Pondering Judgment, One of the Four Last Things

This is the fourth in a series of articles on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.

We turn our attention now to the judgment that awaits us all. Scripture speaks in the Book of Hebrews speaks rather plainly to this day for us all:

It is appointed for us to die once, and after that to face judgment (Heb 9:27).

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor 5:10).

Furthermore, the Father judges no one, but has assigned all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father (Jn 5:22-23).

The Gospel of Luke emphasizes the reverence we should have for Jesus and for His role as our judge:

But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear the One who, after you have been killed, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him (Lk 12:5).

There is a distinction to be made between our personal judgment and the general judgment of the whole world (e.g., Matt 24:31ff). In the general judgment, God’s truth and justice will be made manifest; all those who have loved evil will be seen by all for who and what they were. Further, every evil and foolish philosophy will be seen for the darkness it is. Today I will not be discussing this general judgment, but rather our personal judgment.

We need to attend to our own judgment and prepare for it by seeking God and His grace so as to be ready. St. Paul entrusts us to Jesus, who alone can save us from the coming wrath (see 1 Thess 3:13).

Indeed, Jesus was quite urgent and persistent in warning us of the judgment that is coming upon us. He did this in many ways, but most urgently in the parables.

In the posts over the next few days, we will be examining our certain and coming judgment. We will look at Jesus’ consistent warnings to prepare for our judgment. We will reflect on our tendency to be inattentive to our day of judgment. We will then ponder a way to prepare. Finally, we will consider how we can tip the scales of judgment toward mercy.

Today, let’s begin by pondering the text of the Dies Irae, which sets forth the biblical themes of our judgment as well as a plea for mercy. The context in this case is the general judgment, but its themes also apply in many ways to our personal judgment:

The hymn opens by referring to God’s “wrath.”  (I’ve written more on wrath here.) Wrath is a term used to describe the complete incompatibility of sin in the presence of the All Holy One, a sinner brought into the Lord’s presence. We have every reason to be sober that the awesome holiness of God will disclose all that is in need of purification. The hymn begins as follows:

Day of wrath and doom impending,
Heaven and earth in ashes ending,
David’s words with Sibyl’s blending.

No one can treat this moment lightly: all are summoned to holy fear. At the sound of the trumpet, the bodies of the dead will come forth from their tombs and all of creation will answer to Jesus, the Judge and Lord of all:

Oh what fear man’s bosom rendeth,
When from heaven the judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth.

Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
Through earth’s sepulchers it ringeth,
All before the throne it bringeth.

Death is struck and nature quaking,
All creation is awaking,
To its judge an answer making.

Lo the book exactly worded,
Wherein all hath been recorded,
Thence shall judgement be awarded.

When the Judge his seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.

Judgment shall be according to our deeds, whatever is written in the Book (Rev 20:12; Romans 2:6). Ah, but also in God’s Word is the hope for mercy. And so our hymn turns to pondering the need for mercy and appealing to God for it. The hope for mercy is based on the grace of God, His mercy, His incarnation, His seeking love, His passion and death, and the forgiveness He showed to Mary Magdalene and the good thief crucified on His right.

What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding
When the just are mercy needing?

King of majesty tremendous,
Who does free salvation send us,
Font of pity then befriend us.

Think kind Jesus, my salvation,
Caused thy wondrous incarnation.
Leave me not to reprobation.

Faint and weary thou hast sought me,
On the cross of suffering bought me.
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?

Righteous judge for sin’s pollution,
Grant thy gift of absolution,
Before the day of retribution.

Guilty now I pour my moaning,
All my shame and anguish owning.
Spare, O God my suppliant groaning.

Through the sinful Mary shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope has given.

Yes, there is a basis for hope! God is rich in mercy. Pondering the Day of Judgment is salutary because now we can call on that mercy. In the end, it is only grace and mercy that can see us through that day. So the hymn calls on the Lord, who said, No one who calls on me will I ever reject (Jn 6:37).

Worthless are my tears and sighing.
Yet good Lord in grace complying,
Rescue me from fire undying.

With thy sheep a place provide me.
From the goats afar divide me,
To thy right hand do thou guide me.

When the wicked are confounded,
Doomed to flames of woe unbounded.
Call me with thy saints surrounded.

Lo I kneel with heart-submission.
See like ashes my contrition.
Help me in my last condition.

Now comes the great summation: Judgment Day is surely coming. Grant me, O Lord, your grace to be ready:

Lo, that day of tears and mourning,
from the dust of earth returning.

Man for judgement must prepare him,
Spare O God, in mercy spare him.

Sweet Jesus Lord most blest,
Grant the dead eternal rest.

Can We Influence How the Lord will Judge Us?

The readings from Mass for the 24th Sunday of the Year were a continuation from the previous Sunday, when our Lord taught us of the requirement that we correct one another. Yesterday’s readings remind us that our correction must be done with mercy and humility. Failing to correct an erring or sinning brother is not mercy at all, but correcting in a harsh or mean-spirited way falls short as well.

As an extended meditation on yesterday’s Gospel let’s consider a kind of “mathematics” of the Kingdom of God. In effect, it says, “Pay attention! You will be judged by the same standard by which you judge others. So do the math and realize that you are storing up for yourselves a kind of standard by which I will judge you.”

The key teaching from the Lord in this regard is this: the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you (Luke 6:38). This statement comes at the end of a long discourse in which the Lord summons us to be generous, forgiving, merciful, patient, and reluctant to condemn others severely.

In effect, the Lord says, “Do the math. Realize that if you are merciful, you will be judged with mercy, but if you are harsh and critical, you will be judged by a harsh and critical standard. If you refuse to forgive, you will not be forgiven.

Like it or not, this is the mathematics of the Kingdom of God. It does not mean that we earn salvation, but it does mean that we have a lot of influence over the standard by which we will be judged.

So, if you are going to need mercy and grace on that day (and we all are), it is good to do the math of the Kingdom and store up mercy and grace for that day.

We will all, one day, answer to God. That day, as Scripture repeatedly teaches, is a day about which we should be sober. Sadly, there are many who give little thought to this truth and some who outright scoff at it.

