This evening I wish to consider the two antiphons that are proper to this ferial Friday of the second week of Advent, that given for the Benedictus and that given for the Magnificat, for I believe they are truly indicative of the spirit and content of the season.
Dicite: Pusillanimes, confortamini: ecce Dominus Deus noster veniat, we sang this morning. “Say to them: ‘Be strong, you that are fearful of heart, for behold the Lord our God will come.’”
Who amongst us has not experienced fear, worry, distress, anxiety, dread or any other number of mixed or even destructive emotions in our hearts in this past year – in respect of the situation of my family, with regard to my friends, because of the exigencies of my health or of that of those close to me, in finding or sustaining good employment, in pursing my education or in discerning or having the courage faithfully to follow and persevere in my God-given vocation? Being fearful of heart is part of the fallen human condition. Here on earth, where our hearts are not yet completely filled with God’s life and love as they shall be when, if we persevere in the Faith, we enjoy the beatific vision in heaven, fear is an effect of original sin. We may know better, but the emotion of fear can so easily gain the upper hand in our lives and dominate our thoughts, words and deeds. Where fear reigns, God’s grace is inhibited. Advent 2018 may well find us thus: fearful and not whom we truly could or should be.
“Be strong!” the Sacred Liturgy insists today. Fine words, to be sure, but words which can bring little comfort to one crippled by fear. But the Church continues – she obstinately maintains that we fearful of heart must take courage, “for behold the Lord our God will come.”
For with His coming we shall no longer be alone. The darkness of our fears cannot dominate us when the light of His coming shines upon even the worst of them. Help is at hand. Grace is available to purify, elevate and perfect our fallen, weak and broken human nature. God will become man so to assist each one of us. For this reason, now, even in our fear, we must be strong. For this reason we must turn anew, this Advent, to He who is Hope, that we might receive all that we need in living and persevering in fidelity to God’s Will and Law. In so doing we shall be given all that we need, and more, to strengthen us.
This feast of the availability of God’s grace is that to which Advent looks forward with an increasing appetite. It is why Advent is such a joyful penitential season. It is why the liturgical texts resound with praise, as does the second of our proper texts, this evening’s Magnificat antiphon: Cantate Domino canticum novum: laus eis ad extremis terrae. “Sing to the Lord a new song: His praise from the ends of the earth.”
Am I able to sing those words? Is my heart sufficiently free from fear so to do at this point of Advent 2018? If it is not, if the shadows of doubt and fear and anxiety and so on linger, if I am still hesitating in following God’s will in any area of my life, then the Church calls me to use her traditional means of prayer and penance – including the sacrament of confession – to put right that which needs correcting, to repair any damage I have done to myself or others, to take the necessary steps – even risks – in following the God’s Will for me, etc., so that I may indeed receive His grace, so that my heart may sing “His praise from the ends of the earth” with a purity that may well at first astonish me.
Traditionally the third week of Advent is Ember week and on Ember Wednesday, Friday and Saturday we are called to pray and fast with a particular intensity. Amidst the business of Advent that can even intrude into the monastic enclosure, let these days be days of efficacious purification for each of us. Let their faithful observance open us ever more to the grace that is available to us. Let their disciplines clear the way so that the light of Christ can shine more brightly in our hearts and banish even the darkest fears that lurk in the corners therein.
Then we shall indeed be strong. Then our lives will be that unique song of praise to Him which only we, our fears banished by the Lord who comes, can sing. +