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  • Him Who Is the Last: An Advent Reflection

    by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

    infantjesus

    As we enter the last few days before we rightly give our hearts over to the joy of Christmas, we might take a few minutes in prayer over two brief passages from the past about the meaning of Advent.

    Here’s the first. The great Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that

    We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the [Advent] message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.

    Only when we have felt the terror of the matter can we recognize the incomparable kindness. God comes into the very midst of evil and death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. And by judging us, God cleanses and sanctifies us, comes to us with grace and love. God makes us happy as only children can be happy. God wants to always be with us — in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us.

    Bonhoeffer spoke those words from inside the heart of the Third Reich, a regime that finally killed him for his resistance activities. He knew both the joy and the cost of the Christian faith, and he lived his discipleship heroically in very difficult times. His life makes for extraordinary reading, especially at the hands of a gifted biographer. Happily, earlier this spring, author Eric Metaxas told Bonhoeffer’s story in one of the most compelling books published in the last decade (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy; Thomas Nelson). It’s a book every Christian should read.

    But Bonhoeffer was not alone in his heroism, nor in preaching the real meaning of Advent from the depths of a dark time. Here’s the second passage for our mid-December prayers:

    We may ask why God has sent us into this time, why he has sent this whirlwind over the earth, why he keeps us in this chaos where all appears hopeless and dark and why there seems to be no end to this in sight. The answer to this question is perhaps that we were living on earth in an utterly false and counterfeit security. And now God strikes the earth till it resounds, now he shakes and shatters; not to pound us with fear, but to teach us one thing — the spirit’s innermost moving and being moved . . . .

    [We] have stood on this earth in false pathos, in false security; in our spiritual insanity we really believed we could, with the power of our own hand and arm, bring the stars down from heaven and kindle flames of eternity in the world. We believed that with our own forces we could avert the dangers and banish night, switch off and halt the internal quaking of the universe. We believed we could harness everything and fit it into a final order that would stand.

    Here is the message of Advent: Faced with him who is the Last, the world will begin to shake. Only when we do not cling to false securities will our eyes be able to see this Last One and get to the bottom of things. Only then will we be able to guard our life from the frights and terrors into which God the Lord has let the world sink to teach us, so that we may awaken from sleep, as Paul says, and see that it is time to repent, time to change things . . . .

    The world today needs people who have been shaken by ultimate calamities and emerged from them with the knowledge and awareness that those who look to the Lord will still be preserved by him, even if they are hounded from the earth. The Advent message comes out of an encounter of man with the absolute, the final, the gospel. It is thus the message that shakes — so that in the end, the world shall be shaken.

    The Jesuit Rev. Alfred Delp wrote those words from his prison cell shortly before the Third Reich executed him — just as it did Bonhoeffer — for resistance to Hitler’s regime.

    These are sober thoughts. But they’re the soil from which real Christian joy and hope must grow. They remind us why Advent, as a season, is so vital to understanding the whole of Christian revelation. The baby born in Bethlehem comes to bring us light and peace. But to do that, he comes to die for us and rise again. He comes to deliver us from the evil in ourselves and in the world that slew Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Alfred Delp, and even the Son of God Himself.

    Jesus Christ comes to shake everything. May He come quickly.

    The views expressed by the authors and editorial staff are not necessarily the views of
    Sophia Institute, Holy Spirit College, or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.

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    • Zoe

      Wow. These are perfect words to reflect on as we approach Christmas.

    • Dan Deeny

      At Mass last Saturday evening, our deacon gave an interesting homily about what might have happened to Mary, pregnant without a husband. She could have been stoned to death or sent away quietly to have her child. Evidently, Joseph thought of sending her away. Of course, she could have taken an abortifacient or had an abortion as the Roman culture permitted. As we know, the Archangel Gabriel visited both her and Joseph to tell them to have this child. And now we have Christianity.
      Dietrich Bonhoeffer had the chance to fight the Nazis, an obvious enemy. We have our culture and our Constitution, and we ourselves are part of the enemy. Even Archbishop Chaput is perhaps too optimistic when he quotes Fr. Delp: “The world today needs people who have been shaken by ultimate calmities…” If someone like Elie Wiesel, who survived a concentration camp, cannot bring himself to oppose the abortion business, who can ordinary people turn to?

    • Famijoly

      What a haunting, sobering reflection! If we are genuine Christians — followers of Jesus Christ — then we believe He is the Last One, that is, the last hope for mankind. Beyond Jesus Christ, there is only the Final Judgment.

      “[We] have stood on this earth in false pathos, in false security; in our spiritual insanity we really believed we could, with the power of our own hand and arm, bring the stars down from heaven and kindle flames of eternity in the world. We believed that with our own forces we could avert the dangers and banish night, switch off and halt the internal quaking of the universe. We believed we could harness everything and fit it into a final order that would stand.”

      These words of Fr. Alfred Delp, SJ, from 70 years ago could have been freshly composed today. Our arrogance as human beings leads us to act as if we don’t need our Creator God and that we certainly don’t need “the Last One,” for that would mean admitting that mankind needs saving.

      Indeed, come Lord Jesus! Come soon!

    • Paul von Heiligenstadt

      Your Excellency,

      In surveying the political and cultural wars I have been getting a bit discouraged. The activists have achieved an important goal in their march toward state recognized homosexual marriage in overturning DADT. The elites have wholeheartedly embraced relativism, and their judges lie in wait for the chance to nullify popular steps to enforce natural law (Prop 8 in California). It seems as if the storm is upon us, and it’s time for all believers to man up and witness to the Truth. Thank you for the solemn words. They’re not easy words to hear, because they speak of martyrdom. They could have been written today, which is what makes them so frightful. Perhaps there is a connection with Cardinal Schoenborn’s recent comments about the large number of Catholics who have left the church in Austria this year. He said the likes of it hadn’t been seen since the 3rd Reich.

      And yet, the final victory has been won. Praised be Jesus Christ!

    • logicalcalculus

      The New Eve has an Immaculate Heart – in Spousal Virginal love with The Sacred Heart. The Consecration of Russia to this Immaculate Heart will be done in the future. The question is whether it will be done before or after the nuclear war ["annihilation of nations"] that is to come, as the Pope hinted, before 2017 [the 300th anniversary of Freemasonry's United Grand Lodge of London http://www.ugle.org.uk ] The New Queen Esther will kill Her enemies like Her prefiguring archetype. Let us hope the bishops repent. Chaput is not what he seems. He hates Esther, he hates Fatima, he hates Mary – he is part of the problem.