Remarkably, we can influence the manner in which God will judge us, the standard he will use. Here we speak of the manner of God’s judgment. That is, whether He will be strict or merciful. We do not refer to the content. It is an obvious and axiomatic truth that God will judge our deeds. Hence, we should avoid wickedness and grave sins, and repent quickly when we commit such sins.

On the one hand, it would seem that we could have no influence at all on the manner in which we will be judged, for it would seem that God is no respecter of persons, and judges with perfect justice.

Yet, there are passages in Scripture that do speak of ways that we can influence the standard God will use, the manner of His judgment. Let’s look at four areas in which we can have influence and consider a few biblical passages.

I.  Whether we show mercy to others

Jesus says, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7). James says something similar and develops it a bit when he says, Always speak and act as those were going to be judged under the law of freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. So mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:12-13). Thus we are taught that by observing mercy and patience in our relations with one another, we will influence the manner in which we are judged.

Sometimes in life, particularly if we are leaders or parents, we will need to punish and/or assign consequences to those who transgress moral laws or legal limits. Texts like these do not mean that we should never accompany correction with punitive measures. Such a way of living would be unwise and could confirm people in bad behavior. Even when punitive measures are needed, though, it makes sense to be lenient when possible and to attempt less measures before firmer ones are employed.

It is also clear from these biblical texts that it is highly foolish to go through life with severity toward others, with a lack of compassion or a harsh, unyielding attitude. We are all going to need a lot of grace and mercy at our judgment. Therefore, how misguided, how foolish it would be for us to be harsh and unmerciful toward others! For indeed, these text tell us that the merciful will be blessed and the unmerciful will be shown no mercy. Can you or I really expect that we will make it on the day of judgment without boatloads of mercy?

Now, therefore, is the time for us to seek to invoke the promise of the Lord, Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.

II.  Whether we are strict or lenient with others

In a related text, the Lord Jesus says, The measure that you measure to others, will be measured back to you (Mark 4:24). If we hope for and need a merciful judgment, if we want a merciful measure or standard to be used, then we must do the same for others. The Lord makes it clear that He will use the measure or standard that we have used for others when He judges us. Have we been strict? If so, then He will be strict. Have we been merciful? If so, then He will be merciful. Be very careful before demanding that sinners and others who transgress receive the strongest penalties. There may be a time for such penalties, but it is not necessary that the most severe punishments always be used.

In John 8, the Pharisees wanted to exact the most severe penalty (stoning) on a woman caught in adultery. Jesus reasons with them, telling them that before they demand that He “throw the book at her,” they might want to recall that there are a few things about them that are also written in the book. One by one they drift away, seemingly after considering the foolishness of their demands for the most severe penalty. They finally realize that the measure they want to measure out to her will in turn be measured back to them.

III.  Whether we are generous to the poor

Luke relates the following text more specifically to our generosity: Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure that you measure to others will be measured back to you (Luke 6:38). This leads us to a second area in which the Scriptures teach us that we can influence the day of our judgment.

Jesus, after rebuking the Scribes Pharisees for their severity and extreme legalism, says to them (who were obsessing about cleaning the outside of the dish), You fools, did not the one who made the outside of the cup make the inside also? But if you give what is inside the cup as alms to the poor, everything will be made clean for you (Luke 11:40-41). It is a daring text, in the light of the theology of grace, and almost implies that we can somehow “purchase” forgiveness. But of course it is the Lord Himself who says it, and He does not say we can somehow purchase forgiveness. Surely, though, He does teach that generosity to the poor will in fact influence the day of our judgment.

Later in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus develops the thought, saying, I tell you, use your worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings (Lk 16:9). It is a complicated text, but Jesus seems to be saying that our generosity to the poor will surely gain advantages for us at the day of our judgment. Indeed, blessing the poor gives us powerful intercessors, for the Lord hears the cries of the poor. The picture painted here is of those poor welcoming us into our eternal dwellings.

Scripture elsewhere warns, If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be heard (Proverbs 21:13). Once again, it would seem that we can have some influence over the manner, measure, or standard that will be used by God at our judgment. To the merciful, mercy will be shown. The generous will experience that their cries are heard, for they heard the cries of the poor. The Lord more than implies that those who have been generous to the poor will have powerful advocates praying and interceding for them on the day of judgment. Indeed, a number of the Fathers of the Church remind us that in this life the poor need us, but in the life to come we will need them.

IV.  Whether we forgive others

A final area to explore in terms of how we might have influence over the manner of our judgment is in the matter of forgiveness. Just after giving us the Our Father, the Lord Jesus says, For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14 – 15).

Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells the terrifying parable of a man who had huge debt that was forgiven him by his master. When the man then refused to forgive his brother a much smaller debt, the master grew angry and threw him into debtors’ prison. Jesus concludes the parable by saying, This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart (Matthew 18:35).

So yes, it would seem that we can have some influence over the manner in which God will judge us, the standard He will use. While it is true that God will judge us by our deeds (cf Romans 2:6), the manner in which He judges us, whether with strictness or leniency, does seem to be a matter over which we have influence.

We are all going to need a lot of grace and mercy, for if God judges with strict justice and strict standards, who can stand? We will all have much to answer for. All the more reason for us to follow the teachings of the Lord in His Scripture, so that we can be sure that on the day of our judgment, mercy and the grace of leniency will prevail in abundance. Do we want mercy? Then we must show mercy. Do we want a gentle standard? Then we must measure out gentleness. Do we want forgiveness? Then we must offer forgiveness. Recruit some intercessors for the day of judgment by giving to the poor. They will be the most powerful intercessors for us as we leave this life and go to our judgment.

Indeed, God has shown us how we can store up a treasure of mercy, waiting for us in Heaven at the judgment seat of Christ. There are some good lessons here to heed.

Perhaps you might like to add, via the Comments section, some other ways that we can influence the standard that God will use to judge us.

