Non Confundar in Aeternum!
Let us say with all trust, humility and faith in the Infant Christ Child: "In thee, O Lord, I put my trust; let me never be confounded."
"This is one of the first things every soul must learn as they begin to walk the path of perfection: total humility. The acknowledgement that the Divine standard is too high, Satan is too clever, and human flesh is too weak - if it were not so, my friends, there would be no reason to celebrate the Nativity, because there would have been no Incarnation, because there would have been no need for Christ to take on human nature, because we humans could do it ourselves."
Mary Christ-Mass to all! Time just seems to be moving faster and faster these days - it only feels like months ago that I was penning a Christmas Message for The Daily Catholic for Christimas 2003. At that time, I had written about the Incarnation of Our Lord and its many parallels to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass - I do not intend to depart too far from that basic foundation this year.
Through these four weeks of Advent, two major themes have stuck out at me repeatedly: the Coming of the Lord, and the utterly dependent state of Man as he tries to do the humanly impossible - to prepare for that Coming.
These themes have been particularly underscored by the readings from the prophets and the gospels, which have been speaking to us about the Last Times. This is the ultimate Coming of the Lord, the dies irae when all men will stand and tremble before the awful Judge of the World. The Sacred Scriptures speak of this event as "the Day of the Lord." What sort of Day will this be?
"Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is near: it shall come as a destruction from the Lord ... the day of the Lord shall come, a cruel day, and full of indignation, and of wrath, and fury, to lay the land desolate, and to destroy the sinners thereof out of it." (Is. 13:6)
"For this is the day of the Lord the God of hosts, a day of vengeance, that he may revenge himself of his enemies: the sword shall devour, and shall be filled, and shall be drunk with their blood." (Jer. 46:10)
"Ah, ah, ah, for the day: because the day of the Lord is at hand, and it shall come like destruction from the mighty." (Joel 1:15)
"The day of the Lord is great and very terrible: and who can stand it?" (Joel 2:11)
"Woe to them that desire the day of the Lord: to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light." (Amos 5:18)
"The great day of the Lord is near, it is near and exceeding swift: the voice of the day of the Lord is bitter, the mighty man shall there meet with tribulation." (Zeph. 1:14)
"And who shall be able to think of the day of His coming? and who shall stand to see Him? for He is like a refining fire, and like the fullerís herb." (Mal. 3:2)
Even the New Testament writers speak of the Day of the Lord in these terms:
"But the day of the Lord shall come as a thief, in which the Heavens shall pass away with great violence and the elements shall be melted with heat and the earth and the works which are in it shall be burnt up." (2 Pet. 3:10)
"Every manís work shall be manifest. For the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire. And the fire shall try every manís work, of what sort it is." (1 Cor. 3:13)
To sum up: the Day of the Lord is the day of His Coming, a day of trouble, tribulation, judgment, purgation for the just, and destruction for the wicked.
It just makes you want to deck the halls and sing fa-la-la-la-la, doesn't it?
Why does Holy Mother Church place before us the great and awful Day of the Lord during this time of Advent? Remember the Gospel reading from the First Sunday, in which Our Lord spoke of "signs in the sun and in the moon," "upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea," "men withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world?" What does this have to do with the Incarnation, with the Feast of the Nativity? To that question I will return in a moment.
First, however, I want you to recall this singularly important line from that same gospel reading for the First Sunday: "but when these things begin to come to pass, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand."
Here is the hinge upon which Advent swings, the point of distinction that separates the sheep from the goats! For the wicked, the Day of the Lord will be a day of damnation and eternal darkness; but for the righteous, the Day of the Lord will be a day of salvation, purgation, redemption, and eternal light.
What is the deciding factor? The Day of the Lord will be a day of salvation for those who take to heart and put into practice the words we have been hearing for these four weeks in the epistles. Let me refresh your memory with some of these phrases.
In the First Sunday, we heard "it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep," and "let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ."
In the Second Sunday, we were told "whatsoever things were written, were written for our learning; that through patience and the comfort of the Scriptures, we might have hope," and "the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of one mind one towards another, according to Jesus Christ; that with one mind, and with one mouth, you may glorify God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
On the Third Sunday, St. Paul exhorted us, "Let your modesty be known to all men. The Lord is nigh. Be nothing solicitous, but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God."
Finally, on the Fourth Sunday we were encouraged to have the perspective of St. Paul: "I am not conscious to myself of anything, but am I not hereby justified: but He that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore, judge not before the time, until the Lord come: who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise from God."
Let me put the matter concisely: the difference between those who will perish and those who will be saved on the Day of the Lord is a difference of preparation. We are exhorted in Scripture to always be ready for His Coming, to not be caught by surprise when that Day comes - those who prepared and were ready will be saved; those who procrastinated will be caught by surprise and find it too late to repent.
In other words, these four weeks of Advent that lead to the Incarnation are a micro-scale model of the Day of the Lord at the end of time. We are reminded, on a yearly basis, that the Incarnation is the Coming of the Lord on the Day of the Lord, but that this is only a preview of the Second Coming. Now He comes as a baby, ready to live and die to redeem the world; then He comes as a king and a judge, ready to separate the sheep from the goats.
Every Coming of the Lord provokes judgment, and this is what we must remember. When He came as a baby in Bethlehem, His coming provoked judgment: it separated the shepherds and Magi of the world from the King Herods of the world.
Likewise, His Coming that occurs at every Holy Mass (I told you I would tie the Incarnation to the Mass eventually, didn't I?) is also an occasion for judgment - which is why we spend so much of the Mass looking at our own consciences, examining our souls. For the just, the Coming of Christ in the Eucharist is the reception of the fruit that comes from the Tree of Life; for the wicked who receive Him in mortal sin, sacrilegiously, His Coming is synonymous with judgment (remember St. Paul's ominous words in 1 Cor. 11:29, "he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgment to himself").
