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Sunday, November 27, 2011

From the Pastor - "Advent Counter-Culturalism"

A weekly column by Father George Rutler.

Our Lord is astonishingly patient with our culture, given that He has made the world so wonderful and yet those who live in it can be so banal in what satisfies them. The season of Advent explores life's wonders, but it is widely ignored by people rushing to celebrate a Christmas they do not comprehend. If culture is satisfied with banality, those who would know deep joy must be counter- cultural.

In many places there will be no meditating on the four Advent mysteries: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.  But these are the very things that save us from the insufferable boredom of life lived only on the surface of reality.

A good patron saint for counter-culturalism would be Pope St. Leo I. Although he lived in the fifth century, he is just what we need today, and Pope Benedict XVI often strikes me as his double. Pope Leo lived in a culture of political and moral decay. He confronted powerful barbarians threatening what remained of classical civilization. Attila the Hun and Gaiseric the Vandal were not the sorts you'd want to meet in a dark alley, and yet this pope faced them down in 452 and 455 and saved Rome. He was no less strong against various  Christian heretics whose pessimism about life had created a “culture of death,” denied that Mary was the mother of her own true God, thought that Christ could not be truly human and divine, and assumed that they were morally fine without God's help. Today we do not call them Manicheans, Nestorians, Monophysites and Pelagians, but they are alive in the schools and on television.

On the First Sunday of Advent, the new translation of the Creed renews the ancient formula for Christ as “consubstantial with the Father.” When this was defined at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the assembled bishops declared: “Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo.” The Successor of Peter as center of the Church's unity knew that this inspiration was more important for civilization than defeating Vandals and Huns.

On this Sunday we also say in the General Confession an accurate translation of the Latin: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” striking the breast in an outward sign that our souls and bodies have fallen short of the God-given dignity that a superficial world tries daily to take away. In a sermon on how to prepare for Christmas, counter-cultural Leo preached:
“And hence we warn you, beloved, in fatherly affection, to make this winter fast fruitful to yourselves by bounteous alms, rejoicing that by you the Lord feeds and clothes His poor, to whom assuredly He could have given the possessions which He has bestowed on you, had He not in His unspeakable mercy wished to justify them for their patient labor, and you for your works of love.”