Here’s an amusing video illustrating that the measure we measure out to others will be measured back to us:

On the Sin of Rash Judgment, as Seen in a Commercial

judgement-susannah-sin

judgement-susannah-sin

One of the most commonly committed—yet least often confessed—sins, is that of rash judgment. The commercial below humorously depicts the sin and how wrong we can sometimes be.

In reality, the sin is not often humorous and can lead us to some very dark places. On account of rash judgments, we may harbor grudges, resentments, fears, and unjust anger. We may allow it to foster pride, feeling ourselves superior to others. We may even seek revenge based on misinformation or as a result of misinterpretation of others’ actions. And gossip is usually the daughter (or son) of rash judgment.

St. Thomas speaks of rash judgment in this way: When the human intellect lacks certainty, as when a person, without any solid motive, forms a negative judgment on some doubtful or hidden matter, it is called judgment by suspicion or rash judgment (Summa Theologica, Quest. 60, art 2).

Fr. John Hardon defines it in this way: Rash judgment is unquestioning conviction about another person’s bad conduct without adequate grounds for the judgment. The sinfulness of rash judgment lies in the hasty imprudence with which the critical appraisal is made, and in the loss of reputation that a person suffers in the eyes of the one who judges adversely (Modern Catholic Dictionary, John A. Hardon, S.J.).

The Catechism places rash judgment in the context of our obligation to preserve the good reputation of others:

Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty

of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way (CCC 2477-2478).

All this said, rash judgment is often committed out of weakness. Our minds are weak and we often lack the patience or determination to carefully discern the whole truth. Sometimes we commit this sin because of past hurts or the general climate of cynicism that permeates our culture.

On account of these roots in weakness, the necessary antidote is humility and an understanding that in most cases we do not have all the facts at our disposal immediately. In fact, there are many situations in which we may never have all the facts. In humility, we should presume benign intent in uncertain matters unless and until the facts indicate otherwise.

In today’s world of 24×7 information at our fingertips, we are encouraged to make quick judgments. News outlets often rush to provide “analysis” before many of the facts are known. When “experts” speak from the anchor’s desk, their statements can seem quite credible when, in fact, they are often little more than rash judgments.

Be very careful. Rash judgment, especially when shared with others, can do a lot of damage. It is not a sin to be taken lightly, even if it is often committed in weakness.

Perhaps, then, a little humor will make the point. In this commercial, a man with all the best of intentions appears to be guilty of the worst intentions. Enjoy.

Who is Really on Trial in Our Life?

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI possesses a keen ability to summarize the ideas and problems of our times both cogently and succinctly. Consider the following assessment of our age that he made during a 2015 interview:

For the man of today…. things are, in a certain sense, inverted, or rather, man no longer believes he needs justification before God, but rather he is of the opinion that God is obliged to justify himself because of all the horrible things in the world and in the face of the misery of being human, all of which ultimately depend on Him (Benedict XVI, Interview with Jacques Servais, L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, March 2016).

This is quite a profound diagnosis of the hubris of our times. This hubris is apparent among both unbelievers and believers. While Benedict sets the problem in the context of the mystery of evil and suffering, my own experience is that the problem is wider than that. Many people don’t merely demand an accounting from God for the existence of evil, they also demand justification from Him for any teaching of His Scripture or the Church that does not accord with their views. The premise is that the teachings of Scripture and the Church must conform to modern notions or else stand convicted of being out-of-touch, useless, irrelevant, or even intolerant, harsh, and hurtful.

All of this is completely backwards. For any Catholic, it is the world and its views that should be on trial. God should not need to justify His teachings or render an account to us, rather it is the world that should be required to explain how its views do not contradict God.

Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes to us, He will convict the world in regard to sin (Jn 16:8). Therefore, every Catholic should have the world on trial, not God. We should demand that the world justify its views and square them with God’s teachings. Anything that does not agree with what God teaches is to be rejected by us, convicted of being erroneous and set aside in favor of God’s law and teaching.

St. Paul says, Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess 5:21-22). In other words, square everything with the measure of God’s Word and reject anything that is contrary to it while retaining what is good.

Is this what most Catholics do? Sadly, many do just the opposite. The Word of God and the teachings of the Church are put on trial and convicted if they do not conform to worldly thinking, to what is currently popular. If one talks about a text that speaks a truth contrary to modern notions, there is a wide range of reactions: raised eyebrows; objections; scoffing; accusations of insensitivity, intolerance, or hate; demands for retractions and apologies.

This begs the question, “Who is on trial here, God or the world?” Yes, Benedict’s observation about our times stands true. Whereas we once sought grace to be justified before God, many now demand that God justify Himself to us.

In our hubris, we’ve turned the tables on God. It’s time to turn them back in humility. St. Paul reminds us who the true judge is to whom we must render an account:

It matters little to me that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For though I am not aware of anything against myself, I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me (1 Cor 4:5-6).

Make sure you’re on the right side of the judge’s bench.

This portion of Mozart’s Requiem says (translated),

Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth
Through earth’s sepulchers it ringeth
All before the throne it bringeth

When the judge his seat attaineth
And each hidden deed arraigneth
Nothing unavenged remaineth.

His Wrath is Not Turned Back, His Hand is Still Outstretched! Pondering the Wrath of God as a Work of Revelation

blog.8.24When reading Scripture that mentions the wrath of God, most think of His wrath in human terms. But we must be clear that God does not get angry the way we do. Further, our God is not moody: pleasant and patient one moment and then angry and punishing the next. No, God does not suffer from mood swings or throw tantrums. God is love; stably, serenely, and consistently so.

So then what is God’s wrath? I have written on this topic in greater depth here: What is the Wrath of God? However for this post, allow me to summarize by saying that God’s wrath is His “passion” to set things right. His wrath is His work to root out sin and injustice and bring forth holiness and righteousness.

Another thing to note about God’s wrath is that the anger is really more in us than in God. The wrath of God is our experience of the total incompatibility of our unrepentant sin before the holiness of God. It is like fire and water: they do not mix. And one can hear the wrathful conflict when fire and water come together. So the sinner in the presence of the all holy God is going to experience a conflict. It is not so much that God is angry as that the sinner is incapable of enduring His glory, so bright and awesome. It is like wax before the fire.

