St John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the prophets, had to insist to his interrogators that he was not the Christ and that he was profoundly unworthy in comparison with the one who was coming. Finally, having encountered Our Lord and baptised Him, St John was able to give witness that He was the Son of God.
This witness is set before us in various ways in the sacred Liturgy for Advent and Christmas. We chant that truth springs from the earth, and justice looks down from heaven, a verse that is used by the Fathers to refer to the union of the divine and human natures of Christ in one person. Our carols sing of the one who came down from heaven who is God and Lord of us all. Finally, we acclaim the living Word, eternally begotten of the Father, the Word who is indeed God, who has now been made flesh and “made his tent” among us.
To celebrate Christmas properly requires of us a living faith in the Christ as God made man. If we are truly convinced of this, we will become His disciples, follow Him at any cost and place Him before all other things in our lives.
If we wish to prepare fittingly for the feast of Christmas, we could surely ask for no better teacher than Our Lady herself who carried Our Lord in her womb, having given her consent to be His mother after hearing the words of the angel. Her prayerful expectation of the birth of Christ is a model for us of the devout attitude we should adopt during the season of Advent.
Our Lady faithfully followed the law of God, taking part in the worship of the Jews, singing the psalms and hearing the prophecies recounted in the synagogue. She observed the great feasts in Jerusalem, aware of their meaning which pointed to the Messiah, her own child, the One who is to come.
Finally, she was able to welcome Him into the world and to look upon His holy face with delight, love and prayerful adoration.
We must also learn to rejoice in the presence of Christ when He visits us in the Holy Mass, so that we are ready to see Him face to face one day in heaven.
When we think of the last things, we often focus on our own end. This is natural and salutary, but we should also consider the whole plan of God for the kingdom of heaven and the consummation of all things in Christ. Our Lord ascended to the right hand of the Father and all things are subject to Him so that God may be all in all.
This is the fulfilment of the Kingship of Christ which we celebrated recently. It is right that Our Lord’s sovereignty should be part of the earthly arrangement of our lives, both as individuals and in society because Jesus Christ is in fact the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the one through whom and for whom everything was made, the Lord of creation and the Lord of history. In heaven, the final expression of this Kingship is eternally celebrated in the fulfilment of our worship.
At the beginning of Advent, the sacred Liturgy teaches us to look forward to the second coming of Christ which will be the inauguration of this consummation of all things in Him. It is a fitting preparation for Christmas because this fulfilment is the whole purpose of His first coming in humility in the stable of Nazareth. The hymn of the angels “Glory to God in the Highest” gives praise to God for His magnificent plan for us which is completed in heaven.
On the feast of Christ the King, we are reminded to make Christ the King of our hearts. Pope Pius XI spoke of this in his encyclical Quas Primas on the Kingship of Christ, but he added:
“if we ponder this matter more deeply, we cannot but see that the title and the power of King belongs to Christ as man in the strict and proper sense too. For it is only as man that he may be said to have received from the Father “power and glory and a kingdom,” since the Word of God, as consubstantial with the Father, has all things in common with him, and therefore has necessarily supreme and absolute dominion over all things created.” (n.7)
Our Lady at Fatima spoke of the consequences of sin for the world, not only in the lives of individuals, but also in the course of world events and the loss of faith.
In our own lives, we consecrate ourselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and to the Sacred Heart of Jesus whom we choose as King of our lives, our families and our parish. Let us strive to change our own lives to reflect this sovereignty of Christ the King and centre of all hearts, by being more faithful to the Mass and the sacraments and to our personal daily prayers.
In the gospels, Our Lord is abundantly clear that we will live for eternity, either in heaven or in hell, and that heaven is the reward that God has prepared for those who love Him.
Although we do know something about heaven from the words of Our Lord and the teaching of the Church, we can never fully comprehend the beauty and happiness of heaven here on earth. As St Paul teaches:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2.9)
We do know that those who are in heaven no longer have any sorrow; heaven is a place of perfect happiness.
On earth, we can never be sure of our salvation, we need to pray always for the gift of final perseverance in our faith. It is good to pray to St Joseph for a happy death at which we receive the sacraments and die in a state of grace. In heaven, the saints are now certain of their salvation which is assured for all eternity.
The blessed have all that they desire, and they see God face to face. Here, we need to be careful. To have all that we desire does not mean that God confirms our present disordered desires for created things or even our sins. On the contrary, the saints only desire the love of God and He is all-sufficient for their happiness.
Part of our purgatory will most likely be the purification of our clinging to earthly pleasure and satisfaction. It will also be a time in which we begin to know God as He really is. It is easy for us on earth to imagine that God is as we want Him to be – or even as we might be if we were God. The protest that “My God” would do this or that” is telling. We do not make God up in our own image, He created us in His image, and we must bow down before Him as He reveals Himself to us. We cannot bring Him down to our own level, we cannot fit Him into our limited human concepts of what we think religion should be or what we think faith should be. Along with the boy Samuel, our safest attitude is to say “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” or with St Peter, when asked whether the disciples would join all the others who walked away because of Our Lord’s difficult teaching about the Eucharist being His own flesh and blood, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life.”
When we think of heaven, it is salutary for us in directing our lives here and now. It is a most urgent priority for us to give God the first place in our lives so that we may be more ready for heaven in which He will be our only good, and spend less time in purgatory repenting and being cleansed of our self-centred attempts to reduce God to our own thinking.
