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A Sinner’s Take on the End of Advent

As the Christmas season approaches, what can we sinners do to better conform ourselves to the holiness of those who witnessed the first Advent?

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled (Luke 1:39-45).

Well, another Christmas is just hours away, another Advent almost past, and what have I to show for it? The same faults, the same repeated defects, the same excuses (but fewer of these as we grow older and weaker!). And as sure as I and all those around me are familiar with the lovely story now unfolded in the Gospels, they and I are also all too familiar with my own and their sad stories of much good left undone, and worse, of sins committed.

After all, the scene depicted here could not provide a more telling contrast between us and the persons who shared in it!  The mystery of the Visitation was brought about by the coming together of more holiness than the world had ever, ever seen in one place. No, not Paradise before the Fall, not with Moses on Mount Sinai, not with Elijah ascending in his chariot of fire! First we have the eternal Son of God Made Man, and then Mary his spotless and ever-sinless Mother, and then Joseph, the just man who had to have had a holiness proportionate to his role as the husband of the ever-virgin and the one whom God called Father, and then John the Baptist, whom our Lord defined as the greatest born of woman, and then Elizabeth, who first professed the presence of the Lord and the honor of his Mother, the new all-holy Ark of the Covenant, and then the silent, obedient Zachary, who will break forth into prophetic words ever to be repeated in holy church. And here we are listing only those in the scene who have a human nature!  Even if we were to add the angels, all of these human holy ones surpass either all of the angels, or at least most or some of them, in holiness! At least we can include Gabriel, but the point is made, to be sure.

So most undoubtedly Jesus, Mary, Gabriel, Joseph, John, Elizabeth, and Zachary were well prepared for the advent of the Savior of the world. They had all done God’s will perfectly; they were holy, virtuous people.

But what if you and I are not? What have we to do? Just to admire so dauntingly a magnificent gathering, like poor folk walking through Fashion Island or Beverly Center (pick your region; I picked SoCal) peering into windows at Christmastime? Must we look at them like the unhoused thousands on our streets, and wonder if such things we lost will ever be ours again?

No, no, and again no, a thousand times no. “This is a true saying,” says the apostle, “and worthy of all men to be received that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” The holy ones we admire long for our salvation—burningly, constantly, willingly, unflaggingly, persistently. None of them would as humans have possessed their closeness to God and their peace of soul, their absolute or relative sinlessness, if it were not in order for them to be the players in the great and real drama of our salvation and redemption and eternal happiness. They love us since they know that we are the reason for their holiness!

So let us expect from them, from their intercession and happy-making invisible influence, great things in these few days.

To aid us in this I offer this simple and profound prayer that involves two of them, the principal ones: Jesus and Mary. It was a favorite of St. Louis de Montfort, and it has been used at the time of Holy Communion by many confident souls for centuries. Use it now in the company of Jesus and Mary and Joseph and John and Elizabeth and Zachary. Be awash in their holiness as they surround us with the thrilling warmth of this scene.

Then this Christmas, no matter how rotten we have been, will be better than ever!

O Jesus, living in Mary,
Come and live in Thy servants,
In the spirit of Thy holiness,
In the fullness of Thy might,
In the truth of Thy virtues,
In the perfection of Thy ways,
In the communion of Thy mysteries.
Subdue every hostile power
In Thy spirit,
For the glory of the Father. Amen.

If you want to benefit from this prayer even more, then watch out for some opportunity to show hospitality to the poor who come your way, as the family of Zachary and Elizabeth showed to “Jesus living in Mary.”

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