In this post I would like explore how God’s wrath is also a work of revelation. St. Paul says, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth (Romans 1:18). And so St. Paul speaks of God’s wrath as being revealed, as being a work of revelation. As such, it exposes our injustice, error, and sin.

A recent text we read in the Liturgy of the Hours (from Isaiah Ch. 9) also develops God’s wrath as a kind of light of revelation, as a hand pointing out our iniquity. Within the longer passage below there is this refrain: For all this, his wrath is not turned back, and his hand is still outstretched! For indeed, God’s wrath casts a light on our wrongs and his outstretched hand points to them, revealing them and executing their results. Let’s consider Isaiah’s treatment of the revelatory wrath of God.

The Lord has sent word against Jacob,
it falls upon Israel;
And all the people know it,
Ephraim and those who dwell in Samaria,
those who say in arrogance and pride of heart,
“Bricks have fallen,
but we will build with cut stone;
Sycamores are felled,
but we will replace them with cedars.”
But the Lord raises up their foes against them
and stirs up their enemies to action:
Aram on the east and the Philistines on the west
devour Israel with open mouth.
For all this, his wrath is not turned back,
and his hand is still outstretched!
(Is 9:8-12)

And thus we see that the wrath of God reveals in Israel a bold, prideful resistance to His warnings. “Bricks have fallen … [and] sycamores have been felled.” These were warnings from God that neither natural nor man-made structures can stand; they crumble under the weight of sin and injustice. Yet instead of heeding the warning, the people doubled-down on their sins, arrogantly thinking that they could replace what God had established with designs of their own.

For us today a similar pattern is evident, as our families crumble and we twist nature. But even seeing the darkness and deep confusion we have ushered in, we still do not seek God’s light again. Rather, our culture “doubles down” and arrogantly asserts that we can redefine marriage, family, sexuality, and even the nature of things themselves. We sweep aside the “bricks and sycamores” that God has established, thinking that we can do better with the stone and cedars of our imagining.

Having instructed Israel through His law and warned her to no avail, God handed Israel over to her enemies, just as today we are being handed over to the enemies of our rebellion: STDs, depopulation, divorce, cohabitation, sexual confusion of a colossal nature, the tragic loss of our children through abortion, the decline of our children (lack of discipline, lack of proper psychological formation) due to broken families—the list could go on and on.

When the text says that God “handed them over,” it means that He let them have their own way and allowed them to suffer the consequences. As would any loving father, God seeks first to teach and warn His children. Next, He resorts to punishments that seek to draw us back from the full impact of our sin. But if all these fail, He finally hands us over to our own designs.

When we experience wrath, we experience the total incompatibility of our sinful stance with the glory for which we were made. There comes on us, collectively and individually, a burning indignation toward God and any who represent Him or remind us of the truth for which we were made. We project our anger on God. But God is not angry. Rather, He has a passion, a will to set things right. His justice and love are one reality.

How is the wrath of God a work of revelation? It shows us the full consequences of our sinful rejection of God and His plan for us. The fact is, we grow weak and become easy prey for our enemies, both literal and figurative. For Ancient Israel this meant Aram and the Philistines. For us in the decaying, once-Christian West it means we become too weak to resist enemies like lust and greed. We can no longer make commitments and keep them; we have little self-control. These enemies devour our strength, cloud our minds, and erode our progress.

This wrathful condition is a revelation from God, showing us what we are when we reject His favor, His mercy, and His call to truth. As a work of revelation, there is always the hoped-for response: repentance. But, sadly, the text continues in this way:

The people do not turn to him who struck them,
nor seek the Lord of hosts
.

And so the wrath continues, revealing to us in ever-deeper and darker tones the full depths of our condition, of our sad state. Sin grows; the young especially suffer from the sins of parents and elders. If we do not want grace, we will not have it; if we do not seek His mercy and grace, we will be increasingly without them. We cannot endure God’s holiness and justice apart from grace and mercy, and so we experience His holiness as wrath. This reveals to us our grave condition.

Time does not permit further commentary on the text below (from Isaiah). But as you read it, is there not a sobering sense that what is described is all too familiar? Is not this wrathful recitation a revelation?

The leaders of this people mislead them
and those to be led are engulfed.
For this reason, the Lord does not spare their young men,
and their orphans and widows he does not pity;
They are wholly profaned and sinful,
and every mouth gives vent to folly.
For all this, his wrath is not turned back,
his hand is still outstretched!

For wickedness burns like fire,
devouring brier and thorn;
It kindles the forest thickets,
which go up in columns of smoke.
At the wrath of the Lord of hosts the land quakes,
and the people are like fuel for fire;
No man spares his brother,
each devours the flesh of his neighbor.
Though they hack on the right, they are hungry;
though they eat on the left, they are not filled.
Manasseh devours Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasseh;
together they turn on Judah.
For all this, his wrath is not turned back,
his hand is still outstretched!

Woe to those who enact unjust statutes
and who write oppressive decrees,
Depriving the needy of judgment
and robbing my people’s poor of their rights,
Making widows their plunder,
and orphans their prey!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
when ruin comes from afar?
To whom will you flee for help?
Where will you leave your wealth,
Lest it sink beneath the captive
or fall beneath the slain?
For all this, his wrath is not turned back,
his hand is still outstretched
!

Yes, as the text asks, what will we do on the day of full judgment? Even when we are in our worst state, God allows His wrath (our experience of His holy justice) to be a revelation to us, in the hope that before our final judgment we will finally call on Him. For on that day, the door of possible change will close and our condition will be final and forever fixed.

Woe to us that God’s wrath must be our revelation, his wrath is not turned back, his hand is still outstretched. Better for us to repent and allow His beautiful truth and mercy to be our light, our revelation. Have mercy on us, Lord. Give us added graces to repent!

Why Is the Road to Destruction Wide and the Road to Salvation Narrow? A Meditation on a Teaching by Jesus

blog.6.24In the gospel earlier this week, we read a warning from Jesus that too many people just brush aside:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few (Matt 6:12-13).

