Advent is the season of waiting; a time of impatience for the coming of the Lord. The particular coming we are recalling is His first coming, as the Baby of Bethlehem, the Divine Child who will be placed in the manger by His Mother, Mary. In this first coming of the Lord, on that first Christmas Day, the story of our salvation begins – of course, it does not end there. Everything at this time of year reminds us of our expectation, our awaiting His arrival – the Liturgy, our personal prayers, the Christmas cards we write and receive, the hymns we hear and, of course, the empty manger, where He will be laid on Christmas morning.
The Church reminds us constantly that we are a ‘people of faith’ who have a history of salvation, and who are constantly waiting to return home to the Father. This present life is not the destination, but the journey. The Church also reminds us that we are waiting for the Lord to come again at His second coming. Indeed, we do not only ‘await’ this second coming, but we pray for it every time we pray the Our Father (“Thy Kingdom come”) and the Creed (“He will come again”). This looking forward to the coming of the Kingdom is repeated constantly in the Liturgy of the Church, with the same sense of joyful expectation with which we are presently looking forward to Christmas.
And so, we are a people of faith and also a people of hope.
This hope is present in the Acts of the Apostles. The account of the Ascension of the Lord into Heaven describes the awe of the Apostles as they watch Jesus taken up to Heaven, and it ends with these words –
“They were still staring into the sky as He went when suddenly two men in white were standing beside them and they said ‘Why are you Galileans standing here looking into the sky? This Jesus, Who has been taken up from you into Heaven, will come back again in the same way as you have seen Him go to Heaven’.” (Acts 1:10-11)
The Church explicitly tells us that She, although marked with the Spirit of Holiness, is imperfect in this present age; and with us, She awaits the coming of the Lord, when all things will be made new. The Church experiences this inner ‘groaning’ for that day when She will be made perfect. In the ‘Dognamtic Constitution On The Church’ (“Lumen Gentium”), the Second Vatican Council said this –
“Christ, having been lifted up from the earth has drawn all to Himself. Rising from the dead He sent His life-giving Spirit upon His disciples and through Him has established His Body which is the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation. Sitting at the right hand of the Father, He is continually active in the world that He might lead men to the Church and through it join them to Himself and that He might make them partakers of His glorious life by nourishing them with His own Body and Blood. Therefore the promised restoration which we are awaiting has already begun in Christ, is carried forward in the mission of the Holy Spirit and through Him continues in the Church in which we learn the meaning of our terrestrial life through our faith, while we perform with hope in the future the work committed to us in this world by the Father, and thus work out our salvation.
Already the final age of the world has come upon us and the renovation of the world is irrevocably decreed and is already anticipated in some kind of a real way; for the Church already on this earth is signed with a sanctity which is real although imperfect. However, until there shall be new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells, the pilgrim Church in her sacraments and institutions, which pertain to this present time, has the appearance of this world which is passing and she herself dwells among creatures who groan and travail in pain until now and await the revelation of the sons of God.” (‘Lumen Gentium’ ch7:48)
In the revelations of the Merciful Lord to Saint Faustina, we are reminded very clearly at various points in her Diary that this Second Coming is still to take place, such as in this passage –
“Speak to the world about My mercy; let all mankind recognise My unfathomable mercy. It is a sign for the end times; after it will come the day of justice. While there is still time, let them have recourse to the Fount of My mercy.” (Diary, para.848)
In 1936, on the Feast of the Annunciation, the Mother of God appeared to Saint Faustina and said this –
“I gave the Saviour to the world; as for you, you have to speak to the world about His great mercy and prepare the world for the Second Coming of Him who will come, not as a Merciful Saviour, but as a Just Judge. Oh, how terrible is that day.. the Angels tremble before it. Speak to souls about this great mercy while it is still the time for mercy.” (Diary, para.635)
And in 1937, as Saint Faustina was drawing closer to the end of her earthly life, the Lord told her this –
“Souls perish in spite of My bitter Passion. I am giving them the last hope of salvation; that is, the Feast of My mercy. If they will not adore My mercy, they will perish for all eternity. Secretary of My mercy, write, tell souls about this great mercy of Mine, because the awful day, the day of My justice, is near”. (Diary, para.965)
Although that day is described here as being ‘near’, still we are mindful that in the words of the Gospel it was similarly described; also, that it is not for us to ‘know the day or the hour’ which the Father has appointed for that day; that is His concern, not ours. Our task is to be prepared while we wait, as the Gospel of Saint Matthew recommends –
“So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming.. therefore, you, too, must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt.24:42, 44)
While this idea of the Day of the Justice, the Second Coming of the Lord, sounds terrifying in some ways, nonetheless it is the very thing we pray for as a people of faith and of hope – the coming of the Kingdom, where Christ will reign supreme. This hope is founded on trust in the Lord, on He who is all merciful.
Of course, trust is the beating heart of the Divine Mercy message – we are reminded of this every time we gaze at the Image of the Merciful Jesus, where the words ‘Jesus, I trust in You’ are clearly inscribed.
We need to be clearly aware, however, that this trust in the Divine Mercy does not give us carte blanche to do as we please and then expect to receive God’s mercy regardless; this mercy is a free gift of God, entirely undeserved by us; and it has the prerequisite that we acknowledge this reality by confessing our sinfulness and poverty before the Lord, Who is all mighty and all holy. It is only from this attitude of humility before Him that we can hope for His mercy.
The Divine Mercy message gives us all we need to enable us to do this – all the elements of the devotion are designed to achieve precisely this, particularly through the Sacraments of the Church, most especially those of Confession and Holy Communion. In other words, we are called to embrace the message of the Gospel, to ‘repent and believe the Good News’ and to seek to lead lives of ever greater holiness, responding to that ‘universal call to holiness’ which the Second Vatican Council spoke of.
There is one other point we need to be clear on.
This journey home to Heaven is not a journey we make in isolation, concerned only for our own salvation; rather, our concern should be to get to Heaven and to take as many souls there with us as possible. Divine Mercy is not about “me” – it is about “us”. The Lord was very clear on this point when revealing the devotion to Saint Faustina – she, like us, was tasked with an explicitly communal dimension to the Divine Mercy message; in the same way as the message was not for her alone, neither is it for us alone. Divine Mercy extends to the ends of the earth and our job is to make sure it reaches there and bears good fruit.
The Second Vatican Council also commented on this theme –
“Our union with the Church in heaven is put into effect in its noblest manner especially in the sacred Liturgy, wherein the power of the Holy Spirit acts upon us through sacramental signs. Then, with combined rejoicing we celebrate together the praise of the divine majesty; then all those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and gathered together into one Church, with one song of praise magnify the one and triune God” (‘Lumen Gentium’ ch.7:50)
In the final days of this holy Season of Advent, as we prepare our hearts to welcome the coming of the Baby Jesus, to place Him within our hearts as His Mother placed Him in the manger, let us also keep an eye open to the future, to that day when He will come again.