Why Are We Waiting? Advent 2013

Today is the first Sunday of Advent in the year of Our Lord 2013, and we are still waiting. What are we waiting for, and why? The Lord has come; the Lord has redeemed us on the Cross; so why do we begin again this annual cycle of reading the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah? Are we play-acting, pretending to wait for that which is already here? Of course not. We are doing two important things. First, we are entering into liturgical anamnesis — a remembrance which is more than a mere recalling of events. It would be more accurate to call it a participation in those events despite the distances of time and place that separate us from them. We are indeed awaiting our Saviour, and each of us knows that there are whole areas of our lives that need his redeeming touch. Second, we are telling the story of how we came to be, and story-telling, the narrative of our past, is an important part of our identity as Christians. It is how we make sense of the world and our part in it.

As we shall see, Advent divides into two unequal parts, each of them beautifully expressed by the two Prefaces of the Mass. The first Preface of Advent, used from today until 16 December, concentrates on Christ’s coming again in glory at the end of time, and the hope his promise brings:

‘ . . . he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh,
and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago,
and opened for us the way to eternal salvation,
that, when he comes again in glory and majesty
and all is at last made manifest,
we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise
in which now we dare to hope.’

That is how we begin Advent: with hope, watching and waiting for the day that will bring the realisation of all our hopes, and not ours only, but those of all the world.

May you have a blessed Advent.



We all know how difficult waiting can be. Today the whole Church waits as the cardinal-electors begin the conclave which will see the election of a new pope. Others are waiting at the bedside of a dying family member, the minutes passing with infinite slowness. Others again are waiting for news of a friend or the result of a job application, or just standing in line waiting for a travel ticket or something else that takes ages to come through. We remember what it was  like when we were young, and birthdays seemed as though they would never arrive.

As we wait, we are buoyed up by the thought that at the end there will be a kind of completion, a perfection even, which is quite independent of any sadness or deflation we may experience. At least we will know; at least we will have attained an end, even if it is not the one for which we hoped. There is a curious dynamic at work here. As human beings, we long for certainty, yet we know that most of life is lived in a state of not knowing, of imperfection. The hardest thing in the world is to recognize that it is in the uncertainty and the imperfection that grace operates and transforms us all. Little by little we are fashioned into what we are meant to be: immortal diamond. Waiting is part of the polishing we have to undergo.


Prayer: our part in the papal election

These days of Lent, during which we try to lead ‘lives of surpassing purity’ as St Benedict says, are very precious. This year they are especially so, as we prepare for the papal election and God’s gift of the 266th successor of St Peter. It is easy to forget that every Catholic has a part in this great action of the Church. Inevitably, there will be speculation, some of it shallow or even silly. We all have our own views on what the Church needs or doesn’t need; who might be good and who might not; but none of it matters compared with this simple truth: God’s ideas always exceed our own. Our business is to pray and wait in hope.