I have commented on this blog at some length in the past on the serious problem of universalism (the notion that nearly everyone goes to Heaven). I will not create another whole post on that just now, but you can read one of those older posts here: Hell is for real and not rare.

But just to summarize, most people today have the teaching exactly backwards. Whereas Jesus says “many” are on the road to destruction and only “a few” travel the narrow road (of the cross) to salvation, most reverse what Jesus says and claim that many go to Heaven and only a few (if any) go to Hell. Don’t do that. Jesus is not playing games with us. No one loves us more than Jesus does, and no one warned us more of judgment and Hell than Jesus. And even though He doesn’t give percentages for each category, do not refute His words by trying to make “many” mean “few” and “few” mean “many.”

The question does surely arise as to why many walk the wide road to destruction and Hell. Is it because God is stingy or despotic? No. God surely wants to save us all (Ez 18:23; 1 Tim 2:4). The real answer is that we are hard to save and we must become more sober about that. We have hard hearts, thick skulls, and innumerable other traits that make us a difficult case.

If even a third of the angels fell, that ought to make us very aware of our own tendency to fall. This should make us more humble about our own situation. The fallen angels had intellects vastly superior to ours and their angelic souls were not weighed down with the many bodily passions that beset us. But still, they fell!

Adam and Eve, possessing preternatural gifts and existing before all the weaknesses we inherited from sin, also fell. Are you and I, in our present unseemly state and vastly less gifted than the angels, really going to claim that we are not in any real danger or are easy to save?

We need to sober up and run to God with greater humility, admitting that we are a hard case and in desperate need of the medicines and graces that God offers. He offers us His Word, the Sacraments, holy fellowship, and lots of prayer! We need not be in a panic, but we do need to be far more urgent than most moderns are about themselves and the people whom they say they love.

Consider some of the following ways we can be a hard case in terms of being saved (Disclaimer, I do not say all these things are true of you personally, just that we, collectively, have these common tendencies):

1. We have hard hearts and stubborn wills – While some of what this includes is specified more below, here is a good place to begin. God, speaking to us through Isaiah the Prophet, says, I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead is bronze (Is 48:4). He is talking about us!

2. We are obtuse in our desires – In other words, if something is forbidden we seem to want it all the more. St Paul laconically observes, When the commandment came, sin sprang to life (Rom 7:9). If something is harmful we want it in abundance, but if it is helpful we are often averse to it. We like our sweets and our salty snacks, but vegetables rot in the refrigerator. In the desert the people of Israel longed for melons, leeks, onions, and the fleshpots they enjoyed in Egypt. Never mind that they were slaves then. But when it came to the Bread from Heaven, the Holy Manna, they said, We are disgusted with this wretched manna (Num 21:5). We are obtuse, that is, we are turned outward toward sin instead of inward toward God in a Holy embrace. Jesus sadly remarked that judgment would go poorly for many because The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed (Jn 3:19).

3. We don’t like to be told what to do – Even if we know we ought to do something, or to stop doing something, the mere fact that someone is telling us often makes us either dig in our heels and refuse, or else comply, but resentfully rather than whole-heartedly.

4. We are not docile – When we were very young we were fascinated with the world around us and kept asking “Why, Mommy?” or “Why, Daddy?” But as we got older our skull thickened; we stopped asking why. We figured we knew better than anyone around us. The problem just worsens with age, unless grace intervenes. St Paul lamented, For the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths (2 Tim 4:3-5).

5. We love distraction and don’t listen – Even when saving knowledge is offered to us, we are too often tuned out, distracted, and resistant. ADHD is nothing new in the human family. God says through Jeremiah, To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen; behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it (Jeremiah 6:10). Jesus invokes Isaiah to explain why He speaks to the crowds only in parables: For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed (Is 6:10).

6. We are opinionated – We tend to think that something is true or right merely because we think it or agree with it. Having opinions, even strong ones, about what is right and true is not wrong per se. But if God’s Word or the Church’s formal teaching challenges your opinion, you’d better consider changing it, or at least making distinctions. The last time I checked, God is just a little smarter than you are. His official teaching in the Scripture and the Doctrine of the Church is inspired and you are not. Scripture says, All we, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way (Is 55:8). Or again, Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”? (Is 29:16) Or yet again, Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, “What are you making?” (Is 45:9) But still many go on with their own opinions and will not abide even the clear correction of God.

7. We have darkened intellects due to unruly and dominating passions – Our strong and unruly passions cloud our mind and seek to compel our will. Too easily, without training and practice in virtue, our baser faculties come to dominate our higher faculties, making unreasonable demands for satisfaction. And thus we love to tell ourselves lots of lies. We suppress the truth and our senseless minds become darkened ( Romans 1:21). The catechism says, The human mind … is hampered in the attaining of … truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin. So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful. (Catechism #37). And the Second Vatican Council, in Lumen Gentium 16, says, But very often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasoning and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.

8. We are lemmings – We are too easily swayed by what is popular. We prefer ephemeral notions to ancient and tested wisdom. Tattoos, tongue bolts, and piercings are in? Quick, run out and get one! Whatever the fad or fashion, no matter how foolish, harmful, or immodest, many clamor for it. Let a Hollywood star get a divorce and soon enough everyone is casting aside true biblical teaching against it. The same goes for many other moral issues. What was once thought disgraceful and the stuff of back allies is now paraded on Main Street and celebrated. And like lemmings, we run to celebrate what was once called sin (and is still sinful from any biblical stance). Instead of following God we follow human beings. We follow them and the “culture” they create, often mindlessly. Yes, lemmings is the right image.

9. We live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and we have fallen natures. Many seem to abide all of this quite well and make quite a nice little home here.

10. If all this isn’t enough to show that we are a hard case, consider a “few” others. We are so easily, in a moment, obnoxious, dishonest, egotistical, undisciplined, weak, impure, arrogant, self-centered, pompous, insincere, unchaste, grasping, harsh, impatient, shallow, inconsistent, unfaithful, immoral, ungrateful, disobedient, selfish, lukewarm, slothful, unloving, uncommitted, untrusting, indifferent, hateful, lazy, cowardly, angry, greedy, jealous, vengeful, prideful, envious, contemptuous, stingy, petty, spiteful, indulgent, careless, neglectful, prejudiced, and just plain mean.

