As Advent comes to a close in this fourth week, the word we will focus on is awe. The word awesome is probably one of the most incorrectly used words in the English language these days. We tend to think everything is awesome: the great people in our lives, a good book, or finding a close parking space.
In reality, very rarely do we experience truly awesome things, unless of course, we’re talking about things pertaining to divine realities. Creation is awesome. Our human bodies are awesome. God Himself is awesome. So, as we have been focusing on the Incarnation and the Eucharist this season, if we truly are thinking about them correctly, we should be inspired with a sense of awe that should only increase the more we think about them.
However, before we look more deeply at awe, we must first understand another word from a Catholic perspective – the word mystery. We may be tempted to think that if something is a mystery then we can know nothing about it, but that is not accurate. Rather, with regards to a mystery of the Faith, while we cannot know everything about it this side of heaven, we can understand something about it because it has been revealed to us by God though divine revelation, that is, through Scripture and Tradition. If we could not understand these mysteries at all, it would be nearly impossible for us to have faith in them. We should, however, contemplate these mysteries often, so that our personal understanding of them deepens over time until we get to heaven and see how truly awesome they are in the light of God.
A story about St. Augustine helps illustrate this concept. Around the year 415, Augustine was writing a treatise on the Trinity called De Trinitate. He was frustrated and mentally tired, so he went out for a walk on the beach to get some fresh air. As he was walking, he saw a little boy in the distance running back and forth from the ocean to a small hole in the beach. When he got to the boy he asked him what he was doing. The boy explained that he was trying to fit the whole ocean into the hole by running back and forth with the small amounts of water. Augustine replied to him, “You could never fit this great, magnificent ocean into that tiny hole!” The boy then said to him, “And you could never possibly understand the Holy Trinity.” Then in an instant, the boy disappeared. So you see, we can only grasp a little bit of a divine mystery. As we contemplate them more, God reveals more to us little by little, but we will never be able to capture the fullness of these divine mysteries.
Now let us examine how the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Eucharist should inspire a sense of awe in our hearts and minds. The Incarnation is where God comes down, takes on human flesh, and lives amongst His creation. He subjects Himself to taking on our most base human needs like hunger, thirst, and sleep, as well as all of our emotions, and He surrounds Himself with the most sinful of people. All of this is beneath God and He did not have to do it, but He did it anyway out of love for us. As we are quickly approaching Christmas, we should more intensely focus on how the Incarnation came to be. The Holy Spirit descended upon a humble virgin and the Word was made flesh in an instant. Now, that is awesome. Imagine yourself in Bethlehem, perhaps as one of the shepherds in the fields. Hear the chorus of angels singing, announcing the birth of the Savior of the World. See the baby with Mary and Joseph and picture yourself laying prostrate before Him. Feel the sense of awe in your entire being as you experience this miracle in your mind’s eye.
Now, the Eucharist, which is before you every Sunday at Mass – even more often if you attend daily Masses or go to Adoration during the week – is the same flesh of God become man. Again, it is God, Jesus, right before your very eyes and nourishing your very body when you consume Him. If you are really thinking about what it means to be in the physical presence of the second person of the Most Holy Trinity, you should be overcome with a sense of awe, and quite possibly be moved to be in His presence even more often than you are already. Further, the Mass itself should be awe inspiring in its entirety. When we attend Mass, we enter into the heavenly liturgy that is described in the book of Revelation.
In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle. With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until he, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory. (CCC #1090)
This means, that when we are participating in our liturgy, we are really and truly surrounded by all of the angels and saints in heaven who are encircling the throne of God, worshiping Him. This is not simply a nice thought, but a spiritual reality. That is truly awesome!
Christmas is next weekend, so this week is a great time to spend contemplating the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Eucharist and allow the sense of awe to grow within you. Go to an Adoration chapel and feel the awe of being in the physical presence of Jesus Christ in His flesh, in the Eucharist. If you do not already have a committed weekly Holy Hour, this would be a great time to consider signing up for one. When you start to understand how awesome it is that He humbled Himself to be present to you, you will find yourself wanting to be with Him more and more. If you can, read the book of Revelation this week. It is a very visually stimulating book and will help you to envision what is happening around you at Mass. When you attend Mass on Christmas, feel yourself surrounded by all the saints, angels, and your deceased loved ones in purgatory and heaven, and be filled with awe over the reality of it. Finally, on Christmas, as well as at every Mass you attend from here on out, focus on keeping that sense of awe in your heart and mind as you walk forward in the communion line with an army of spiritual beings walking beside you. God is so awesome!