As the days become shorter (at least for those of us in the Northern hemisphere) and darkness draws in more quickly each day, the Church has us turn in this Advent season toward reflecting on the last things – death, judgment, heaven, and hell. With eager anticipation, we approach the great Holy Day of Christmas in which Christ is born to us – the first “advent,” if you will. He comes to us as a helpless infant, in secrecy with only a few shepherds knowing of His birth, born of the womb of His most Blessed Mother. He comes to us as a savior and a brother. But we are reminded today of that fearful day when Christ will come again in glory as our Judge – a second “advent” – which will be in sharp contrast to His first coming. Contrary to what some may believe, the next coming of Christ will not be with lollipops and hugs for all. Rather, as the second reading reminds us, he will come as a just judge in a very public way to “repay every man for what he has done.”
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,
and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar
and the elements will be dissolved by fire… (2 Pet 3:10)
As is chanted in the Dies Irae, that chant which formerly held the honor of being the sequence for requiem masses, Our Lord will come as “Righteous Judge” and “King of Majesty.” If that weren’t fearful enough, consider what follows:
…and the earth and everything done on it will be found out. (2 Pet 3:10)
Everything we have done will be “found out” – revealed publicly at the general judgment. Our actions and corresponding judgment will be revealed to every other person (angels and demons included) in order to manifest the justice and mercy of God to every person. There are many things that happen to us that we do not understand that will be made clear to all at the general judgment. Why is evil allowed to flourish? Why do I have to suffer through some particular difficulty? The reasons for these things, the graces that each person has been given, and how each has used them will be made manifest to all. Every person will be forced to recognize that God is good, just, and merciful – it will be the ultimate glorification of God, the desire of every true Christian.
Yes, there will be judgment, but you will have nothing to fear; on the contrary this will be a great moment of rejoicing if you are
…eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace (2 Pet 3:14).
This brings us to the imperative in the first reading and the gospel:
Prepare the way of the LORD!
My friends, we must prepare the way of the Lord in our own souls. Besides the two advents that have already been discussed, there is a third one – Christ’s daily coming to us. Each day the Lord comes to us, for some in more obvious ways than others like in daily communion. How do we prepare for this? Most importantly, stay in the state of grace! Avoid the occasions of sin! If you do fall into mortal sin, then go to confession! If you have not been to confession in a while (more than a month), then go even if your conscience does not accuse you of mortal sin – the sacraments are a means of receiving grace that we might grow closer to Our Lord and be strengthened against the snares the devil lays for us.
But to ensure more rapid progress day by day in the path of virtue, We will that the pious practice of frequent confession, which was introduced into the Church by the inspiration of the Holy spirit, should be earnestly advocated. By it genuine self-knowledge is increased, Christian humility grows, bad habits are corrected, spiritual neglect and tepidity are resisted, the conscience is purified, the will strengthened, a salutary self-control is attained, and grace is increased in virtue of the Sacrament itself. (Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis 88)
Always keep your soul “without spot or blemish” for you do not know when the second coming will be (or when your own particular judgment at death will be if you die before the second coming). Therefore, you must always be like the wise virgins who had their lamps filled with oil (Mt 25:1-13) – “those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast.” Always be ready then, and whenever the time comes, you will be prepared to enter into glory. Our Blessed Mother, who most faithfully preserved her soul without any spot or blemish, is our guide in this task – stay close to her and she will teach you how to be prepared at all times for the coming of Christ, both daily and at the end of time.