We ended the ecclesiastical year with a look at the end of the world and we begin the ecclesiastical year again looking at the end of the world. Our Holy Mother the Church frequently is calling to our mind the advice in Ecclesiasticus: In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin (7:40).
To entice us to a true penance we must look forward to our end and the final judgment when we will give an account to God of our lives _ of every action, word, thought and omission.
Thus, in looking forward to our end we are by necessity forced to look back upon our past life, because we will have to give an account for this. And in the examination of our lives up to this day we see that there is much that we need to make amends for before we will be ready to meet Christ our judge.
In preparation for the celebration of Our Lord's birthday, we prepare our souls for His coming as the few elect among the chosen people prepared themselves for His first coming on Christmas day. The anxious longing and praying was accompanied by much prayer and fasting.
For this season of penance to be fruitful for us we need to carefully examine and cleanse our conscience from sin by a good confession.
We must practice both interior and exterior mortification. We must practice interiorly the curbing of our passions, the extirpation of our inordinate inclinations, especially of vanity, pride, worldly mindedness, avarice, uncharitableness, anger and self-love. We must practice the exterior mortifications of: diminution of meat and drink, the guarding of the senses, especially the eyes, the ears, and the tongue, and abstaining from worldly enjoyments. We must practice these interior and exterior mortifications, partly to prevent future sins, partly to satisfy for the temporal punishment due to sins already committed.
Next we must pray. Penance and prayer go together and are inseparable; there never was a true penitent who was not zealous in prayer; there never was a saint who was not given to prayer. The Church wishes us also to practice prayer, especially during Advent. Instead of the Ite missa est, which the priest says, turned toward the people at the end of mass, he now says, turned toward the altar, Benedicamus Domino (Let us bless the Lord) by which the Church intimates her wish that we should follow the custom of the early Christians who on penitential days did not leave the house of God immediately after the services, but remained for some time in prayer.
Pray, therefore during Advent with greater zeal and fervor than before. If you have been careless in saying your morning and evening prayers, resolve to be punctual in saying them. Say the Angelus three times a day, because the principal mystery of Advent, the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is commemorated in this prayer. As often as possible spend some time in spiritual reading.
Advent is also a time for works of mercy. For penance logically leads to acts of mercy. Christ made many sacrifices in poverty and suffering for our salvation. Should not His love and mercy induce us to be charitable towards our neighbor, and to perform works of mercy? If God sees that we are charitable and merciful towards the poor and needy, assisting them in their necessities, he will show us mercy and pardon our sins. The Archangel Raphael said to Tobias: "Prayer is good with fasting and alms, more than to lay up treasures of gold: for alms delivereth from death, and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting." (Tob. 12: 8,9)
Redeem your sins by alms and works of mercy to the poor. If you deprive yourselves during Advent of certain dainties which are not necessary, and refrain from worldly enjoyments, you can save more or less, and these savings should be given to the poor.
Make use of the pious exercises which the Church prescribes and recommends. Receive the holy Sacraments of Penance and of the Blessed Eucharist: mortify yourselves interiorly and exteriorly, to atone for your sins, to prevent a relapse, and to make progress in virtue. Pray fervently, and perform as many works of mercy as you can. If you sanctify Advent in such a manner, it will become to you a time of grace and salvation.