Even now, as we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity, there is a provoking of judgment: the Feast is here, but are you ready for it? Did you prepare? Many were so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the secular/commercial Holiday Season that this Feast of the Nativity caught them quite by surprise - were you one of them?
This is, as best as I can tell, the reason why Mother Church reminds us of the Day of the Lord right before the Feast of the Nativity - to get us ready for the main event, the Final Coming. We get a nice four-week warning before the Nativity; keep in mind, however, that there will be no four-week warning before the Second Coming. Therefore we must always be in preparation for that Coming, we must always be - as it were - celebrating Advent and preparing ourselves by casting off the works of darkness.
If you are reading this and thinking, "Yes, he's right, I will start paying more attention to my life and live always in a spirit of Advent," I have news for you: it can't be done. You're just not strong enough to live up to that kind of expectation. And here is where we enter into the second theme of Advent ... humility and dependence.
This is one of the first things every soul must learn as they begin to walk the path of perfection: total humility. The acknowledgement that the Divine standard is too high, Satan is too clever, and human flesh is too weak - if it were not so, my friends, there would be no reason to celebrate the Nativity, because there would have been no Incarnation, because there would have been no need for Christ to take on human nature, because we humans could do it ourselves.
In the very act of celebrating the Feast of the Nativity, we must see what we are admitting by our actions: that we need the help of this helpless baby, and that His infant weakness is infinitely stronger than all of our grandiose resolutions and plans to achieve spiritual perfection. If we celebrate the Incarnation, we implicitly acknowledge that the Incarnation was necessary because we cannot save ourselves.
That's the irony. We spend four weeks preparing ourselves, only to arrive at the Incarnation and face the reality that there is no way on earth we could have adequately prepared ourselves, and that's precisely why the Incarnation happened. That is, we spent four weeks preparing for an event without which our preparation would be impossible.
That realization really hit home for me this Advent. I'm usually the prideful one (and pride is subtle, remember) who makes a fool of himself before the Divine Throne by promising all sorts of heroic Advent feats: this year, I'll eat only bread and water, and next year I'll say 20,000 Rosaries while standing barefoot in the snow! Ok, that's an exaggeration, but you get the idea - and you've probably committed that same fault yourself.
Advent comes, and the first thing we think of is how we plan on impressing God with our mortifications. I think I might have advanced just a hair's breadth this year, because when I contemplated what sort of mortifications I would offer, I had a moment of honesty: "My God ... You know I'll be doing well if I simply manage to be peaceable and loving with my family; I'll be lucky if I remember to say a simple Our Father every day, let alone all 15 decades!"
So I resolved something completely different this year: to do something manageable and small, something that I would normally consider "too easy" (which is somewhat humiliating), but to do it with great love. If the One Who is Great Love decides to ask me to do something more heroic for Him, then I imagine He will supply the graces necessary, and I will be glad to do it; but for now, it seems that the act of falling down and crying out in confession of weakness is more in keeping with the spirit of Advent.
This second theme of our total dependence upon God is beautifully interwoven in the liturgical texts for the four Sundays of Advent. In between warnings of the Last Judgment and exhortations to mortify the flesh come phrases like these:
"To Thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul: in Thee, O my God, I put my trust; let me not be ashamed. Neither let my enemies laugh at me: for none of them that wait on Thee shall be confounded." (Introit, First Sunday)
"None of them that wait on Thee shall be confounded." (Gradual, First Sunday)
"In Thee, O my God, I put my trust, let me not be ashamed: neither let my enemies laugh at me: for none of them that wait for Thee shall be confounded." (Offertory, First Sunday)
"O God, turning Thou wilt bring us life; and Thy people shall rejoice in Thee: show us, O Lord, Thy mercy, and grant us Thy salvation." (Offertory, Second Sunday)
"Say, ye faint-hearted, take courage, and fear not: behold our God will come and will save us." (Communion, Third Sunday)
"The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon Him: to all that call upon Him in truth." (Gradual, Fourth Sunday)
"Behold, a Virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a son; and His name shall be called Emmanuel." (Communion, Fourth Sunday)
This must be the heart-felt attitude of every Catholic: there is no human way that I can adequately prepare myself for the Coming of the Lord, mortify my flesh, cast off the works of darkness, and practice virtue, so I will call out in desperation upon the Lord (as the ancient Te Deum hymn teaches us) and say, in te Domine speravi: non confundar in aeternum! [in thee, Lord, I put my trust: let me never be confounded!]"
If I place my hope and trust in Him, He will never let me be ashamed or confounded; His grace will sustain me and prepare me for His Coming; I will be able to proclaim, along with the Psalmist, that my enemies (Lucifer and his demons) were not able to triumph over me.
This is my Christmas message for you: come to the manger-cradle and see the Bread of Angels; touch the rough wood of His make-shift crib and be reminded of the wood of the Cross; see in this tiny baby both your humiliation (in that you must acknowledge His infant strength over your own human weakness) and your elevation (in that His grace will make you pure and holy and worthy to join the choirs of angels and congregation of saints). His body and blood which are now here in the manger/feeding-trough are given for you to supply you with the necessary graces.
You could not possibly have adequately prepared for His coming this year, so place all of your efforts into His infant hands, and with great faith, hope, and charity, say "In thee, Lord, have I put my trust; let me never be confounded."
Qui cum in forma Dei esset
Non rapinam arbitratus est
Esse se aequalem Deo
Sed semet ipsum exinanivit
Formam servi accipiens
In similitudinem hominum factus
Et habitu inventus ut homo
If you want to ask Jacob a question, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and we encourage you to visit his site A Lumen Gentleman - Lumen Gentleman Apologetics.