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The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion(No. 3)

The third in a series of reflections about thinking, praying, and professing the Faith of the Church in celebration of the Year of Faith, proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI.
 
 
We enter the season of Advent – perhaps the most counter-cultural of the liturgical seasons. While the world around us somewhat frantically launches the “Christmas season” earlier and earlier, the Church observes a kind of pre-Christmas lent, a time of prayerful waiting and spiritual preparation. And the first announcement of Advent is not the coming of the Christ Child; it is Christ's final advent. “He will come to judge the living and the dead”. As if to say this is how we get ready to welcome the Christ Child – by preparing to meet him when he comes again as our judge. We prepare for Christmas by preparing for the end of the world! As the child longs for and “just can't wait” for the coming of Christmas, so child-like faith longs for the final advent of Jesus.
 
 
Longing for the unimaginable . . .
    
But can I really learn such longing? Can I learn to honestly pray with the first generation of Christians, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!”? Why would we long for the end of the world as we know it? Because the “end of the world,” according to the promise of Christ, will bring the fulfillment of our true End, our true destiny, our ever-new beginning. It will bring the vindication of love, the redeeming of every “small” act of love that in this old world dies unrecorded, buried in obscurity. Truth will finally shine and falsehood be exposed; unfairness will be righted. Those who have kept faith through suffering, obscurity, and ridicule will be honored. Those who have sown the seeds of violence, hatred, and godlessness will face the truth or be banished. The humble will be surprised by their exaltation, the loveless shocked by the embrace of Love. Whatever is good in us will be perfected, whatever is evil in us purged away. We will know the joy of at last being all we are meant to be. Our children and all God's little ones will then be loved as they ought to be loved. In this End – and this will surely be the highlight of heaven and the summary of all joy – the Crucified One will finally get all the credit, finally be adored as he deserves. And God will be everything to every one” ( 1 Cor. 15:28).
 
A fearful hope, a hopeful fear . . .
  
But “He will come to judge.” . .Is this promise of the End not a terrifying threat? Indeed, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). In the Christian life, for the time being, hope and fear dwell together, and one does not banish the other. Because judgment means not only vindication but “passing judgment”. Judgment means sorting out, separation, one on this side, the other on that side, acceptance or rejection, a final Either – Or. (Matt. 25:31-46).
  
This holy fear is in the service of God's grace. It finally gives us courage to repent. It teaches us to accept now God's right to judge, to willingly stand ahead of time in the search light of God's judgment (the confessional!). For we all (except the Blessed Virgin) have in us that which must be separated out and “discarded” for the sake of our true End (1 John 1:10). After all, we cannot enter heaven half-heartedly.
    
Nevertheless, as we acknowledge our sins and cast ourselves on God's mercy, fear bows before hope. And finally, “love casts out fear” – not our imperfect love of God, but God's perfect love for us in Jesus Christ (1 John 4:10, 18). God's judgment, humbly accepted, drives us under the shelter of Christ's Cross. And this is our hope: He comes to judge the living and the dead. The Crucified One is our judge; our End is in the hands of Sacrificial Love.
 


 
 
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