John Heard: A time to rise above the mess

03 Dec 2008

By The Record

“For the just man falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble to ruin.” – (Proverbs 24:16)
The Church is wise in her ways, and rich in subtlety. She knows how to deal with sloppy, lazy men. Catholic life is ordered, and ordered for a purpose: for flourishing. It is good to be a Catholic.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the provisions made, and the spurs provided, in the Church’s calendar. At various stages of the year, Catholics are called from everyday life – from work, from anxiety, from selfish concerns – and directed back towards God. We are asked to refocus our attention on Him, and to re-dedicate ourselves to His service. Advent is such a time.
Like Lent, Advent is therefore a season of waiting. We wait for Christ. We wait for Christmas. We look forward, with the whole Church and the people of God, to the Mass of Christmas night. We anticipate salvation, and prepare to welcome the Incarnate One.
To ensure we are worthy of this Christmas miracle we also discipline ourselves. We pray more. We might fast. We turn our minds to giving, and attempt to harmonise with our families.
What a refreshing change from the modern, secular world. Just when we might have been getting smug, just when we were starting to believe the siren call of self-worship, and arrogance – Catholics are forced to confront our failings.
For we acknowledge, in all of this, that we are not yet perfect.
We recognise that we are, indeed, nothing without Christ, and that absent the events of Christmas (and the events of Holy Week and Easter), Christianity would be empty words, and useless rituals.
Christians would be, in fact, the silliest people around. In our single-minded defence of a meaningless creed, and our hollow ideals, we might even be obviously corrupt.
Advent is, for these reasons then, a time of great hope. Christmas is one of those times when a Christian gets his reason for being. In Advent, we are taught again how to live, what to think, and how to pray.
The Advent words of Isaiah capture the longing, the yearning spirit of this time. On the First Sunday he cries:
“Oh that you would tear the heavens apart and come down” – (Isaiah 63:16-17).
How many times have we – same sex attracted men and women, worried parents, harried hierarchs, and so many others – how many times have we prayed that God might tear the sky, and step down into our lives?
When something goes wrong, we pray. When money is tight, we pray. And when our best efforts fall short – we turn to Him.
We reach out, from the mess and squalor of the world, for something higher.
Indeed, in preparing for Christmas, we reach out for the superlative. We reach out to embrace God, who St Anselm taught is that than which nothing greater can be conceived. We do so because we are a people of hope. We affirm that at Christmas time Almighty God became one of us, so that we might become more like Him. 
In this time, then, and in light of that mystery, Catholics walk with the Church. Whole nations, entire cultures, small shops, and supermarkets, major city centres, and parish schools – all of these are transformed. At Christmas, more so than during Ordinary Time, we decorate our houses to welcome the season, and we prepare – by ritual, and custom – to honour our God.
In Advent, especially, we are given time to repair our ways, and to mend our hearts. If we have become proud, we embrace humility. If we have started down the path to sinfulness, we school ourselves in the virtues, and pray for the grace to be better men. We ask God to heal us, so that we might more perfectly welcome Him on Christmas morning.
Advent teaches us, at last, that if what we long for is good, true, and beautiful our waiting will not be in vain. It is a time to fix our lives, and to turn to more fruitful endeavours.
For we stand, at the end of it all, before the crib of an Infant. We worship the Christ Who brought angels, shepherds, stars, and kings to Bethlehem. We pray that He might bring peace to the world, and that He might bless our families.
John Heard is a Melbourne writer.