The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Monday, December 7, 2015

Promise in a frost-bound world

From a sermon by Ronald Knox 
(1888-1957, English priest, theologian, and author):

The feast of our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, which we celebrate [Tuesday, December 8], is the promise and the earnest of Christmas; our salvation is already in the bud. As the first green shoot heralds the approach of spring, in a world that is frost-bound and seems dead, so in a world of great sinfulness and of utter despair, that spotless conception heralds the restoration of man’s innocence.

As the shoot gives unfailing promise of the flower which is to spring from it, this conception gives unfailing promise of the virgin birth. Life had come into the world again—supernatural life, not of man’s choosing or of man’s fashioning.

And it grew there unmarked by human eyes; no angels sang over the hills to celebrate it, no shepherds left their flocks to come and see; no wise men were beckoned by the stars to witness that prodigy.

And yet the first Advent had begun.

Our Lady, you see, is the consummation of the Old Testament; with her, the cycle of history begins anew. When God created the first Adam, he made his preparations beforehand; he fashioned a paradise ready for him to dwell in. And when he restored our nature in the second Adam, once more there was a preparation to be made beforehand. He fashioned a paradise for the second Adam to dwell in, and that paradise was the body and soul of our blessed Lady, immune from the taint of sin, Adam’s curse.

It was winter still in the world; but in the quiet home where Saint Anne gave birth to her daughter, spring had begun.

Man’s winter, God’s spring—the living branch growing from the dead root.

For that, year by year, we Christians give thanks to God when Advent comes round. It is something that has happened once for all; we look for no further redemption, no fresh revelation, however many centuries are to roll over this earth before the skies crack above us and our Lord comes in judgment.

Yet there are times in history when the same mood comes upon us, even upon us Christians—the same mood of despair in which the world was sunk at the time when Jesus Christ was born. There are times when the old landmarks seem obliterated, and the old certainties by which we live have deserted us. The world seems to have exhausted itself, and has no vigor left to face its future; the only forces that seem to possess any energy are those that make for disruption and decay.

The world’s winter, and it is always followed by God’s spring. Behold, I make all things new, said our Lord to St. John.

Let us rejoice, on this feast of the Immaculate Conception, in the proof and pledge he has given us of that inexhaustible fecundity which belongs only to his grace. And let us ask our blessed Lady to win for us, in our own lives, that continual renewal of strength and holiness that befits our supernatural destiny.

Fresh graces, not soiled by the memory of past failure; fresh enterprise, to meet the conditions of a changing world; fresh hope, to carry our burdens beyond the shifting scene of this present world into the changeless repose of eternity.

A Word in Season: Monastic Lectionary for the Divine Office,
IV, Sanctoral, Augustinian Press, 1991, p.241-243.

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