4th Sunday of Advent
Scripture Reading: Romans 16:25-27
In today’s Second Reading, the Church takes us to St. Paul’s epistle to the Christians in Rome. Paul has just written a very lengthy letter to the Church, and now he’s wrapping things up and getting ready to sign off.
Before signing the letter, Paul reminds the Church that God is able to give each of its members the supernatural strength needed to live according to the Gospel which he faithfully preaches night and day. He teaches that although it was always the will of God to save mankind through Jesus Christ, this plan of salvation through Him was kept as a hidden secret for many centuries until the appointed time set by God had come to reveal and proclaim Him.
According to St. Paul, the Scriptures clearly predicted the Lord Jesus Christ and God’s plan to call both Jews and Gentiles through Him to the obedience that comes from faith.
Faith in Jesus Christ without obedience to Jesus Christ is dead. Mental acknowledgment that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that apart from Him there is no salvation does not constitute saving faith. It is obedience to the commands and teachings of Jesus Christ after one has mentally acknowledged Him that will determine who belongs to Christ and who does not.
Our obedience to Christ must go hand in hand with our intellectual acknowledgment of Him if we wish to be acknowledged as His own on Judgment Day, and it is here where many people have been deceived.
According to several polls which have been taken, 83% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. Not only this, but 85% of Americans as a whole believe that there is a Heaven and that when they die, they will go there. If 83% of Americans were living obediently to the commands and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, the United States would be a completely different nation than what it is today. Clearly, something is wrong.
What accounts for this discrepancy between the number of those who profess to follow Christ and the number of those who actually obey the teachings of Christ? The answer to this is a tragic misunderstanding on the part of millions as to what true faith in Christ entails. People have confused mere intellectual acknowledgment of Christ with faith in Christ. But according to St. James, even the demons in Hell believe that Christ exists, and even tremble before Him. Are they saved?
During the season of Advent, the Church calls us to penance and preparation for the Coming of Christ. We are exhorted over and over again in the Scriptures to examine our lives – and often – to see if we are truly living in obedience to the Faith. Are we living in obedience to what Christ teaches through both His Word and His Church, or are we serving God on our own terms, rather than on His?
Are we putting into practice what Christ has commanded, or are we merely listening to it, but not doing it? Heaven is the reward for those who are doers of the Word, not mere listeners of the Word. Those who are doers of the Word are Christ’s true disciples, not those who merely listen to it, say, “Amen!” to it, but fail to put it into practice in their lives.
We all would do well to take a few moments in the presence of God to see if we are truly walking in the obedience that comes from faith. If the Holy Spirit shows us areas in our lives that are way offline with our profession of faith, we may wish to jot them down in our journal.
Next to them, we may wish to write down how we believe those “unsurrendered” areas are negatively affecting our walk with Christ, what they are doing to His Spirit within us, and how they are affecting our Christian testimony before our family and others. The only way we will see our areas of compromise for what they really are is if we look them square in the face and see them in all their ugliness.
Journaling about them and seeing their reflection staring back at us often snaps us out of the sleep into which we have been lulled and persuades us to eliminate them from our lives altogether.
This practice also helps us to examine our conscience in preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which the Church encourages us to receive, especially during the season of Advent. It is for this reason that many churches hold Penance services during the season of Advent. We’re supposed to be examining ourselves beneath the glaring light of God’s Eternal Word, seeing where we need to re-adjust, and then confessing our sins to the priest.
Journaling about the areas in our lives which God is flagging in order to get our attention forces us to slow down and take the time to truly examine our conscience so that when we kneel (or sit) before the priest, we will know exactly how we need to proceed, and we will make a good confession.