We need the Incarnation and the Resurrection because we need God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We cannot go to God, so he must come to us.
It's hard to believe that Advent has rolled around again. But it seems to feel that way every year. It's always nice to see the violet and pink candles of the wreath be lighted in turn week after week. But the thing I notice most about Mass during Advent is moving from the "Lord, have mercy" directly into the opening prayer. Mass has just begun. Then all of a sudden, there we are, sitting down for the readings. The first part of the liturgy is abbreviated in Advent as it is in Lent. That's because the Gloria is omitted.
With all our focus on Christmas, a lot of us tend to miss the fact that Advent is not just a season of hopeful preparation, but one of penitence. Notice that I did not say "penance." That's because there's a difference between penance and penitence, and it matters here. Penance is something we do. It's action we take to "make up" for the sins we've committed. Penitence, on the other hand, is an inner disposition. It's a state of mind in which we not only recognize our sins, but feel remorse and regret for them.
The Church gives us penitential seasons to prepare for the greatest events of our Christian faith, moments in which God's glory breaks into our darkness. Christmas and Easter aren't just holidays, they are spiritual non-negotiables. We need the Incarnation and the Resurrection because we need God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We cannot go to God, so he must come to us. And we cannot break the stronghold of death, so he must go into the grave in order to raise us out of it.
In short, we need God's glory because without it, the darkness remains not only around us but in us. Every sin of thought, word, and deed, every good thing left undone, distances us from the glory God longs to give and the eternal glory he has planned for us from the beginning. So when we miss the Gloria at Mass, we ought to think about how we are missing the glory of God in our lives.
It seems to me that it would be a good idea to live penitentially all year round. After all, we don't sin seasonally. And the truth is that we are sorry for our sins only to the extent that we are sorrowful over them. Sorrow comes when we understand the loss all sin brings, not just to people on the receiving end, but also to us sinners. The natural response to loss is grief. But penitence is a good kind of grief, one that brings us to repentance and grace.
We all need to repent of something, and when we fall into thinking that we don't, we're probably more lost than we know. It's usually much easier to see how far gone someone else is than it is to realize how we ourselves have wandered from God. Funny how the speck in another's eye looks an awful lot like a beam, while the beams in our own eyes seem so small. But when we see ourselves the way we truly are, we can do nothing else than fall to our knees before God.
That might, on the surface, appear to be anything but a pleasant experience. Nonetheless, anything that brings us to God brings us to glory. Glory, after all, is the light of love and truth that radiates from God's face. The glory we celebrate at the end of four weeks or 40 days is just a preview of eternity's coming attractions--an appetizer meant to give us a taste for heaven. Each new day, we can choose to live with a penitent heart, knowing that God is not only with us but for us, and trusting that ultimately we will not miss an ounce of the glory he has planned.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.
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