The following is my monthly column for November, which appears in Faith: West Tennessee. If you want great monthly content to help you grow in your faith, visit the Catholic Diocese of Memphis website to subscribe.
December 1 marks the beginning of Advent this year. During this season, we share with our Jewish brothers and sisters “the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming.” We also come to understand that this waiting and preparation renews in us our “ardent desire for his second coming” (CCC 524). The liturgical readings for the first two Sundays of Advent focus on the second advent of Jesus, his coming at the end of time in what we call the Parousia. The readings for the next two Sundays (the final two of Advent) then focus on the arrival of Jesus in the flesh to initiate the era of the New Covenant. Preparing well for these two advents is vital to establishing Christian culture and growing daily in discipleship, which Jesus intends.
Yet these two advents lead us to know that there is a third advent, just as essential, but which often does not get noticed. St. Bernard of Clairvaux provides a beautiful teaching about this third advent.
“We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.”
Did you catch that? It is this third advent, the one in between the other two, by which we are brought to redemption over time, and by which we participate in the grace and power that the Lord intends for us. He comes to us daily, through the Holy Spirit, in the Eucharist and other sacraments, in the Scriptures, and in other people! Do we notice?
No matter which way Jesus comes to us, we must be attentive, ready to receive Him. Bernard teaches us,
“Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.”
It is in this way that we will have the ability to pass Jesus’ love on to others when we are presented with opportunities.
Bernard makes it even more clear that this third advent is precisely the path between the other two, it is the path to find the redemption and consolation that we seek.
“Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.”
If we allow Jesus to come and dwell within us while we are walking this earthly pilgrimage, He will become our life! There is no life that we need within us except His!
So, we must not forget this third advent of Jesus during the Advent season. While we are preparing for the birth of our Lord by setting up manger scenes, and while we are preparing for the end of the age by recalling His Parousia, we also must remember that Jesus desires to come daily and dwell within us so that we can bring Him to others. Let this be part of our Advent spirituality.
*Note: the full quote from St. Bernard of Clairvaux on the three advents of Jesus can be found at https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/three-comings-of-the-lord-st-bernard/.