Sunday, December 1, 2013

1st Sunday of Advent

This meditation on the 1st Sunday of Advent was written by Fr. Sebastian Bullough, O.P. (1919-1967), noted biblical scholar and professor at Cambridge in England.  It was published in The Tablet on the 1st Sunday of Advent in 1954.  It was reissued, along with the his other Advent meditations for that year, by Blackfriars Publications as a small booklet in 1955.

I: "I Raise up My Soul" By SEBASTIAN BULLOUGH, O.P.

I raise up my soul unto thee, My Lord and my God, I trust in thee: thou wilt not fail me, My foes cannot mock me ; All who look to thee: thou wilt not fail them; Abandoned the wicked.

Show me, o Master, thy pathways, Teach me thy road, Guide me and constantly teach me, My God and my saviour.

THE Church's new year begins with this psalm at the Introit. It is the proper beginning of any human undertaking: an expression of complete trust in God. For one more year of life is indeed a big undertaking. One more year of life: each year's beginning finds us again expecting to live the year through, though we know quite well that our call may come before the year's end, yet for practical purposes we must assume that our responsibilities will cover the next twelve months. And for these responsibilities we know that we.must rely on God: "Without me you can do nothing." Merely living as a Christian in the world today is a big responsibility, and we know that without God's help we cannot fulfill it. Yet so often we forget, and in our folly rely on ourselves. How important therefore to consider once more our utter dependence on God. This is one of the functions of Advent.

Advent is staged as a beginning. By means of that make-believe that is an essential element of the theatre—knowing that what we are watching is not true, but yet wanting to live through the dramatic experience, since we know that the elemental truth of the drama has its power to sway our lives—by means of this dramatic make-believe, we place ourselves during Advent in a world that is still waiting for the Redeemer to come. The lessons in the Breviary are from Isaias, expressing the whole hope of Israel, and all through Advent we hear the prophetic voices speaking of "him who is to come." The urgency of waiting climbs through the four weeks : "Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam et veni"—Stir up thy power, and come; "Excita corda nostra ad praeparandos unigeniti tui vias"— Stir up our hearts to prepare—on the second Sunday ; through the ember-day Masses with their prophetic visions, to the climax of expectation on Christmas Eve: "Mane videbitis gloriam ejus"— Tomorrow you shall see his glory. And then in the Mass at dead of night, "the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light"—as if none of us present had ever seen it before. That is all part of the make-believe : we kneel before the bambino in the little theatre of the crib : we know that what we are now watching happened hundreds of years ago, but we want to live through it again, knowing that the elemental truth of the drama has its power to sway our lives. That is why Christmas is the most loved feast of children, because children understand make-believe instinctively. The drama of the Child born into the world, to redeem us from sin and death, is the drama that has swayed the world, and continues to sway each one of us. And Advent is staged as the beginning.

The liturgical year unfolds the story of our redemption, from the expectation of the prophets of Israel in Advent, through the Coming of the Redeemer at Christmas, his life, to his passion and death in Holy Week, the triumphal resurrection of the "first-fruits of them that sleep," to his Ascension, when he left his friends to their own devices, but sent them the Comforter to strengthen them at Pentecost. And even then the story is not finished. He left with his friends a mortal, a woman, to support and console them, and the full story of the one redeemed creature who has reached to the completion of the cycle in "in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting" is brought to mind in far away August, on the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady. The story of redemption is complete, and we have acted it through from Advent to August, knowing that every time we act it, we grow in understanding of its mystery, of the mystery of God "qui humanm substantim dignitatem mirabiliter condidisti et mirabilius reformasti"—the wonder that is God's creation of human dignity, and the still greater wonder that is his merciful redemption of human dignity degraded by sin to become human misery.

Advent is staged as the beginning : looking forward in liturgical fancy to the Redeemer to come, we remind ourselves that "All who look to thee, thou wilt not fail them," and we face the labours of another twelve-month, and tackle the responsibilities of Christian living, with new hope in our hearts, knowing that "all things are possible to him that believeth."