Everything that exists or could exist already exists in His Divine Mind from all eternity. He doesn’t need us to know us. The Divine Archetypes of all things already pre-exist in Him in the most Perfect possible way. He needs nothing. Did Shakespeare need to incarnate Hamlet in ink on paper to know Hamlet? No. Shakespeare could write Hamlet, tear it up, write it again differently, burn it, create it, destroy it. And none of these actions would affect the Hamlet that existed in Shakespeare’s mind. God did not need to create a single creature and yet He did out of Divine Love. He is Infinite and we are finite. He creates us out of nothing and only His Infinite Goodness keeps us from lapsing backing into the nothingness. God owes us nothing because we are not equals with Him in any way!!!. Even the gifts we give Him were first given to us by Him! What did Shakespeare owe to his paper creations, like Hamlet or Macbeth? He owed them nothing. He was free to do as he willed with his works. So, I was taught, can God. God can never be unjust to us because we are His creatures. But God is love. The distance between an ant and a man is very great. But the distance between God and man is infinite. And yet God crosses this infinite distance to become man, to save us from our sins.
I was watching a video of Francis Cardinal Arinze speaking on reception of the Blessed Sacrament. He said that sometimes people who kneel to receive the Sacred Body of Christ are ostracized by others for kneeling and not standing. Cardinal Arinze said: “If you believe that Christ is our God and He’s present, why don’t you kneel, why don’t you crawl?” Clearly Cardinal Arinze has a sense of the utter Majesty of God Who became man to save us from our sins.
If we lose a sense of the utter awesome majesty of God and His Infinite Holiness, what will happen to our sense of the dignity of man who is a mirror made of dust and ashes, but a mirror that reflects the image of God Himself? Without the Divinity of God, man loses his humanity: abortion, euthanasia. The two are connected.