Advent: Latin ad-venio, to come to.
“Send down the dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One: let the earth be opened, and bud forth the Redeemer.” Thus begins the Advent hymn, “Rorate Caeli,” that mournfully calls upon God to hear our prayers. We are made to sigh with longings, as the Fathers of old, asking God to consider not our iniquities. The hymn ends with the assurance that “I will save thee, be not afraid, For I am the Lord Thy God, The Holy One of Israel, Thy Redeemer.”
As we enter Advent, most people will breeze through the season without reflection on its meaning. They will prepare for our secular celebration of Christmas with parties and shopping. Few will apply the lessons of this most august liturgical season to their daily lives.
For faithful Catholics, observing Advent should mean putting ourselves in a position analogous to the Fathers of old. This can be more easily done by imagining ourselves in the plight of the Prodigal Son.
Indeed, we are in much the same situation as the Prodigal Son. We find ourselves, through our own faults and those of society, in an agitated and frenzied world that is not our true home. We suffer amid an immoral world that only lives for pleasures and amusements. We desire to return home but do not know how to do it.
Thus, we should observe a “Prodigal Son” Advent. Here are three ways to make this liturgical season more meaningful to our lives.
Consider Our Sinful World
Like the Prodigal Son, the first thing we must do is to consider our sinful world. We live in a world which does not recognize right and wrong, or virtue or vice. Consider the magnitude of the sins that are committed. Countless mortal sins sever people’s relationships with God and send them to Hell. There are sins of abortion, unnatural vice, and impurity that cover the earth and offend God greatly.
This Advent, we should fortify the conviction of the moral rottenness of our society in ourselves and others this Advent. We should constantly remind ourselves of this reality because human nature gets used to the most horrendous situations. As incredible as it might sound, the Prodigal Son probably did not immediately realize just how miserable his new situation in the pigsty was. He may have even thought that it was the new normal. From the parable it can be inferred that he had eaten the husks of the swine for some time until he could bear it no longer.
At a certain point, however, he realized his misery. Likewise, we also need to convince ourselves of this rottenness, because the world tries to convince us of the contrary. We are constantly told that it is not that bad or that it will not get worse. Others say we need to get used to it. Or we have the idea that we are the only ones who are miserable and everyone else is happy.
We need to be convinced that the world is as rotten as Our Lady of Fatima said it would be. We merit punishment. The new normal is not normal.
Such a conviction has consequences. Realizing the rottenness of the world means being aware of what is happening. It means reading the news even when it hurts. It means coming to grips with the tragic situation inside the Church. We need to face the evils before us and reject them. We need to join with others and reassure them.
Once we see things as they are in all their rottenness, the next step is to fight against these evils with protest, prayer or other actions. We should invite others to join us in these battles in the public square. In this way, we can be like the Prodigal Son who realizes the rottenness of his situation and resolves to take action to reject it. By these actions, we effectively call out to the Father saying we want to return home.
Longing for the Father’s House
No one can survive just thinking about rottenness. Our Advent would become morbid and depressing when it should be a time of hope. Pondering the evils of his situation is what led to the Prodigal Son thinking about the Father’s house.
Likewise, the second thing we can do is to awaken in ourselves and others a longing for the Father’s house.
This longing for the Father’s house cannot be made up of vague feelings for a society of love and peace. Just as the Fathers of old longed for the fullest expression of God in a Redeemer, so we long for the fullest expression of the Father’s house in society.
This was defined well by Pius XI in the encyclical Quas Primas on the social kingship of Christ, in which he said, “When once men recognize, both in private and in public life, that Christ is King, society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, peace and harmony.” This house was also revealed by Our Lady at Fatima when she spoke of her eventual triumph.
We should, therefore, desire the Father’s house and nothing less. We must not simply desire to leave the pigsty and live comfortably next door. Some might want to return to their hometown or find a less sinful city. Still others might crave a Benedict Option somewhere nearby. There can be no halfway house on our road home.
Our longings should make us want the Father’s house—the whole house, and nothing but the house. As Fatima devotees, we should long for Our Lady’s triumph. This is what sustains us and gives us hope.
More Practical Consequences
These longings also have consequences. It is not easy to awaken longings for a house which we have never seen or lived in. However, this can be done in many ways.
One way is through admiration. All that is good, true, and beautiful speaks to us of the Father. When we admire these things, we take to heart the words of Saint Paul in Holy Scripture. He invites us to look to these same ideals when he says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).
Thus, we must seek out those marvelous things in our daily lives that can trigger our love for the father’s house. We might look for those honorable, just, pure, and lovely things which are to be found in the home, family, community, or liturgy.
Another way to trigger in ourselves longings for the Father’s house is to cultivate the graces that God sends which provoke this longing. God gives us graces that work in our souls to keep our hopes alive, strengthen us, and give us glimpses of the splendors of his house.
Sometimes the grace of being together with other Catholics can awaken these longings. At other times, the grace of suffering well strengthens the soul and allows us to feel the dependency we must have on the Father. The very struggle to keep the Faith can trigger longings for that for which we fight.
Another way to trigger longings for the Father’s house is to never stop learning and imagining what the Christian order is—what the Father’s house should look like. Church literature and teaching are full of descriptions of Christendom. Our longings increase when we know that it can be practically achieved.
Confide in the Father
The final thing we should do this Advent is to confide in the Father with humble and contrite hearts. Like the Prodigal Son who left the house of the Father, so also we as individuals have left the ways of God. When we distance ourselves from God, he cannot act because we will not let him.
However, we must confide that God will not reject our humble and contrite hearts. If we do our part by rejecting the evils of the day and longing for the Father’s house, we can be assured that he will respond to our longings both as individuals and, more importantly, as a nation.
We must be convinced that God desires our grand return home much more than we do. He watches from afar for the least sign of our cooperation to the graces that he so freely bestows upon us. And when he finds humbled hearts moving toward him, he is not outdone in generosity. He goes out to meet us on the road and treats us as if we had never erred.
We are much more blessed than the Prodigal Son. The parable only tells of the action of the father. We can also expect, however, the action of a mother. When we count on Our Lady for aid, the situation changes exponentially. We can be assured that she will take up our cause and make our return much easier.
Let us, therefore, have confidence in the midst of our present afflictions. A Prodigal Son Advent can be a way to open our hearts and return home. Let us present ourselves with humble and contrite hearts this Advent and take comfort in the final words of the “Rorate Caeli” hymn: “I will save thee, be not afraid, For I am the Lord Thy God, The Holy One of Israel, Thy Redeemer.”
Editor’s note: Pictured above is a detail from “The Return of the Prodigal Son” painted by Sir Edward John Poynter in 1869.