So if the road to destruction is wide (and Jesus says it is), don’t blame God. The road is wide for reasons like this. We are a hard case. We are hard to save. It is not that God lacks power, it is that we refuse to address much of this. God, who made us free, will not force us to change.

We ought not kid ourselves into thinking that we can go on living resistant to and opposed to the Kingdom of God and its values, but that then magically at death we will suddenly want to enter His Kingdom, which we have resisted our whole life. Jesus said that many prefer the darkness. Is it really likely that their preference will suddenly shift? Will not the glorious light of Heaven seem harsh, blinding, and even repulsive to them? In such a case is not God’s “Depart from me” both a just and merciful response?  Why force a person who hates the light to live in it? I suppose it grieves God to have to abide such a departure, but to force a person to endure Him must be even more difficult to abide. I am sure it is with great sadness that God accepts a person’s final “No.”

Yes, the road is wide that leads to destruction. It is wide because of us. The narrow road is the way of the cross, which is a stumbling block and an absurdity to many (1 Cor 1:23), who simply will not abide its message.

So, we ought to be sober about the Lord’s lament. We ought also to be more urgent in our attempts to secure our own unruly soul and the souls of those we love for the Kingdom. The blasé attitude of most moderns is rooted in the extremely flawed notion that judgment and Hell are not real issues. That is a lie, for it contracts Jesus’ clear word.

Why is the road to destruction wide? Because we are hard cases; we are hard to save. We ought not be unduly fearful, but we ought to run to Jesus in humility and beg Him to save us from our worst enemy—our very self. If you don’t think you’re a hard case, read the list above and think again.

https://youtu.be/dZM1mmcis-s

"Alas, Alas for the Great City!" An Urgent Plea for Prayer at the New Year!

123014We are very close to the new year, 2015 AD. And most of us at the new year have it in mind to pray for the future year not only for ourselves, but also for our family, country, and culture. With that in mind, there is something of an admonition to us all that I would share from Scripture. For while we look to the new year with hope, we do well to soberly assess the warnings of God that are seemingly more applicable than ever. Above all we must pray so as to avoid the otherwise necessary chastisements of God and the inevitability of ruin at our own hand if we do not soon repent.

We have good reason to have concern for what we have come to call Western culture.  Our last century was nothing less than a blood bath of world wars, cold wars, killing fields, mass starvations, abortion, and euthanasia. It is conservatively estimated that 100 million were put to death for ideological purposes (e.g., in Hitler’s camps, Stalin’s mass starvations, Pol Pot’s killing fields, Mao’s camps, Rwanda’s genocide, the Balkan genocides). Add to this the war dead and the victims of abortion and the number easily reaches 200 million.

In the middle of that period in the West, we threw in many social revolutions: the sexual revolution, the revolution against authority, the widespread use of hallucinogenic drugs, radical feminism, abortion on demand, contraception, and no-fault divorce. The solitary boast of the tainted 1960s was the civil rights movement, largely granted to it by the 1950s.

It is no surprise then that Americans, still reeling from these selfish and egotistical revolutions, find that most baby boomers are now in various combinations of drug rehab, AA, SA, Overeaters Anonymous, or even jail. Add to this situation vast amounts of psychotherapy, psychotropic drugs, and a self-esteem-driven culture with endless distractions to keep the revolutionaries and their children sane. Then throw in large amounts of antibiotics to treat the sexually transmitted diseases … would someone please call in the exorcist?

We have sown the wind and we are reaping the whirlwind. Enter now the desperate confusion of the “rainbow,” a once beautiful sign of hope that now only bespeaks sexual confusion of a colossal degree. And let no heterosexual gloat until he ponders rampant fornication, easy divorce, abortion, and the disgraceful lack of self-control that has helped usher in the sex-is-just-about-pleasure-and-means-whatever-I-say-it-means culture. Confusion, from top to bottom!

So here we are in 2015. And if we have any sense and any faith at all, we need to fall on our knees and pray for miraculous conversion. I love this country and Western culture. I do not think anything finer has ever graced this globe. But we have become collectively corrupted. Our freedom has become licentiousness; our sense of human dignity has been debased; our comforts have made us lazy and inimical to the Cross and to discipline.

And thus we do well to heed God’s warnings of old to other cultures that had become similarly corrupted.

A little over a week ago, as we wrapped up Advent, Isaiah uttered a warning to a pompous and self-secure empire (Babylon) that its might and power, its wealth and poise, were soon to come to an end. Of special mention was the scorn that God had for Babylon’s arrogant presumption that she would never fall or suffer loss and that her power would be forever. And yet too often this same arrogance besets us today. Listen to what God says to ancient Babylon at the zenith of her power:

Come down, sit in the dust, O virgin daughter Babylon; Sit on the ground, dethroned, O daughter of the Chaldeans. No longer shall you be called dainty and delicate. I will take vengeance, I will yield to no entreaty … Go into darkness and sit in silence, No longer shall you be called sovereign mistress of kingdoms …

Now hear this, voluptuous one, enthroned securely, Saying to yourself, “I, and no one else! I shall never be a widow, or suffer the loss of my children”—Both these things shall come to you suddenly, in a single day: Complete bereavement and widowhood shall come upon you For your many sorceries and the great number of your spells; Because you felt secure in your wickedness, and said, “No one sees me.”

Your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, And you said to yourself, “I, and no one else!” But upon you shall come evil you will not know how to predict; Disaster shall befall you which you cannot allay. Suddenly there shall come upon you ruin which you will not expect (Isaiah 47: 1-15 selected).

Be soberly attentive, dear reader, and pray. For it is hard to read words like these and not see how they apply precisely to an age like ours! And before you exultantly say, “Bring it on!” please consider how instantly different our lives would be. Are you really ready for a world with no electricity, no Internet, and no central government with a Bill of Rights? Are you ready to live without roads, running water, and trash collection? Repentance is a far better solution. So pray for a miracle!

