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December 12, 2011

It is a good thing we have Advent, that season of joyful expectation. Advent becomes more precious every year as the Western world increasingly uses December (and November) to denigrate the human person into a consumption machine whose main social purpose is to prop up a flagging economy.

In Advent, we celebrate anticipation, an anticipation that can never be sated by material possessions. It is only through the coming of God that men and women can be fulfilled. It is only through the divine life with which we are graced by participation in Word and sacrament that we gain a slight taste of the gift that transcends all consumption.

St. Augustine was wise enough to know that when we consume the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Jesus is not transformed into us as is ordinary food. Rather, the divine food consumes us and transforms us into God's children.

It takes faith to see this. The mere signs of bread and wine, the words of consecration and the ritual of the Mass - however majestically celebrated - can teach us nothing if we do not have faith. However, with faith, one can understand which food satisfies and which does not.

G.K. Chesterton observed, "We should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not consuming too much of them."

This is the paradox of our existence. God has made creation good. Yet, it is God that we are to worship, not creation. Creation should turn our minds to God, not to possessing and consuming.

God has made us this way. We are greater than all the beasts of the earth because by perceiving that which is sensible, we can come to the knowledge of God. Yet, the sensible has its perils. We can be blinded by it and see it not as a sign of God's love, but as something which has no significance beyond itself.

God sent his Son in the form of human flesh. Many failed to see this mystery for what it was. Some thought Jesus was not really human; he only looked like a man. Others thought it was impossible that he was God; God could not demean himself to take on our lowly flesh.

But Jesus was both, both God and human. In the Incarnation, we experience the call to embrace the world; we also experience a call to transcend it, to keep it in perspective.

Our posture before creation can only be one of wonder. Creation calls us to look beyond creation; it testifies that the human person is made for more than this world.

Chesterton again: "The modern philosopher has told me again and again that I was in the right place. . . . But I heard that I was in the wrong place and my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring."

Knowing that there is more to life than possessing and consuming awakens our hearts to expectation. There is no sadness in that expectation, only the joy of waiting for something much greater. The joy of Advent.