Editor’s note: embrace Trad advent and fast with the Fellowship of St. Nicholas.
In this book, Cardinal Zen guides us through the liturgical themes of Advent and Christmas, unveiling the beauty of the Holy Family and the significance of Epiphany.
– The Most Rev. Athanasius Schneider
Time is like a spiral
We would probably agree that the biblical concept of time is not like a circle, which repeats round and round, never having anything new. The biblical concept of time is linear, with a beginning, a process, and an end. In fact, I think it may be more accurate to say that “time is like a spiral” because while there is a cycle year by year, it is not a self-perpetuating circle but one that moves like a spiral toward the goal.
In the final stage of a liturgical year, the Church asks us to meditate on the end times. Now, a new liturgical year also begins with the end times’ theme. This connection is manifested in the liturgical arrangement. Advent is divided into two periods: in the beginning, the first period, the liturgy wants us to look forward to the glorious coming of the Savior and then gradually shift our attention to Jesus’ coming two thousand years ago. The next period (starting from December 17) is the preparation for the coming Christmas.
Looking forward to the glorious coming of the Savior can be regarded as a “normal task” of the Church after Jesus’ Ascension. Being well prepared for Advent is essential, and we believers should always keep that in mind. Of course, it is crucial to cultivate such an eschatological tension.
Have been and have yet to come
The temple of the Lord upon the high mountain is the home of all nations. The prophet said, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob” (Isa. 2:3). “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!” (Ps. 122:1–2).
Does this psalm bring the hope of the beginning and the joy felt upon arrival too close together? No. It brings out the mystery of the Church: in the Church, “have been” and “have yet to come” are two inseparable aspects. “Advent,” of course, emphasizes anticipation. We are hoping for Jesus the Savior, who was incarnated, died for us, and rose for us two thousand years ago. With that “have been” there is the “have yet to come” — for Christ has accomplished salvation for us, and we look forward with confidence to His glorious coming, to the successful fulfillment of our salvation.
The great things the Lord has prepared for us
Many people would agree that being “active” is better than being “passive,” as being “active” is more proactive. When we assess a person’s personality, being active is regarded as merit, and being creative in such “activeness” is even more appreciated. Yet many things in life require you not to do but “to tolerate.” You have to tolerate it when someone does not care about you and when someone is ungrateful for the good you have done for him. You may also have to endure some moments of injustice (which, indeed, do not deserve being given too much importance). You, too, have to face this reality by tolerating your own shortcomings and limitations as well as some irreversible inborn defects. After all, you have to admit that you are not as good as others in some respects!
Nietzsche and many people of modern times despise the virtues of patience and humility, calling them “slavish.” What they despise even more, and what they regard as “inert,” is a person’s “dependence” on others so that he does not pull himself together to “fight.” Yet there are some people who have nothing to support their fight. Saying that they are lazy is not just. An example of this is discriminating against those who rely on social security or against new immigrants.
“It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This is certainly a golden rule. But some people have noth- ing at all. How can we expect them to give?
In relationships between people, we can see that “passivity” is sometimes unavoidable and is not necessarily dishonorable. In the relationship between man and God, it is even our role to be “passive.” Our existence, our life, was created out of nothing by God, and God freely gives us salvation. When we were still His enemies, the Father sent His Son to redeem us and accomplish salvation for us. He has done everything for us, and we cannot even help Him out a little.
Baruch says, “Your children . . . went forth from you . . . but God will bring them back to you.” (5:5–6). What we humans can do “actively” is to stray away from God — to commit sins. To return to Him, we can only depend on His guidance.
We don’t like to feel indebted to another. It wounds our pride. But in the relationship between man and God, we cannot think this way. We are doomed to owe Him an infinite favor. Children do not care about being dependent on their parents for everything, and instead, they take it for granted. What we need is this mentality of a child.
St. Paul certainly praised the believers in Philippi for their partnership for the Gospel (Phil. 1:4–6, 8–11), but he still attributed the success to God. He said: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.” It is God who started it and finished it.
St. John the Baptist cried, “Prepare the way of the Lord. . . . All flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:4, 6). We might ask, “Isn’t it we who should return home from the land of exile? Isn’t it our path made straight?” It certainly is. But it all depends on God’s guidance. It is He who comes to our hearts, and then we repent and return to Him. We say, “Our repentance turns God from His wrath, and He receives us again.” It is God who first receives us; only then does He teach us how to repent!
St. Augustine said that our good merits are God’s gifts. What we say “we offer” during the Mass is indeed what we have received earlier from the hands of God.
Does this make us self-abasing? Modern atheists would say so. They accuse us of degrading ourselves in order to exalt God. What’s more, they even say that we have created God. Saying this, we experience the most thorough “alienation”: putting the goodness we deserve outside ourselves and projecting the goodness onto God. We then use this created God to suppress ourselves, setting many obstacles to our own freedom.
We would find it ridiculous for a child to say that he created his parents. But when he feels a sense of self-abasement in front of his parents because of his own identity as a son, we are pretty sure it is a rare sickness. Yet the modern man, dazzled by his achievements, embraces those fallacies in regard to God the Father!
Advent allows us Christians to experience once again the joy of having this faith. God has achieved the salvation that we have been expecting.
“The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad” (Ps. 126:3).