ALMIGHTY GOD, GIVE US GRACE THAT WE MAY CAST AWAY THE WORKS OF DARKNESS AND PUT UPON US THE ARMOUR OF LIGHT, NOW IN THE TIME OF THIS MORTAL LIFE, IN WHICH THY SON JESUS CHRIST CAME TO US IN GREAT HUMILITY, THAT ON THE LAST DAY WHEN HE SHALL COME AGAIN IN HIS GLORIOUS MAJESTY TO JUDGE BOTH THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, WE MAY RISE TO THE LIFE IMMORTAL; THROUGH HIM WHO LIVETH AND REIGNETH WE THEE AND THE HOLY GHOST, NOW AND EVER.
THE WORKS OF DARKNESS
Our first petition in the Advent collect is for grace to ‘cast away the works of darkness.’ It is a collective prayer – it is a prayer for ‘us’. Here we touch something vital about our spiritual life – it cannot be lived in isolation. The vitality of our own spirituality will be bound up with the faith community to which we belong. Although in a real sense you are on retreat alone – you do come with your church community with you. We are in our prayer and study acting with and for the whole body of Christ. The current cult of the individual is not related to Christian life in any way. If we are in some way seeking escape from ‘church life’ this is something we should bring with us on retreat. By our Baptism we are made ‘very members incorporate in the body of Christ.’
Our faith is not a gift for ourselves – it is given that we might be caught up in the movement of the Holy Spirit working with and through the Son to reconcile all things in the Heavenly Father. The ‘us’ in the prayer is our home, family, community, nation and indeed the whole of human society. This is the dimension of Christian life. In all this we have a unique role to play in our prayer and daily living. This casting away the works of darkness is a central act in the rite of Baptism – ‘almighty God deliver you from the powers of darkness and lead you in the light and obedience of Christ’ prays the priest in the prayer of deliverance. What are these works of darkness? First, they are devil and all his works. In this season of Advent – through the liturgy of the church – we become deeply aware of the cosmic struggle between light and dark – good and evil that will be resolved in the final and irrevocable victory of Christ in his coming in triumph. We live in an ‘in between time’ – we are the ‘present generation’ that Jesus warns will experience the birth pangs of the new creation with its cataclysmic natural disasters and global terrors of war. To cast away the works of darkness we have recognise what they are.
St Cyprian Bishop and Martyr (200-256) in his teaching to catechumens spoke about the ‘works of darkness’. ‘Once I lay in darkness and in the depths of night and was too and fro in the waves of the turbulent world, uncertain of the correct way to go, ignorant of my true life and a stranger to the light of the truth.’ He goes on to say, ‘after the life-giving water of baptism came to my rescue and washed away the stain of my former years and poured into my cleansed and purified my heart with the light which comes from above, and after I had drunk in the heavenly spirit and was made a new man by a second birth, then amazingly what I had previously doubted became clear to me. What had been hidden was revealed. What had been dark became light. What had previously had seemed impossible seemed possible. What was in me of guilty flesh now confessed it was earthly. What was made alive in me by the Holy Spirit was now quickened by God.’
The grace we pray for to cast away darkness has already been given to us in our Baptism. Perhaps our first prayer should be (on our retreat) to be thankful for our Baptism – for the grace it has given us. One gift in this grace is the ability to see the darkness. The first work of the Holy Spirit is to help us discern light from dark, good from evil. On the one hand this is an awareness of ‘social evil’ – the way in which ‘the world’ contradicts and challenges our life in Christ, and on the other hand a bringing light to our own conscience to help us discern the ‘sin that clings so close’ – those attitudes of mind and heart, our susceptibility to appetites and desires that lead us away from the light.
This is the subject of part of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3 19-21) ‘This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.’ St Paul echoes this in the epistle: Romans 13; ‘let us walk honestly as in the day.’ The hope of Advent is that ‘the night is far spent, the day is at hand’. Therefore says St Paul ‘let is cast of the works of darkness.’
For reflection: • To whom do I belong in my life in Christ – who shares my journey? What are our needs? What are our works of darkness?
• Be thankful my baptism. Cherish the gifts that it has given you. Ask for grace to live in its grace.
• Ask for discernment to see where the ‘darkness of this world’ impacts on your life in Christ.
• What are the deeds I hide in the dark? What should I bring into the light of Christ?
• Be thankful for the good news that the ‘day of Christ is dawning’ – prepare yourself to welcome it by ‘casting away the works of darkness.’