B - Advent - The First Sunday
Realizing The Truths of Faith
Rev. H. G. Hughes
The Advent season, dear Brethren in Jesus Christ, recurring every year in the Church’s round of fast and festival, is a call to us to face the realities of existence. I do not mean what are often spoken of as “the stern realities of life,” those hard and painful experiences which human life brings to us all: I mean the incomparably greater and more important realities that are known to us by Faith: incomparably greater, because they have to do with God and our souls, and our relations to our Maker; incomparably more important, because not only during our short life here, or while this world endures, will they last and be realities, but because they will last forever, and will become for us one da not only truths of faith, but facts of personal individual experience for weal or woe throughout eternity.
These are the things taught by Jesus Christ, truths of which He says, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away”: the end of the world, that is, shall come, and the heavens shall be rolled up as a scroll, and the stars shall fall, and all this universe be changed into the new heavens and the new earth, but these truths, these realities shall remain forever.
It is of the unseen realities, then, that I speak: the things of God, the things of the soul, the things of eternity. To us, these things ought to be the most real of all, for we have faith, by which we grasp them; faith, which convinces us of their truth; faith, of which the office is to make actual for us the invisible supernatural realm, to bring that realm as a practical matter, as the chief object of our consideration into the conduct of our daily lives. For faith, as St. Paul writes, is “the substance, that is the actualization of things hoped for, the evidence (or conviction) of things that appear not” (Heb. xi, 1).
It is a supernatural power of grasping God’s teachings, a power by which we are convinced, with the utmost certitude, of the reality of those things which God has revealed to us.
Today, then, rousing up in ourselves by God’s help the spirit of Catholic faith that He has mercifully given us, we will consider, and endeavor honestly to face some of those great truths which by that faith we know.
Advent speaks to us of two great interventions of God in human affairs; of two visible comings of God to men; one that is past, one that is yet to be.
Through all this season of preparation, the Church directs our attention to that never-to-be-forgotten day when the Word Eternal, the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, true God of true God, fulfilling the Divine Decrees and the longing expectation of nations, came in visible human form to be the Savior of mankind.
We are preparing to commemorate, in the joyous Christmas past, the greatest work of that ever God did in His dealings with men - the union of the Divine Nature with our human nature in the Person of the Word; the bridging over of the gulf which separated the finite from the Infinite, that divine miracle of miracles by which the Almighty God is man, in order that men may become like to God, so god-like, so wondrously lifted up by grace to the similitude of the living God, that St. Peter calls this likeness a participation of the Divine Nature Itself.
That first coming of our God was in meekness and humility, in gentleness and lowly guise: It as, in outward seeming, only the birth of a little Hebrew Child in poverty and obscurity, ushered in by Angels’ song of peace heard not by the great world, but only by a few poor peasants as they kept their flocks by night.
Oh how can men be proud, when the God of Heaven has thus come among them, hiding His glory in the poverty of that Birth, shutting up His Almightiness within an infant’s trembling frame, bringing His Mighty Word, by which heaven and the world were made, within the compass of a feeble infant’s cry?
But there will be another Advent, another visible coming of our God – how soon none can tell, that Second Advent of which the Gospel tells us to-day, when “the powers of heaven shall be moved,” and “they shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and majesty”: when the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised, and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn, looking upon Him Whom they have pierced; when “there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves, men withering away from fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world,” when the just, indeed, shall look up, knowing that their redemption is at hand, but the wicked, in an agony of hopeless terror, shall call upon the mountains and rocks to fall upon them and hide them from the awful wrath of God.
Brethren, there are men in the world to-day, who look upon these things as an interesting invention of the human spirit, a natural evolution of certain moral and emotional instincts in the human race; as the productions of a stage in that gradual process by which, of his own power, say they, man has struggled upward from the condition of a brute beast to what he is now – a stage of evolution which is passing away, to be succeeded by another to which we are supposed to be quickly coming, in which religion will consist simply in behaving well, or at least with outward decency, for the sake of the common good and convenience.
