In the early centuries of the Church, preaching bishops and priests observed a beautiful custom. At the end of each homily or sermon, they would proclaim to the faithful “Conversi ad Dominum!”—turn yourselves to the Lord.
In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI explained this custom in the early Church by saying, “fundamentally, this involved an interior event; conversion, the turning of our soul toward Jesus Christ and thus toward the living God.”
Pope Benedict writes that “Conversi ad Dominum!” reminds us, “we must always turn away from false paths, onto which we stray so often in our thoughts and action. We must turn ever anew toward him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We must be converted ever anew, turning with our whole life toward the Lord.”
Each one of us, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, is in need of constant conversion. We are called to follow Jesus with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. And yet, in the day-to-day challenges of family life, or priesthood, or religious consecration, we can become distracted. We can stray from the Gospel. We can begin to walk along false paths or just become complacent with the status quo of our lives.
Conversi ad Dominum! Each one of us needs a reminder to examine our hearts. Each one of us needs to be called again to conversion. Each one of us needs to begin anew.
The Church gives us the season of Advent to call us anew to conversion. Advent is a time of preparation for the Lord’s coming at Christmas. To be sure, Christ is already Incarnate in this world, he has already come in history, and he is already present in the Church and in the Eucharist. Advent, therefore, is a time to prepare our hearts to receive God’s presence anew, ever more deeply, ever more profoundly – as if for the first time.
Advent is a time for conversion. A time to examine our hearts and minds. A time to confess our sinfulness. A time to cast off old habits, and take up new disciplines. Advent is a time to immerse ourselves completely in the word of God and the Holy Sacraments of the Church, in order to know and follow Jesus, our King. The Church gives us the season of Advent to prepare our hearts, our families and our world to welcome Jesus again.
Advent is a time to turn toward the Lord.
In your families, I hope that you will turn to Christ this Advent by opening the Scriptures together—reading St. Matthew’s account of Christ’s coming, and Isaiah’s prophetic account of God’s love. I hope that you will spend time before the Blessed Sacrament together. I hope that during Advent, your families might attend Mass more often together, and that each of us might examine our hearts, and turn toward the Lord in the sacrament of penance, particularly as we begin this special Jubilee Year of Mercy Dec. 8.
We turn toward the Lord because he is coming, ever new, into our lives, calling us more deeply into the mystery of Christian discipleship. The Lord is coming to call each one of us to become saints.
The Church, in her sacred worship, helps us to turn ourselves more frequently to the Lord. This Advent, in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln, I will, once again, celebrate Holy Mass ad orientem—facing toward the liturgical east, facing toward Christ, on the cross, and, most especially, turning toward the Lord in the Holy Eucharist. In parishes of the Diocese of Lincoln, according to the discretion of the pastor, other priests will also celebrate Mass ad orientem this Advent, turning toward the liturgical east, anticipating the coming of the Lord at Christmas.
Ad orientem celebration of the Eucharist will not happen everywhere in the Diocese of Lincoln, or all the time. But in some places, it will. It serves as a reminder to each one of us, that our entire Church must “turn toward the Lord,” standing together, looking to Christ, who will transform our lives.
May Advent be a time of blessed conversion for each of you and for your families, a time of turning once again toward the Lord. May Christ renew your hearts and renew your minds. May you discover Christ anew, in the Sacred Scripture, and in the sacramental life of the Church. May each one of us turn to the Lord.
Conversi ad Dominum!