The Lengthening Shadow
Under the Son
“O Lord, make me know my end. And what is
the number of my days:
that I may know what is wanting to me.”
... the summons to the wood of the Cradle
and the wood of the Cross —
and in this time, in this place, both are
empty, the Cradle and the Cross. The Baby
Jesus is yet to be born and the Man Jesus
is yet to be crucified.
In this sense it is a time of emptiness
— not so much fraught with anticipation
as with a deeply subdued hope of
things to be. It is a time of darkness that
verges on impending Light, a time of indistinct
shadows in a twilight pervading the universe
and the deepest recesses of the soul. In
our hope we perceive our poverty and our
misery — and we seek our deliverance. We
Whether we turn to the Son, or away from
Him, the shadow remains and nothing we do
can diminish its length or alter its direction.
Advent is a time for us to reflect on our
end in light of His beginning, on our own
death in light of His birth. We number our
days ... but to disordered ends. We behold
dissolution, and we despair ... instead
of grasping the reality of the Resurrection,
Why, we ask ourselves, do our own hearts
hesitate before every acclamation of joy
in this season? Why is the joy never more
than penultimate; why does it not attain
to exultation within us?
Why in this Season of Coming do we find
it far, far more redolent of leaving, of
things passing, of things that were and
are no more, and things that now are and
that will soon no longer be; a season of
generations past, and a generation soon
to pass. We are invited, paradoxically,
to rejoice in a coming that ineluctably
heralds our own leaving ...
Why is this? Symbols of joy abound, but
emptiness resounds within us. As the years
pass we become increasingly aware of the
discordance, the disproportion we find between
the invitations to rejoice and a growing
despair within us. We are called to rejoice,
and cannot. Why does Advent provoke such
sadness within us?
We grow sad — and not joyful — because we
have lost sight of the meaning of Advent:
that our lasting home is in Heaven and that
Jesus came to bring us there. He
did not come to make our home here (although
we try very hard, and always fail, to make
it so), He did not come to make this world
“They do not belong to the world any more
than I belong to the world.”
(St. John 17.16)
Failing to grasp this, we grow either despondent
or cynical. In either case we dismiss the
possibility of ever reconciling appearances
to realities, the joy to the sadness, the
coming to the leaving.
Despair and cynicism. Both are deficient
in knowledge and as a consequence both are
defective in the virtue of Hope — each in
a different way. Neither sufficiently understands
the meaning of Advent. Despair binds us
to what we must relinquish, and cynicism
relinquishes what binds us to hope. The
Cradle has lost its continuity to the Cross.
The Cradle and the Cross
The Cradle and the
Cross — we have already read the entire
narrative, and know the end — and if we
believe, we know that the end is our beginning.
He was not born to remain in the world ...
and neither were we. But we have forgotten
this. We cling to the world through memories
that bind us to it; we are tethered to things
past that will never be again, people, places,
events, that we can never recapture but
only recall ... and we are blinded by our
The few that have been genuinely happy have
always been fleet, but with broad strokes
of narrow moments we color our past, beholding
an endless field of uncut grass and nodding
flowers unmingled with thistles and knowing
nothing of thorns; in the distance we see
the towering Cedars but no sad Cypress;
like children we paint a sky of unbroken
blue and dazzling sunlight impervious to
cloud or the veil of cold rain.
We are dreamers. God
be praised, because the dream is the pledge
of something real ... but not here.
Advent, Christmas ... times of such joy,
redolent of such sorrow ... in our hearts
we know that in a breath they will pass
as ever they have passed, leaving us looking
wistfully back through yet another window
of another year. We look back ... when Advent
calls us too look forward!
Advent is not a season of what was, but
of what will be ? what will be in the Cradle
and on the Cross, and through that Cradle,
through that Cross, what will be everlastingly!
Finem respice! Look to the end!
Not in this place of passing; not sorrowfully
to what has been and cannot remain,
but joyfully to what will be ...
and remains forever!
face to the Son in the Cradle and on the
Cross — Who has promised you that:
has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has
it entered in to the heart of man, what
God has prepared for those who love Him.”¯
We have cause to rejoice. He has come to
tells us so.
Boston Catholic Journal
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know your works ... that you have but little power, and yet
you have kept My word, and have not denied My Name.”
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