Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni! “Rouse up your strength, Lord, and come!” This is the cry that ushers in the season of Advent. It is the Collect for the first Sunday and it will recur frequently during these weeks. It has an urgency and force which should be the hallmark of our spiritual lives as Advent begins.
It is almost the opposite of the comfortable nearness of God as child in the manger, and certainly the opposite of a secular world which already numbs our sensibilities with carols and commercials to proclaim secular and sentimental salvation by party spirit and self-indulgence. It’s the cry of one who knows his or her need for God in the midst of so much that appears to diminish human comfort and peace.
“Excita” is the same word the disciples cry to Jesus as he sleeps in the boat and the storm seems to threaten their survival. God is near, but it is we who have grown sluggish and complacent in our faith, and now we must once again rouse ourselves to action, to watchfulness, to the hope his nearness promises. We must turn away from all other illusions about the Power that will save us and our world. It is the cry of the individual and the Church, and we are duty-bound to raise it even more fervently this year, given the state of the Church and our society.
Benedict XVI quoted this Advent Collect in his address to the Roman Curia in December 2010. His words, always lucent, seem prophetic and painfully relevant today. The Collect was probably composed, he said, as the Roman Empire was crumbling, leaving in its wake great instability, with disintegration of the rule of law and fundamental moral values. Several natural disasters compounded a deep sense of fear and insecurity. It is precisely in such times that it is all the more urgent to call upon God to save us.
“Our world too,” Benedict said, “is troubled by the sense that moral consensus is collapsing, and in the political sphere without such a moral consensus, juridical and political structures seem doomed to failure.” Democracy itself is inadequate to unite a nation when politicians are guided by an instrumental rationality which would exclude notions of faith and truth.
Benedict noted that the Year for Priests, which ended in 2010, was marred by “the abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred, profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime”.
He quoted Hildegard of Bingen, who has a vision of a beautiful bride whose face is smirched, her robe torn and her feet blackened. She is the Church. We must, he said, accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal.
Even within the Church herself we find the roots of moral disintegration in theologies that say there is no such thing as evil in itself, only “better than” or “worse than”; everything depends on the circumstances and the end in view. “Morality,” Benedict said, “has been replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist.”
So nothing, especially not the pre-empting of Christmas festivities, is more suited to the coming week than a heartfelt cry to God to come and save us, individually, nationally and ecclesially.