Sunday, 20 December 2009
4th Sunday of Advent, Year C, Shaftesbury
Today is our final Sunday before Christmas, our final Sunday to prepare ourselves for Christmas. And on this last Sunday the Church always gives us the figure of Our Lady in the readings to help us prepare: she was the one who first welcomed Christ at the first Christmas and she can help us welcome Him now. Although there are many ways Our Lady can help us, I would like to point out two virtues we see in Our Lady that we can imitate to help us prepare: humility and faith.
Our Lady manifested her humility in action in the gospel text we heard. Even though she knew from the angel Gabriel that she had just become pregnant, she didn't think of her own needs but rushed to her cousin Elizabeth to help her in the more advanced stage of her pregnancy. That sort of putting the needs of other people before ourselves is a very simple but important way of being humble, of being ready to celebrate Christmas properly, of being able to live in peace and charity, of being ready in our hearts to welcome Christ this Christmas.
In addition, in order for Christmas to be a SPIRITUAL event, an event that isn't just loving in the way a good atheist can be loving, in order to be an event that recognises the deeper spiritual meaning and reality of what Christmas is about, in order to be that we need to have faith: we need to believe that Christ came and was born at Christmas.
Faith, the Catechism teaches us (CCC 143-144), is our response to what God has revealed. When somebody tells us something we can either believe them or doubt them. Faith, Christian faith, is to hear what God has revealed and believe it. In particular, faith means to accept a truth NOT because we have seen it ourselves, NOT because we have figured it out for ourselves, BUT to accept it on the authority of the one who tells us: divine faith is to accept all the truths that God has revealed in Jesus Christ, and to accept them because He has said to. A standard example of this is our faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist: this defies our physical senses, it is not something we could figure out for ourselves, but He said "this is my body" and we believe it because He said so.
Our Lady is often referred to as the perfect model of faith: the angel told her something that would be impossible in the natural order of events, namely, that a virgin would conceive and bear a child. She manifested her faith by believing what the angel had told her, in addition, she manifested the active dimension of faith by submitting to do what the angel asked -to be the mother of the Lord. This is what we heard Elizabeth praise Our Lady for: “blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled" (Lk 1:44).
This Sunday, an adult will be received into the Church, Tim Allhusen, and I want to make one final point about how faith is something that needs the Church. If faith is our response to what God has revealed, then the Revelation needs to be transmitted, needs to be handed on, and needs to be handed on with the guarantee of infallibility so that we can trust the accuracy of what has been handed on. As Catholics, this is something that we hold is implicit within the very nature of Revelation -there was no point in God revealing His truth unless He was also going to establish a secure and dependable means for that truth to be handed on. So the fullness of faith is something we can only have through the Catholic Church. This is what Tim will express in his profession of faith when he says, "I believe and profess all the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God".
In conclusion, thinking back to Christmas. If we want to welcome Christ at Christmas, then we need to put aside the scepticism and the scoffing of the unbelieving world, we need to ignore whatever latest pseudo-documentary claims that the BBC will make: we need to believe that the Bible tells us about Christ being born in Bethlehem was in fact true -our salvation depends upon it. And we need to express that faith in action by humble hearts and humble love as Our Lady humbly put Elizabeth's needs before her own.