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Advent and the Second Coming: a forgotten article of faith
Pope Paul VI wrote in The Credo of the People of God(12): "Christ, the Lord will come again, this time in glory, to judge the living and the dead."
Advent first of all looks back in memory to the birth of Christ. Liturgically, however, there has always been a close correlation between this First Coming in history and another, a Second Coming in glory, as one finds in the liturgical prayers of the season.
Although practising Catholics recall this belief at every Sunday Mass, as do those devoted to the Rosary every time they recite the introductory Creed - not to mention that at nearly every Mass, in the Eucharistic Prayer or the seasonal Prefaces, we recall this mystery - yet somehow this basic article of faith seems to make little impact on our imagination or on a consciously-lived faith.
Year of Faith
In his Motu Proprio, Porta Fidei, Benedict XVI writes that, in proclaiming a Year of Faith, he hopes "to provide the Church and individual believers with some guidelines on how to live this Year of Faith in the most effective and appropriate ways in the service of belief and evangelisation".
This Year of Faith began on 11 October and, as the Pope points out, marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II in 1962. It will conclude on the Solemnity of Christ the King, 11 October 2013.
Benedict writes: "What the world is in particular need of is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and true life, life without end".
The New Testament is replete with anticipation of a Second Coming (e.g., II Peter 3:3-19). Indeed, the earliest Christian communities seem to have been of the view that this would happen in their own generation. Such a view may be found in nearly all the Apostolic Epistles so much so that we find St Paul reproving the Thessalonians for excess: that in expectation of an imminent Second Coming, they neglected their duties of the here and now. And St Peter, in the passage referred to previously, faced the same problem.
However, after a lapse now of some two thousand years, among Christians as a body this belief - explicitly formulated in all the early and normative creeds of the Church - seems no longer to be consciously felt.
Unfortunately, in the history of Christianity, it has often been sectarians and unbalanced illuminati who have shown a lively, even morbid interest in this topic. Hence there is all the more need for a balanced view and, for this reason, Benedict in Porta Fidei refers us back to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its relevant passage: "Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial which will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the 'mystery of iniquity' (2 Thess. 2:7) in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth."
It is ironic that, at this time, the idea of cosmic dissolution should have been appropriated by others who turn it to into a prophecy of general death, doom and destruction, deriving from the physical conditions of the universe and, more especially, from our hastening the process by the manner in which the planet's natural resources have been exploited and abused. A religious belief has been replaced by a political ideology (see Catechism, 676).
What perhaps has been overlooked, even in authentic religious tradition as say reflected in the beautiful Sequence ( Dies Irae) now effectively dropped from its liturgical context, is that that the Creeds stress that "He, Christ the Lord, will come again in glory ..., and that those who have believed and hoped and ... awaited his Coming will share in His glory."
The Second Coming will be not only "a day of woe, a dreadful day"; it is also the coming of the Saviour once derided and still today so often dismissed - as we read in Revelation (1:7): "Everyone shall see him, even those who pierced him" - now validated by his "coming in glory" and all his angels with him" (Mk 13:26, 27).
In this context, Pope Benedict's summons to Christians to make this a Year of Faith is highly relevant. He refers to Pope Paul's Year of Faith (1967-68), launched in the hope that "in such a Year the whole Church could re-appropriate exact knowledge of faith" and speaking in his own person, Benedict hopes that "all believers in Christ will acquire a conscious and vigorous adherence to the Gospel, especially in a time of profound change such as humanity is currently experiencing" (8).
Benedict writes: "Intent on gathering the signs of the times in the present of history, faith commits every one of us to become a living sign of the presence of the Risen Lord in the world"; and "Only in Him is there the certitude for looking to the future and the guarantee of an authentic and lasting love."
As the Imitation of Christ reminds us: "The sign of the cross will be in heaven when the Lord comes to judge. Then all those servants of the cross, who in their lifetime have conformed themselves to Him who was crucified, will go to Christ their Judge, with confidence" (Book II:12:1).
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 25 No 11 (December 2012 - January 2013), p. 14
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