Advent is a time of expectation and preparation for the Christmas celebration of Christ’s first coming into our world. It is also a time to meditate upon the prospect of his second coming at the end of time. “No one knows the day or hour” (Mt. 26:34) when the Lord will return to earth in his glory to judge the living and the dead. We live each day in a state of waiting, or better, in a state of readiness, lest that day catch us off guard: “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Mt. 26:44) Christopher Dawson, a renowned historian and Catholic convert, observed that every day is a dress rehearsal for the second coming. Indeed, one day the rehearsal will be the real thing! In the meantime, we have to keep practicing.
A Jesuit priest at my high school (Regis in New York City) signed off his letters urging “Courage and confidence!”—an expression I have always liked because it sums up how we need to act each day if we are to serve the Lord faithfully. The priest may or may not have gotten it from Dale Carnegie, the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, who famously said: “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” (I note that “getting busy” is not the same as “looking busy”—a frequent temptation when we want to avoid, rather than embrace, the task set before us.)
Courage is needed to face the challenges and disappointments of life in our world, which, in the words of the “Hail Holy Queen” prayer, is indeed a “vale of tears.” Those challenges are both personal and societal. There is always something that we must confront with courage if we are to fulfill God’s will and imitate the pattern of Our Lord’s life on earth. The pro-life movement is made up of ordinary people who act with extraordinary courage and confidence to face down the moral and legal travesties of abortion, euthanasia, and other related evils, all of which visit fatal injustice upon the most helpless members of our society.
We are motivated to be courageous by our confidence in God’s never-failing goodness, and our absolute conviction that He is with us at all times and in all our needs. We should always remember that doing nothing contributes to the paralyzing notion that nothing can be done. This should motivate us to do all that we can for the Lord and his people while there is still time for us to act before we meet Him.
Courage and confidence have their source in faith, hope, and charity. If we would do something to please the Lord, we must believe that He in fact is pleased with our efforts, and that He himself is the source of our desire to please Him—our desire, as Saint Teresa of Calcutta so often put it, to do “something beautiful for God.”
But exercising courage does require conquering doubts and fears. Advent is a good time to remind ourselves that Jesus’ birth has made all the difference in the world. Life is not an ongoing capitulation to frustration, but rather a joyful, joint-effort with Christ to do God’s will, day in and day out, in the hope of extending His peace and love to those around us. That hope is in fact realized each day when we act with courage and confidence, free from useless anxiety and listless hesitation, ready to do anything requiring sacrifice and effort. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13)
Courage and confidence!