Today is the last day of the liturgical year. Tomorrow we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, the season to prepare for the entry of God’s own Son into our human life. Tomorrow we celebrate the beginning of a new church year.
Liturgically for some days now we have been looking at the end of time, for the readings have been giving us many varied apocalyptic signs of that end. And in the gospels Jesus has been speaking, sometimes ambiguously, of the second coming of the Lord and how we should meet that second coming.
Today, on the last day, the church chooses to present us first with a beautiful symbolic picture of the new heaven and the new earth in the new time to come. From the very throne of God and the Lamb we see a sparkling stream running straight down the center of the street. Each side of the street is lined with trees bearing fruit and food to sustain us and medicinal leaves to cure, heal, and protect us. Trees of Life and a River of Life-giving Waters – beautiful, sparkling, and beckoning.
Then in the gospel Luke presents Jesus telling us to be ready to enter and to dwell in this new heaven and new earth. Jesus encourages us to prepare for our own "end time," so that we may gladly take hold of the new time that will begin with our death. He cautions us against missing that new moment through inattention, sleepiness, and stupor brought on by high living, drinking and carousing – or through over-worry and anxiety about the daily cares of making a living, anxieties that tend to choke the heart and stifle the real purpose of life.
I ponder how I may best follow Jesus’s warning, "Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy." What comes to me is the practice and the counsel of St. Francis de Sales: To give birth to Jesus in my heart each morning in my prayer – to make my heart the stable into which Jesus is born, the manger in which this new-born Child is laid. Letting him be born anew in me each day, I can then tend to him in my heart. Throughout the day I can care for him, love him, and ask him to grow and become strong. I can ask him to prod me to extend his love and care to everyone I meet this day and to all who meet me. And at night I can beg him to show me how he grew in my heart that day, expanding my own heart. Likewise, I can ask him where and how I ignored him, or where I tried to shut him up when he asked me to do something, shrinking my own heart in doing so. In the course of such days, then, will he not begin to make my heart his own?
"Jesus gentle and humble of heart, make my heart like unto thine." Murmuring that prayer to him, may I be ready to meet him in the new time when he comes for me.
Br. Peter A. Fitzpatrick, CFX, a Xaverian Brother, is a Passionist Associate at Ryken House, across the creek from the Passionist Monastery, in Louisville, Kentucky.