Remembering those who died in war, we rightly pray for peace and give God thanks for the security that we take for granted. We should also be aware of our Catholic social teaching which upholds human dignity and equality, and the duty of contributing to the common good, and that solidarity which St John Paul so powerfully promoted.
Various anniversaries have also reminded us of some of the warped ways of thinking that have led to wars and to the killing of millions of innocent people. As Christians, we reject communism, fascism and terrorism and should be keenly aware of currents of thought that in any way promote these evil systems that have destroyed the lives of so many.
As Catholics, Remembrance Sunday should always be an occasion on which we pray fervently for the eternal rest of those who gave their lives. It is a mark of our gratitude not only to remember them, but to pray for them. Many who were unprepared for death will be grateful for ever for our prayers which speed them on the way to their eternal reward.
St Paul warns us that “we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” and “every one of us shall render account to God for himself.” (Rom 14:10,12) Our Lord, before His passion, spoke of the separation of the sheep and the goats in the general judgement at the end of time. We will also each have a personal judgement at the end of our lives, upon which will depend our eternal destiny.
Our Catholic faith teaches us that we are right to trust to the mercy of God. He will save many who would be condemned, if they were submitted to our judgement, for God is infinitely more merciful than we are.
At the same time, Our Lord leaves us in no doubt that some are lost for eternity and so we must not presume upon His mercy, treating His commandments as optional, and taking no care about whether we are in a state of grace.
Famously, Our Lord told us not to judge. He was clearly referring to the divine prerogative of judging the state of soul of a person; this belongs to Him alone. He was not excusing us from the duty to judge our own actions and moral choices, to accept His teaching as true and to reject the false lures of the world.
“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (1030)
The holy souls in purgatory are no longer able to help themselves but rely on the mercy of God and on our prayers.
It is a great act of charity to remember the holy souls, something that we do all year round, but especially in the month of November. Our familial piety requires us to pray for our family members who have died, but it is a part of our Christian love to remember also the forgotten souls, those who have nobody to pray for them.
When Our Lord gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven to St Peter, He entrusted him with the care of the treasury of merits of the Church which are dispensed by means of indulgences. These may be applied by way of suffrage to the holy souls in purgatory, and we have many opportunities at this time of year to gain indulgences by carrying out those good works which are chosen by the Church for this purpose.
Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God. Our traditional formulae of vocal prayers are helpful to us in addressing God with reverence, but the saints encourage us also in the practice of mental prayer, or meditation, in which we think of a particular mystery, express our affections and form resolutions to offer to God as the fruit of our prayer.
This can seem a difficult thing to ask, but Our Lady, instructing St Dominic, gave us a way that is suitable for all: the Rosary. For about a quarter of an hour, we express ourselves with simple vocal prayers, while at the same time focussing on the mysteries of Our Lord’s life, death and resurrection.
For example, we might think of the Visitation and picture the scene where Our Lady is welcomed by St Elizabeth, and the child, St John the Baptist, leaps in her womb. Our Lady expresses praise to God in the Magnificat. We can be prompted to praise God, to thank Him for life, to adore the child Jesus, and to promise to be faithful to Him.
This coming Friday marks the 100th anniversary of the final appearance of our Lady at Fatima on 13 October 1917.
When later, in 1925, Our Lady specified her intention to Sr Lucia that she would like her to promote the devotion of the five first Saturdays, she said “Look, my daughter, at my Heart encircled by these thorns with which men pierce it at every moment by their blasphemies and ingratitude. You, at least, strive to console me.”
Our Lady suffered at the foot of the cross in union with Our Lord; the anguish she experienced on seeing His sufferings fulfilled, the prophecy of Simeon: “A sword shall pierce your own soul also.” (Lk 2.35) Her grief was greater than the martyrs since she was concerned not with her own sufferings but with those of the her son who was God made man, suffering not only physically but also psychologically and spiritually through the sins of all the world from the sin of Adam to the end of the world.
Our Lady asks us to console her by our prayers, our good works, and our penances, and especially by reverence for and adoration of the most Blessed Sacrament in which we offer to Our Lord the honour and love which He deserves from us in place of the indifference and contempt with which He is routinely treated.
Our reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is not at all in “competition” with the reparation which we give to Our Lord. The hearts of Jesus and Mary are united. Our Lady herself offers reparation in the highest degree to God the Father through Christ His Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit who was poured out upon her along with the apostles at Pentecost.
We join with Our Lady when we listen to her and carry out what she asked us to do. The devotion of the first Saturdays is easily achievable, but requires of us an effort and commitment which reminds us of our duties of worship and reverence for God, placing this as a higher priority than our worldly concerns, and our desire for entertainment.
Our Lady told Sr Lucia that she was especially offended by blasphemies against her Immaculate Conception, her perpetual virginity and her divine maternity, the blasphemies of those who seek openly to foster in the hearts of children indifference or contempt and even hatred for her, and the offenses of those who directly outrage Her in her holy images.
In our own time, we have seen these offences multiplied and worsened in ways that the children of Fatima could not have comprehended, by the destruction of the unborn, the attacks upon marriage and the family, and even by assaults against the innocence of children in the human nature that has been given to them by God.
Our Lady shows us that we are not helpless but that we can make a difference spiritually to the evils of our time, and in our own circle of influence, however small, also to those whom we know and love. May the Immaculate Heart of Mary triumph in our souls, in our families and in our country.