'Inspectio Cordis': First Sunday of Advent

When we have an appetizer at a restaurant, we know that the main course is yet to come. The Mass – and Holy Communion – are like the appetizer, or the “foretaste” of the Messiah’s wedding banquet in the new Jerusalem.

By Fr. Thaddaeus Lancton, MIC

A gaze of the heart. Examining the depth of one’s heart.

There is no one way to translate the Latin title Inspectio Cordis, given to the collection of meditations for Sundays by the Founder of the Marians, St. Stanislaus Papczyński (1631-1701).

These meditations, published weekly on Fridays in preparation for the Sunday Mass, follow the style and purpose of our holy Father Founder. While his original text is worth reading, his examples and style can feel outdated to the modern reader. As his spiritual son, I will attempt my best to imitate his style and imitate his ministry of preaching to hearts.

The goal is to allow Jesus to gaze into your heart and teach you self-examination, leading you to a more fruitful reception of Holy Communion, where there is a true encounter of our hearts with His Sacred Heart – especially fitting during this period of National Eucharistic Revival.


First Sunday of Advent – Cycle B
December 3, 2023

Before Holy Communion

1. “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…”
What a request! What the prophet expressed as a wish, the Father answered with His Son. In response to our cries of pain, the Father rends heaven open by sending Jesus. But not only did this happen through the Incarnation, over 2,000 years ago, but the Father opens heaven anew through each Mass and each Eucharist. We do not have a God who is passive, indifferent to our pleas, plight and pain. To the clear complaints of the prophet, God responds in a way that “no ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen,” for our God does “such deeds” for those who wait for Him. Indeed, the Jews waited many centuries after this prayer for God to respond. But we must wait only until the next Eucharist. What a privilege! 

What complaints do you have for the Father? Where do you need Jesus to “come down” into your life?

2. “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face…” 
Advent, like Lent, is a penitential season. In both, the liturgical color is violet (purple). While we often precede Christmas with Christmas songs, the Catholic Church takes care to provide Advent hymns to remind us that we need a Savior. Isaiah asks: “Why do you let us wander…? All of us have become like unclean people…” When we fall into sin, we feel that God has “hidden” his “face from us.” But in response to our sin, the Father reveals His face fully in Jesus. His response to our sin is to be even more generous. Do we grasp, in our hearts, the weight of our sins? Do we see the effects of our iniquity? Only then do we comprehend the immensity of the Father’s love. For it is not we who converted first and reconciled ourselves with the Father. Rather, He enables us turn to Him; He shines His face upon our darkness. Each time see gaze upon the Host, we see His face – the “face of mercy” – that saves us. 

When do you feel like the Father has hidden His face? What sins do you need to confess? How often do you go to adoration to gaze upon His face in the Host?

3. “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable…”
So often, we focus upon our moral efforts. We certainly have our part to play in cooperating with the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and hearts. St. Paul reminds us, though, that God the Father will keep us firm, and even more, irreproachable. He will perfect us in sanctity and holiness. We live often amid worries, storms, and trials, feeling tossed as if lost at sea. We need a solid point of reference, by which we can stabilize our hearts, minds, and lives. That point of reference is the day of the Lord, the day of His coming. For us, that is not only the Second Coming, a date that is unknown, but each Eucharist. Our Lord comes, hidden in the Host, at each Mass, to strengthen us to remain faithful as we await the day of His definitive coming. Even more, He cleanses us with His Blood, to make us immaculate and irreproachable. 

Where do you need to cooperate with the Spirit better, to be firm to the end and irreproachable? What emotions arise in your heart, thinking about the Second Coming and Judgment? 

After Holy Communion

1. “Be watchful! Be alert!”
We can interpret these words through the lens of various emotions. Often, we read these words colored by fear. But we could also read them as an exhortation to love. When I was young, I remember counting down the days until my brother returned from college to spend the summer with us. I cleaned the house and prepared his room, energized by my love for him, since I greatly missed him. Jesus’ exhortation reminds us to not be lulled into spiritual lethargy. He warns us that we do not know the hour so that we live always prepared, always ready for His coming. In a practical way, that would mean pondering the following questions in your heart.

Do I live in a state of grace, fulfilling His will in my state of life? Or am I negligent, spiritually asleep? Would I be ready now if Jesus were to come and judge me? How do I prepare for His coming in Holy Communion?

2. “You do not know when the lord of the house is coming…”
We do not know when He is coming at the end of time, but we do know when He is coming in the Eucharist. In fact, He has already come into your hearts in Holy Communion. The Jesus, who comes at an expected moment in the Mass, is the same Jesus who will come as Judge. But Jesus hides the hour from us so that our hearts be expectant, watching and waiting for Him. We often associate Advent with Christmas and Jesus’ first coming. But the readings in Advent until December 16 emphasize, rather, our preparing for another “Advent” or coming, namely, His Second Coming. Advent orients our hearts in hope to the final encounter with Jesus, who loves us and comes in search of us, His beloved Bride.

Do these words of Jesus provoke anxiety in you? Or do they incite vigilant love, a longing to be ready to greet your beloved when He comes? How excited is your heart as you approached Jesus in Holy Communion?

3. “What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
When we have an appetizer at a restaurant, we know that the main course is yet to come. The Mass – and Holy Communion – are like the appetizer, or the “foretaste” of the Messiah’s wedding banquet in the new Jerusalem. Just as we watch for the coming of the main course, since the “appetizer” is to whet, not abolish or diminish our appetite, similarly, the Eucharist ought to incite our pining for the coming of Jesus at death or the Second Coming. This is our Catholic paradox: we receive Jesus, and yet, the more we receive Him, the hungrier our hearts become to participate in the full wedding banquet. How sad would it be if we invited guests for a full dinner, but they left after the appetizer, unaware or having no desire for the main meal we prepared! We “watch” through the desires and longing of our hearts. In this time of Advent, of penance and conversion, we can ask: 

What do I watch? How long do I spend watching TV, YouTube, video games? What am I waiting for, waiting in my life? Does my heart ache for Jesus? Do I “watch” for Him in vigilant prayer and adoration?

Fr. Thaddaeus Lancton, MIC, is the prefect of formation in Steubenville, Ohio, for the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.

Next: The Second Sunday of Advent.
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BELH

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