The Three Advents of Ascent

As I sit here writing this I just returned from giving a retreat to a group of Directors of Religious Education based in part on my book Navigating the Interior Life. We talked about spiritual growth secrets of the saints yesterday, and then with one more session to go, I lost my voice – 100% gone.

LeonaertBramerJourneyOfTheThreeMagiToBethlehemWGA03081[ThreeWiseMen] Three AdventsNow at home I am wiped out, tired, and feeling run down. Even so, I have a great deal of joy and peace. I saw God work yesterday in a few folks who allowed themselves to be moved by Him. Don’t be fooled by an instinct to think that I am speaking figuratively. I saw Him in a powerful and tangible way, offering healing, hope, and the abundant life. My prayer for each participant is that they will embrace this offering and pursue it with passion. If they do, they will discover a relationship with God that is likely far more profound than they had ever imagined.

Do I indicate that they need more because there was anything fundamentally deficient in them? Absolutely not. The reality is, that anyone, even a saint, when coming face to face with their next step of union with God, will discover the same powerful contrast, the same wonder, the same extraordinary reality that we, in this life, will never arrive at some final destination of spiritual growth – that He always has more in store if we will only allow Him to work in us.

This means that there is a never-ending possibility of ascent in the Catholic faith. There is no end destination in this life. There is no state where we can assume we know all that God has for us. Those who are are more intellectually focused might instinctively think otherwise – graduate degree in theology – what more is there to learn? Those who are more experientially oriented might believe otherwise – lifted to the heights of heaven in prayer – what more is there to experience?

St. Paul reflects on this reality in his second letter to the Corinthians when he says, “‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him…”

St. Bernard of Clairvaux also reflects on this reality in his moving treatment of the Three Comings of Christ:

“We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.

“In case someone should think that what we say about this middle coming is sheer invention, listen to what our Lord himself ways: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. There is another passage of Scripture which reads: He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God’s word. Where is God’s word to be kept? Obviously in the heart, as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.

“Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.

“Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.

“If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you. The Son with the Father will come to you. The great Prophet who will build the new Jerusalem will come, the one who makes all things new. This coming will fulfill what is written: As we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly man. Just as Adam’s sin spread through all mankind and took hold of all, so Christ, who created and redeemed all, will glorify all, once he takes possession of all.”

So it is that coming to know God is a never-ending adventure. Please take some time lean into the reality of the three Advents of our Lord this year. You won’t regret the energy and time required. He will be found if we will seek Him. It is His promise and he is always true to His promises.

Blessed Advent to you and yours.


Excerpt from Sermo 5, In Adventu Domini, 1-3: Opera Omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 4 {1966}, 188-190 is used in the Roman Office of Readings for Wednesday of the First Week of Advent.


Art for this post on the three Advents of ascent: Journey of the Three Magi to Bethlehem, Leonaert Bramer, between 1638 and 1640, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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