What was (is) Babylon? At one level, it is an historical nation-state at the time of the ancient Jews. There were others: Egypt, Assyria, Medo-Persia, and later Greece and Rome. But all these powers, though real historical places, also symbolized the world and all its glories arrayed against God and His kingdom.

  1. Egypt with its power, its fleshpots, and its leeks and onions was something the ancient Jews were always pining after. Abram ran there during a drought instead of trusting God to sustain him in the Holy Land. When Moses led the people out, they were always looking back, forgetting the slavery and remembering the fleshpots. They loved the world and trusted it more than God.
  2. In their fear against invaders, the Jews were ever succumbing to the temptation to make alliances with Assyria and Egypt (i.e., with the world and its power). “Trusting God is too risky. Let’s trust in Egypt or Assyria. Let’s trust in the world to come through for us.”
  3. In Babylonian exile, the Jews left, singing that they would never forget Jerusalem. But after 8o years in Babylon (a symbol of the world and its empires) most had no interest in returning to the Promised Land (a symbol of Heaven) when they were allowed to do so. They preferred Babylon and its hanging gardens to God’s kingdom. Only a small number returned. “Why should I go back to Israel? I have a pretty nice little jewelry shop I run here in Babylon on the corner of Tigris and Euphrates Avenues …”

And thus places like Babylon, Egypt, Sodom, Assyria, and later Greece and Rome, were not just city-states; they were symbols of the world arrayed against God and vying for that place in our heart that belongs to Him. The prophets often accused Jerusalem herself of having become Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon.

But no kingdom of this world can or will stand. In the age of the Church, and even prior to that in the Old Testament period of the Church, kingdoms came and went. Nations rose and fell. Empires emerged and collapsed. Where is Nimrod now? Where is Pharaoh Necho? Where are Cyrus the Persian, Alexander the Great, Caesar Nero, Napoleon, Stalin, and Chairman Mao?

But what of us? All those ancient kingdoms fell not merely because their time was up, but because of sin and the collapse that pride and sin bring. And as for us, how can a nation or culture stand that is increasingly permeated by pride, godlessness, corruption, fornication, abortion, sexual confusion, families in crisis, lack of sexual self-control, gluttony, drug use, alcoholism, rampant pornography, and ridicule of authority, tradition, and faith?

Consider a similar passage from the Book of Revelation (Chapter 18) warning the faithful about “Babylon.” (By 90 AD Babylon was actually long gone. Thus “Babylon” here is a symbol for the world and its tendency to fall into corruption.) John was saying that the “Great City” (Jerusalem – the great city which is allegorically called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified – Rev 11:8) had become Babylon. And he develops this theme in Revelation 18. Sadly, by 70 AD, having been given 40 years to repent, Jerusalem was sacked, burned, and utterly destroyed just as this prophecy had warned.

Have America and the West become like Babylon? Does the chilling judgment that came on Jerusalem and many other ancient cultures now apply to us? It would seem so unless repentance comes quickly. Hear and heed the warning given to ancient Jerusalem (which had become like Babylon) on this eve of the new year. Babylon is

I. Dominated by Demons – The text says,  After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!  It has become a dwelling place of demons,  a haunt of every foul spirit,  a haunt of every foul and hateful bird; for all nations have drunk the wine of her impure passion,  and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her,  and the merchants of the earth have grown rich with the wealth of her wantonness.” Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,  “Come out of her, my people,  lest you take part in her sins,  lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven,  and God has remembered her iniquities. Render to her as she herself has rendered,  and repay her double for her deeds;  mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed (Rev 18:1-6).

And as ancient Jerusalem was said to have the abomination of desolation (Mat 24:15), so too has our age embraced and even celebrated many abominations: abortion, fornication, homosexual acts, and the greed that becomes injustice to the poor. Scripture speaks of four sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance: murder (Gn 4:10), homosexual acts (acts of sodomy)  (Gn 18:20-21), oppression of the poor (Ex 2:23), and defrauding workers of their just wages (Jas 5:4). There are also sins against the Holy Spirit, sins that harden a soul by rejecting the Holy Spirit. Six sins are in this category: despair, presumption, envy, obstinacy in sin, final impenitence, and deliberate resistance to the known truth.

Welcome to America after the social revolution. Pre-revolution America (prior to 1968) was no paradise, but there was more of a sense of basic right and wrong. Now everything is up for debate, and what used to slink around in back alleys now parades down Main Street in broad daylight.

To all this demonic influence, celebration of depravity, and excessive passion comes the plea, “Come out of here, my people!” Otherwise we will share in Babylon’s punishment. Make no compromises with this modern age, which has become the dwelling place of demons. Celebrating its secularism, our age, in rejecting God, has delivered itself to the machination of demons and all sort of human foolishness.

Stay sober, my friends, and see this age for what it is becoming: the dwelling place of demons, the haunt of every foul spirit, impure passion, and wanton desire. Have custody of your eyes and guard your heart!

II. Defiant in Depravity –   As she glorified herself and played the wanton,  so give her a like measure of torment and mourning.  Since in her heart she says, ‘A queen I sit,  I am no widow, mourning I shall never see’  (Rev 18:7).  

Yes, no matter how high the body count rises from abortion, from the broken lives of children raised without fathers, from exposure to pornography, from the celebration of greed and whatever is base or decadent—the modern West is too drunk to notice the harm she inflicts on herself. 70 million abortions, more than half of children raised in fatherless homes and in chaos … never mind all that! We are liberated. We will do as we please. We will not be told what to do!

And thus defiance and even the celebration of what is wicked and cries to heaven for vengeance continues apace. Despite all sorts statistics that say we are in real trouble, most go on calling “good” or “no big deal” what God calls sin. But God will not be mocked and ultimately we cannot avoid the consequences of our increasing depravity. At some point, God will have to end it if we do not repent.

Sadly, our defiance makes it seem unlikely that we will repent.

