We live in the time that St. Bernard calls the "intermediate coming" between the first and the second coming of Christ.

In brief, Christ's first coming was in the flesh and in weakness, when He was seen on Earth, lived among men and was hated by them. The last coming will be in glory and majesty, when all shall see the salvation by our God.

The intermediate coming is hidden and seen only by those who have faith in Him who comes to them in their hearts. It is like a road from the first to the last coming, upon which He is our rest and consolation.

This is no mere fabrication. Jesus Himself said, "Whoever loves me will keep my Word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him" (John 14:23).

This is, to say the least, profoundly reassuring.

Reflecting on this intermediate period in which we live -- before the Lord comes to judge us at end of time (the "general" judgment) or when our personal life comes to an earthly end (the "particular" judgment) -- St. Peter advises, quite logically, "What sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God" (2 Peter 3:11-12).

We heard this passage just last Sunday, the second Sunday of Advent. This whole period of waiting between these two comings is the time of God's mercy. It is the time He gives us to return to Him, to receive Him so that we may decide freely to follow Him, learn to follow Him and perfect our following.

This is not time for doing nothing, or for wasting our time by playing games with God (and fooling ourselves), as if our behavior here and now does not affect our eternal destiny, let alone the well-being of our friends and family, and even the social, psychological and material environment in which we live.

Whoever has not been connecting the dots from all the latest news, choosing between lives of vice or virtue, of valor or apathy, bears tremendous consequences.

We are surrounded -- every day, it seems -- with numerous examples of often prominent figures behaving badly: men living lives of self-indulgence, abusing their powers and exploiting the vulnerabilities of those whom they should be honoring and protecting. Corporate people tell me that even the office atmosphere is on a steady decline.

Sad to say, this comes as no surprise. There is no way up from the swamp of steady moral decay, which seems to be almost everywhere, but virtue: a free and conscious decision to live by what is right and true, not what I might feel like doing or think I can get away with.

There's no way up from this but virtue!

This is not a time to be experimenting with sinning to see what it feels like and, only after it's experienced, to decide to stop sinning. Sure, God is merciful and wishes not the death, but the salvation of the sinner; but allowing myself just to follow my own whims -- even on the false pretext of living out my self-styled "identity" -- is a mockery of God's merciful love by pretending that God does not see into me more deeply and want the whole me that is His image and likeness.

There is no room in a disciple of Christ's calendar for a double life, any more than the "Saturday night was for wives, but Friday night at the Copa was always for girlfriends" attitude scripted in the movie "Goodfellas" was acceptable.

It is time to prepare the way, because the Lord is coming to me -- maybe sooner than I might think or want, for Scripture says, "We know neither the day nor the hour."

Taking our inspiration from John the Baptist's message, it is time to pave the way for the Lord: to pay attention to Him, to think about Him, to remove the obstacles that I put before Him, to listen to what He is trying to tell me and to stop making excuses to avoid obeying Him.

It is a time of prayer: to learn to know Him, to draw close to Him, to learn how He speaks, what He is saying, what He wants, what He demands.

It is time to open the dark room of my innermost heart and allow Him to illuminate it with His healing light.

It is time to give Him my bad habits, my hidden sins and sins never confessed, my sins that, although they are not so serious, I repeat and repeat a thousand times.

It's time to beg to be saved.

It is time to thank Him for the times He has spoken to me and touched me and freed me and taught me and transformed me.

It is time to open my eyes and learn to see others, to see who and what they really are, and that I am also responsible for them. It's time to realize that they are my brothers and sisters, and consider whether I treat them as such. God wants me to open my heart so that all of them will find a place in it.

It is a time of good deeds, good words, and a time of forgiveness, a time of understanding. It's a time to free others from the burdens I have placed on them.

It is also a time of family, of community, of prayer in community, of celebration with the Church, of being a Church that celebrates with immense joy that God is with us. And it is a time for responsibility in my daily work, in business and recreation, on my breaks, in my restlessness or boredom, in my actions as a citizen.

To sum it up: It is a time for cultivating a life of virtue that will help to usher in the glorious coming of the Lord, to be converted to and to live in the true spirit of a disciple saved by and dedicated to the Lord.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)