These men admire the romance and he beauty and the poetry which they find in the idea of a God Incarnate, but it is to them a charming legend only. They profess to understand how a natural, moral instinct in man has created also the notion of judgment, and of rewards and punishment to come; but, apart from a terrible and tragic kind of magnificence in it which has its own style of beauty, they look upon the Christian doctrine of Judgment as rather a hinderance than a help to human development.
What a sight for the Angels of God, to see men, otherwise sane. Intelligent, and able, contemplating the Incarnation of God and the Judgment to come as if they were looking at a theatrical performance, or studying, with critical eye, some work of poetic imagination! The maniac Emperor Nero, enjoying the spectacle of Rome in flames as an after-dinner enjoyment, was reasonable compared with those who take up such an attitude toward truths so awful, so well-attested and so divine.
To them, and to all like them, Christ, in whose Word we believe, seeing the works that He has wrought, says, with solemn warning – these things are true, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Words shall never pass away.”
But my brethren, fellow-Christians, men and women of faith, believers to whom I speak, is there never to be found in any of us an attitude of mind not unlike that which I have just described? Do we never as it were stand outside the great truths of Religion, the great realities of Faith, and gaze upon them as if they were, indeed, no personal concern of ours?
What is to be said of a Catholic who knows that God the Son became Man to save Him from sin and hell; who knows that one day, without the shadow of a doubt, he must be arraigned before the great white Throne; who knows that there, in the blinding light of God’s holiness, he must turn out his inmost soul and show forth the minutest willful actions of every day of his life – what is to be said, I ask you, of a Catholic, a believer, who knows this and, I will not say treats it all as a legend – but what shall be said of him if he be not penetrated to his inmost soul with the thought and remembrance of these things, with the conviction of these things, with an earnest, careful, constant solicitude to live as these things require that he should live?
Yet how many of us can say that we have such a practical grasp of the doctrines of our holy faith as to make them the ruling influence of our daily lives? And if we have not, the reason is that we do not set our minds to meditate upon them, to consider and think over the, but deserve rather the reproach of the Prophet, “With desolation is all the land made desolate: because there is none that considereth in the heart” (Jer. xii, II).
Upon which man, think you, do the Angels of God more sadly look, upon the unbelieving scientist – thank God, there are no so many unbelieving scientists as people thing – do the Angles look more sadly upon those who think that they have got rid of God and Eternity by their investigations into one or other small department of this vast universe, or upon the Catholic, heaven-taught, with all the evidences of truth that the living Church of God gives to him, who yet in its practical conduct behaves as if the Birth of God-made-Man were no more than a pleasing tale of old, and Judgment a thing so remote that he need not trouble himself about it; or who, at the most, gives but a passing consideration to the things of Eternity; think of them only when business and pleasure, eating and drinking and sleeping have had their full share of attention, and his jaded min, just to make things safe, as he imagines, turns to a perfunctory Confession and a half-hearted Communion as a soporific, a soothing draught, for his easily satisfied conscience?
Brethren, I am not leaving out of account our human weakness. Who, of mortal men, speaking to his fellow-men, can afford to do that. There are many, thanks be to God for it, whose attitude toward the great realities of existence is not so miserably inadequate to their pressing importance as the attitude of which I have spoken. Yet human weakness, the difficulties of faith, natural inconsiderateness, the nearness of the visible, palpable things of earth which so imperiously command attention, so insistently impress themselves upon us, so successfully shut out from view the things of the World to come – all these causes bring about that many of us fail greatly in that spirit of living, active, realizing faith which makes faith truly what St. Paul says it should be, the substance, the reality of things hoped for, the very evidence and conviction of the things not seen; which would make our faith bring home to our minds and hearts the things of God and the soul, and cause them to enter more intimately and practically into our lives than they do?
The saints have this spirit of faith in perfection, so that their conversation truly is in Heaven, and they live in the ever-present thought of eternity and its tremendous facts. But even we are called to be “partakers of the lot of the saints in light,” and according to the measure of grace that God gives us, we are bound to strive after such an increase of faith as shall bring us closer to the saints in their constant grasp of the great truths upon which our Salvation depends.