As a Catholic I get to celebrate two New Years. This past Sunday signified the end of the Church year (the liturgical cycle of feast days and seasons commemorating the great truths, events and mysteries of Christ and the Church). With this coming Sunday, the new Church year is inaugurated by the 1st Sunday of Advent. Advent: that holy season of preparation, waiting, anticipation, contemplation. During Advent we have a two-fold focus in our liturgies (and are invited to have them in our personal prayers as well) of the Incarnation, when the Son of God assumed a human nature to dwell among us for our salvation, and the Parousia, when that same Person shall return at the close of time for the final judgment of all men and women ever created. It’s a rich set of weeks, easily missed in the bustle of the “holiday season” celebrated by shopping centers and television programming.
Lately I’ve been troubled by how few things there are that I can count on, especially how few events or experiences I can count on happening. At any given moment, I could probably think of a dozen things that I want to happen, even that I have genuine hope of happening, but there is truly only one event left that I can count on happening. That is the coming of Christ. The 2nd Coming, to be specific. The glorious return of the King of kings, the Lord of lords, triumphant and final. Nothing else is guaranteed.
Is this a pessimistic, negative, ‘to hell with all my work and plans’ sort of perspective? Or is it a realistic, positive, ‘everything only matters in light of Christ’ perspective? I suppose it’s neutral in itself. But how do I apply it? How am I influenced by it? That’s where the rubber meets the road. Accepting and grasping this truth can shape those wants and hopes I have from day to day, year to year, as well as my reactions when they either do or do not come to fruition. The lasting weight of anything that happens in this life is only measurable in terms of eternity, e.g. did this loss unite me more closely to Christ? Did this gain incline me toward praise of and thanksgiving to God? “God works all things for the good of those who love Him,” assuming I freely submit to His divine Providence.
In a recent discussion with some fellow Catholics, the question came up of whether or not we were wasting our time to be pondering Heaven. What can we know of it? What can we hope for? What will it be like? Admittedly, we are almost laughably limited in our capacity to understand or grasp the reality of Heaven. So do we waste our time by thinking about it? I argued vehemently, no. Pondering Heaven (or likewise, the end of time when Christ will return) is not a waste of my time. To explore the reality of Heaven is to explore my destination, my eternal homeland. To contemplate the return of Christ in all His victorious glory is to contemplate the final, definitive consummation of love. All that was begun when God, out of the abundance of His love, created the heavens and the earth and all who dwell there, all that was redeemed and reconciled by the sacrifice of perfect, divine love in Jesus Christ on the Cross, all that is hoped for and sought by the generations of faithful believers since will be completed by His return. The Kingdom of God, that mysterious ‘now but not yet’ reality of what Jesus has done and what we are cooperating with by grace and free will, shall then be everything there is and ever will be.
The mind boggling truth that I get to contribute to this coming of the Kingdom has the power to shape every day that I live on this earth. Contemplation of the adventus, the coming of Christ at the end of time, does not cause me to neglect the things that make up my earthly life. Rather it informs that life, contextualizing it and directing it. Heaven is our true north.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.