Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent
[Preached in Munich; December 6, 1942]
On the First Sunday of Advent, we talked about how, during this season of Advent, man should pray through and endure his own individual reality. We said that this saving self-knowledge should not remain purely theoretical or just words. Rather, it means decision and responsibility… We have talked about the first responsibility, about how it is our responsibility to make a disturbance in the world that is strong enough to tear this chaos out of its cycle and to lead the world back to its source. Christians bear the responsibility to generate an authentic unrest within creation, through our existence, our word, and our work.
The Second Sunday in Advent points out a second responsibility today, one that weighs heavily on our souls. We are obliged to be concerned about the destiny of the world. Moreover, we must know that we gamble away our own individual salvation if we don’t play, or, to word it better, if we don’t fight, for salvation and order in the world.
Two basic ideas about this second area of responsibility are mentioned in today’s Mass. In the Introit, the Lord, the Kyrios, is described as God who comes to save the nations. This does not refer to a ghetto, but to “the nations.” His will to save knows no bound. In the Collect, we pray: Shake our hearts awake, O Lord, to prepare the way, in Your people, for Your only-begotten Son. Here the keynotes have sounded: the will to save the whole, the universal, and the will coming from a personally experienced responsibility, which demands the very beating of our hearts. The Epistle (Rom 15: 4-13) says that we are of one mind, that He comes to be Lord over the nations, and that we are filled with faith, peace, joy, hope. The Gospel (Mt 11:2-10) discusses mission as necessarily stemming from personal commitment from personal participation.
What do old truths say about our lives today? Let examine this from the other side. An officer serving in this war, with no connection to the Church, has written a letter in which we will recognize the second responsibility I just spoke of. I will read some passages from his letter.
“From the wreckage of the medieval world view, the inevitable conclusions will be drawn. People risk setting up their material existence, dare to handle things without anything sense of dependence upon a divine hand. In Nietzsche’s words, ‘God is dead.’ … One thing is sure, if we are discussing guilt, then there is historical guilt with immense consequences, and a responsibility that neither the people of the Church, nor anyone else, can evade. Some may say, ‘Our dear God is dead.’ In any event, there can be no doubt that in the existing churches something is coming to an end.”
That is the first paragraph of the letter. This God is dead, no longer plays a living role in human life. When does modern life concern itself with God? How is this or that measure, this plan, or that intention connected with the order of God? Who even asks about God? The question of the Lord God’s approval has become secondary to public as well as personal life. Be honest. Ask yourself about your workdays and Sundays, about your plans with the youngsters. Who asks, before beginning something, “How does that fit in relationship to God’s plans and commandments?” Do we not first have an idea and then ask, “Can we still combine that with God?” And then we try the cheap road of compromise. God is no longer the Lord of hearts that beat passionately for Him.
The Christian truths are treated as objects. Viewed that way, the entirety of faith is not perceived as an urgent presence or a real challenge to human hearts. Has anyone tried opening the catechism to experience these things, not abstractly, but as a nudge to your individual heart, to tear you away from your habitual perspective? Who has ever considered that the wonderful story of the Lord, the Kyrios, is not complete, but that His birth, suffering, and death should be continuing to happen anew within us and within our Church … Our life itself depends upon this living faith. We are no longer attending to it with heart and soul, but rather because of custom, or fear at the uncertainty of life, or scrupulosity—instead of in such a way that this universal God might, through us, touch the world and draw it home to Himself…
[excerpt from Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings]