Look to the End
There is a classic philosophical maxim, which I recall Abbot Parker quoting frequently, and which I think is worth my quoting again today, our first workday of Advent: What is first in intention is last in execution.
What is the intention or purpose of Advent? The short answer: you getting to heaven. The more complete answer which flows more directly from today’s sacred liturgy: your full membership in the new Israel, and, in this holy company, your singing the praises of God for all eternity.
How do I know this is the correct answer? The prophet Isaiah references “a smoking cloud by day and a light of flaming fire by night.” This is the prophet’s way of referring to a new exodus in which the chosen people are led by the new Moses to the new promised land. Like the original promised land, the new land is going to have God as its center, so much so that the synonym for the “land” is the “temple” itself. This is why “I rejoiced when I heard them say, let us go to the house of the Lord.” By extension, this new temple has its new high priest, new altar, and new lamb for sacrifice. Now, perhaps, it is easier to understand why I stated earlier that the intention or purpose of Advent is your full membership in the new Israel, and, in this holy company, your singing the praises of God for all eternity.
If heaven is the first intention of Advent, what is first in execution? The short answer: conversion of heart. The more complete answer: a deeper act of faith expressing a more complete conversion of heart.
This answer comes from today’s gospel reading. The evangelist Matthew tells us that Jesus was amazed at the reply of the Roman centurion and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”
The centurion was an important man in Capernaum. We might consider his role to be something like the chief of police. He had the authority to be cruel and to throw his weight around, both in the Roman garrison as well as in this lakeside community. Instead, he was kind and intelligent. The centurion knew Jewish law and knew that Jesus could not come into the house of a gentile. It wasn’t fair to ask Jesus to do such a thing. And yet the centurion was also very concerned about his servant—an example of his kindness. The centurion was a good man who recognized a greater goodness in Jesus. He recognized in Jesus such a holiness that he believed Jesus could heal by a word.
If we want to be members of the new Israel and on our way to heaven during these days of Advent, we need to use every opportunity to grow in the natural and supernatural virtues shown by the centurion. God gives us these opportunities throughout the day. He also gives us the opportunity at each Mass. The last words we recite before receiving holy communion come from the same Roman centurion: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul"—and your servant, and our advent—"shall be healed."
With the healing that only Jesus can give, what is first in execution becomes the right step forward into a generous and grace-filled Advent. And, over time, what was first in intention will become the reward of those who lived their Advent well.