III. Destined for Destruction So shall her plagues come in a single day,  pestilence and mourning and famine,  and she shall be burned with fire;  for mighty is the Lord God who judges her … Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth!  In one hour she has been laid waste. Rejoice over her, O heaven, O saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So shall Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and shall be found no more; and the sound of harpers and minstrels, of flute players and trumpeters, shall be heard in thee no more; and a craftsman of any craft shall be found in thee no more; and the sound of the millstone shall be heard in thee no more; and the light of a lamp shall shine in thee no more;  and the voice of bridegroom and bride  shall be heard in thee no more;  for thy merchants were the great men of the earth,  and all nations were deceived by thy sorcery. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints,  and of all who have been slain on earth” (Rev 18:8, 19-24).

Jerusalem, the great city, the holy city, was utterly destroyed. 1.2 million Jewish people lost their lives in the conflagration. Jerusalem was burned, and when the Romans were finished, not one stone was left on another. Jesus had warned of this day in the Mt. Olivet discourses  (Mark 13Matthew 24Luke 21) and had wept over Jerusalem: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate (Matt 23:37-38).

And what of us? Will we repent? Or will we be defiant and destined for destruction? Pray for America. Pray for the West. Pray for our culture, which still has great goodness but has succumbed to much corruption.

IV. Depressing in Desolation – And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and were wanton with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! alas! thou great city, thou mighty city, Babylon!  In one hour has thy judgment come.” And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls. “The fruit for which thy soul longed has gone from thee, and all thy dainties and thy splendor are lost to thee, never to be found again!” The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, “Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, bedecked with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! In one hour all this wealth has been laid waste.” And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?” And they threw dust on their heads, as they wept and mourned, crying out,  “Alas, alas, for the great city” (Rev 18:9-19).

Here’s the bottom line: Satan sails a sinking ship. Nothing of this world can stand except on the firm foundation of Christ and His Church. Too many Christians are in a compromised state with a sinful world. Scripture says, For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Heb 13:15-16).

In this new year, pray for our Western world as never before. We have brought great gifts to the world through our marriage with Christ. But now, acting like an angry divorcée, we have forsaken Him and turned to great wickedness. But God still seeks us and wants to renew His covenant with us.

Pray. And before you exultantly say, “Bring on the destruction!” please consider that this is no “made-for-TV movie.” Think about how instantly different our lives would be! Please consider the bloodshed and loss of life. Again, would you be ready for a world with no electricity, no Internet, and no central government with a Bill of Rights? Are you ready to live without roads, running water, and trash collection? Repentance is a far better solution. So pray for a miracle! It doesn’t have to end in destruction. Jerusalem could have repented, and we still can.

The Church will survive. God’s will shall prevail. But what of our beloved country and the West? That is up to us.

So pray at this dawn of the new year. Pray a lot. Only then will it be a “Happy New Year!”

For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world!

Run, Don’t Walk, to the Nearing Jesus!

121714The Lord’s coming is near. And though we have all been well taught that the word “Advent” means “coming,” there is the danger that we think we are only passively waiting for him to come.  It is not just that the Lord is coming to us, but that we are also journeying to Him. In fact, as the Advent prayers in the Roman Missal instruct, we ought to run, not walk, and hasten to greet Him as He draws near.

The image of the Prodigal Son comes to mind. His father saw him and ran toward him. But at the same time, he was hastening toward his father with contrition and hope. So too, in Advent, do we look for the Lord’s coming. But the Lord also looks for us to come to Him by faith.  We, like the prodigal son, consider our need for salvation, and with contrition (did you get to confession this advent?), hasten to meet our Lord, whom we know by faith is coming to us.

This notion of running to meet God is set forth as a consistent theme in the prayers of the Roman Missal.  Consider these prayers and how the theme of our running, hastening, and going out  to meet God, even as He is coming to us, is set forth:

  1. Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom (First Sunday of Advent).
  2. Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company (Second Sunday of Advent).
  3. Stir up your mighty power, O Lord, and come to our help with a mighty strength, so that what our sins impede, the grace of your mercy may hasten (Thursday of the First Week of Advent).
  4. Grant that your people, we pray, almighty God, may be ever watchful for the coming of your Only Begotten Son, that, as the author of our salvation himself has taught us, we may hasten, alert with lighted lamps, to meet him when he comes (Friday of the Second Week of Advent).
  5. May the reception of your sacrament strengthen us O Lord, so that we may go out to meet our savior, with worthy deeds when he comes, and merit the rewards of the blessed (Post-communion, Dec 22).

Thus, we are not counseled to “wait on the Lord” in a passive sense, as though we are sitting still waiting for a bus to arrive. Rather, we are counseled to “wait on the Lord” in an active sense, much as when we speak of a waiter in a restaurant “waiting on tables.” Such a form of waiting is a very active form of waiting. Alert and aware, the waiter or waitress carefully observes the needs of others and serves as their brother or sister. The good ones strive to avoid distraction and do their job of serving well and with swiftness.

Notice, too, how the prayers indicate what it means to “run.”  We do not run aimlessly or in frantic circles. Rather, running to the Lord means

  1. being engaged in righteous deeds (holiness) by God’s grace.
  2. not being hindered by worldly preoccupations and distractions.
  3. learning heavenly wisdom.
  4. receiving the Lord’s mercy unto the forgiveness of our sins.
  5. being alert and ready for the Lord’s coming, with the lamp of our soul trimmed (humble and purged of sin) and burning (alive with fiery love).
  6. being strengthened by the Eucharist, which is our food for the journey.

St. Paul speaks of running, too:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Cor 9:24-27).

Are you running to meet the Lord or are you just waiting? Advent involves looking and waiting, but it also means running to meet the Lord, who is coming to us. Run, don’t walk, to the nearing Jesus!

The text of this song says, simply, Domine ad adjuvandum me festina! (Lord, make haste to help me!) It was composed by Vivaldi, and its series of eighth notes creates the image of an energetic and joyful running. Vivaldi also loved to run a melody up and down the musical scale, creating (here) a sense of running up and down the hills as we hasten to the Lord. (The video goes on to include the Gloria Patri.) Try not to tap your toe in the first and third movements of this clip from the Vespers of Vivaldi in G Major!