Once again we stand at that liturgical crossroads at the end of the old and the beginning of the new. The Solemnity of Jesus Christ the Universal King anticipates the end of the current liturgical year. Today we anticipate the ultimate resolution of all the world’s trials and tribulations, its questions and concerns. Our Lord promised that He will come again at the end of time, and today’s Solemnity reminds us that He might come for some of us before He comes for us all.
The autumn season and the end of the liturgical year coincide with the message that the world as we know it is passing away. Today’s feast challenges us to make sure that our priorities are in sync with these eternal realities. What things will really matter when Christ comes again?
You may have heard the story about Saint Francis of Assisi who was out in his garden hoeing a line of runner beans when he was asked: “What would you do if you knew the world would end today?” His calm, considered reply was: “I suppose I would finish hoeing this row of beans.”
His response speaks of two things: firstly it speaks to the value of the material work we are called to do. This work is consistent with and, in some ways, tied to the larger question of eternal salvation. The work we do each day is not merely to turn a profit or to pass the time—our work has eternal significance. It matters. It also matters how we do that work. If our work, even hoeing a row of beans, is important enough to persevere with until the end of the world, then it needs to be approached with a kind of reverence and respect.
Saint Francis also speaks to the need for a proper and anticipated preparation for the End Times. If one of us were to reply to the same question Saint Francis was asked, I imagine most of us we would immediately run to find a priest and go to Confession. If our inclination is to do this then the implication is that we are not quite prepared for those last days. Such a response points to a pressing need for greater readiness and preparation. Today’s feast reminds us that because “we know not the day nor the hour,” it would be wise to prepare ourselves now and get ready.
The theme of preparation is carried into the Season of Advent which begins next Sunday. As every beginning has an end, so also every end implies and expects a new beginning. Winter gives way to Spring. 2014 will give way to 2015. Life gives way to death. Death gives way to eternal life. Flower gives way to seed. Seed gives way to new growth. So also in the liturgical year, the end gives way to a new Advent, a new beginning, a new time of preparation for a new birth.
And so this is a time of beginnings and endings, and through it all we are called to be habitually in a state of readiness. As the Scouts and Guides drummed into some of us when we were children: Be Prepared. Saint Francis could be calm about getting on with the hoeing of his beans because he was already prepared for his end and he was at peace with that preparation. He may not have left his hoeing to prepare for the end, but the truer reality is that he didn’t start hoeing until he was prepared for that end. For us, the tendency to drop the hoe and run to church and find a priest for that last minute confession, is very possibly a sign that we were not yet properly ready to take up the hoe in the first place.
After the spiritual preparation of Advent and when Christmas arrives we will take up another very important work: the Work of God – Opus Dei – the work of worship and praise, the work of coming to the manger, the work of following a star. And for this we must also be prepared, and the four weeks of Advent are provided for this spiritual preparation. When Christmas arrives and we remember that we have not yet been reconciled with our neighbour, we are encouraged to leave our gift and seek that reconciliation. This is the work that precedes the work of worship, because without it our worship is just lip service; this is the work of Advent that precedes the joy of Christmas.
May your Advent work of preparation for Christmas produce for you many wonderful spiritual fruits that will bring you abundant joy and blessings when Christmas arrives.