Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Spe Salvi, Advent, and the Parousia

Pope Benedict XVI's second encyclical letter, Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope), comes at an opportune time, one that is particularly important to the Parousians: the beginning of Advent.

According to Catholic Encyclopedia, during Advent, Catholics are encouraged to "prepare themselves worthily to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord's coming into the world as the incarnate God of love, thus to make their souls fitting abodes for the Redeemer coming in Holy Communion and through grace, and thereby to make themselves ready for His final coming as judge, at death and at the end of the world."

In other words, Advent is the time when we as Catholics:
1. Prepare to celebrate the Incarnation at Christmas.
2. Make our souls "fitting abodes for the Redeemer" who comes to us in the Eucharist and in grace - which requires us to repent (read: go to Confession).
3. Ready ourselves for the Second Coming, also called the Adventus (Latin) or the Parousia (Greek).

The Catechism gives the faithful a similar admonition:
"The coming of God's Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries... When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming" (CCC 522, 524).
Thus the four weeks of Advent are a time of expectation and renewal, namely, the renewal of our desire for Christ's coming, which is the renewal of our hope - which brings us to the Holy Father's new encyclical.

In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that Christian hope is future-oriented: "We see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness" (Spe Salvi 2). This hope for the future, which has as its foundation our salvation in Christ, helps us to make sense of the sufferings of the present, and to see their cause. "Present society is recognized by Christians as an exile," the Holy Father writes in Section 4. Our homeland is in Heaven, and we long to return to it, but we must first complete our earthly sojourn - we must first suffer, and wait.

The Holy Father goes on two explore two different approaches to life, one which takes as its "substance" (hyparchonta) the things of this world, property, material security; and another approach which depends on a new "substance" (hypostasis) in order to survive - the substance of faith-filled hope.

"In order to understand more deeply this reflection on the two types of substance - hypostasis and hyparchonta - and on the two approaches to life expressed by these terms," the Pope writes, we ought to look at Chapter 10 of St. Paul's Letter to the Hebrews and pay particular attention to his use of the words hypomone (10:36) and hypostole (10:39).
"Hypomone is normally translated as 'patience' - perseverance, constancy. Knowing how to wait, while patiently enduring trials, is necessary for the believer to be able to 'receive what is promised' (10:36). In the religious context of ancient Judaism, this word was used expressly for the expectation of God which was characteristic of Israel, for their persevering faithfulness to God on the basis of the certainty of the Covenant in a world which contradicts God. Thus the word indicates a lived hope, a life based on the certainty of hope" (Spe Salvi 9)
And yet, the Holy Father continues, our hope is more certain than that of the Jews because of the Incarnation. We wait not only for the Savior who is to come, but for Christ who was, who is, and is to come - for Christ who has already revealed to us the love of the Father.
"In the New Testament, this expectation of God... takes on a new significance: in Christ, God has revealed Himself. He has already communicated to us the 'substance' of things to come, and thus the expectation of God acquires a new certainty. It is the expectation of things to come from the perspective of a present that is already given. It is a looking-forward in Christ's presence, with Christ who is present, to the perfecting of His Body, to his definitive coming."
In this way, we can be sure that Christ accompanies us through Advent, and because He is eternally present, He is with us even as we await His coming at Christmas, as well as at the Parousia.

In contrast to hypomone, the word hypostole indicates a "shrinking back" in fear of speaking the truth. The hope with which we are asked to live leaves no room for such fear.

In his homily on the First Sunday of Advent in 2005, Pope Benedict encouraged Catholics to look to the example of the Blessed Mother in order to understand both the nature of Christ's coming and what we must do to prepare for it:
"Mary belonged to that part of the people of Israel who in Jesus' time were waiting with heartfelt expectation for the Savior's coming. And from the words and acts recounted in the Gospel, we can see how she truly lived steeped in the prophets' words; she entirely expected the Lord's coming. She could not, however, have imagined how this coming would be brought about... The moment when the Archangel Gabriel entered her house and told her that the Lord, the Savior, wanted to take flesh in her, wanted to bring about his coming through her, must have been all the more surprising to her.

"We can imagine the Virgin's apprehension. Mary, with a tremendous act of faith and obedience, said "yes": "I am the servant of the Lord." And so it was that she became the "dwelling place" of the Lord, a true "temple" in the world and a "door" through which the Lord entered upon the earth."
Like Mary, we must prepare our souls to be "fitting abodes for the Redeemer," a daunting task, indeed; but let us not be discouraged, for we may find consolation in the knowledge that Christ and His Mother accompany us on our journey, and that, as St. Paul writes in Romans 8:24, "SPE SALVI FACTI SUMUS" - we have been saved by hope.

Our Lady of the New Advent by Fr. William McNichols

No comments: