“It is now the hour for you to wake from sleep, for our salvation is closer than when we first accepted the faith. The night is far spent; the day draws near. Let us cast off deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light (Romans 13: 11b-).”
Blessed Advent! With the Vespers last night and Holy Mass this morning, those of us in the Roman Rite and the West marked with beginning of the Season of Advent: those four special weeks of prayer, penance, pondering and purification in preparation for the Birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Today, I was fortunate to attend Holy Mass celebrated at Holy Hill by a spiritual father and friend, Fr. Cyril Guise, OCD. The central theme of Father’s homily was the Pilgrimage of Advent. I was so touched by his wisdom that I requested permission to share a bit of it here.
Father began with: “Today we embark upon a pilgrimage more difficult than a pilgrimage to Lourdes or any other location. It is the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and it must take place within each one of us if we are to realize the joy of Christmas.”
This message is so simple, yet absolutely essential to the meaning of Advent and Christmas. Advent is a journey – we are traveling from where we are to where we long to be. There are a myriad of hazards on the way – bright lights, distractions, and social and family obligations – all mingle and compete for the limited hours of a few short weeks which comprise this sacred season. While the festivities and joy of this season are indeed a blessing and can facilitate kinship with others, they can also detract from our primary task, which is to prepare for the coming of the Lord.
Fr. Cyril reminded us that while the embellishments of Christmas are indeed lovely and can stir within us sentiments of devotion, they are impermanent. The crèche of wood and straw and the babe of plastic, plaster of Paris, wood or even marble is a mere image, and as such is transient and fleeting. We are called to find the real Jesus, to prepare our souls and find Him waiting deep within our own hearts.
Having begun to delve into Pope Francis’ new Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (available as a pdf download from the Vatican website at: http://www.vatican.va/phome_en.htm), today’s homily resonated deeply with the theme of joy presented in the initial pages of the Holy Father’s document. Paragraph 5 begins with, “The Gospel, radiant with the joy of Christ’s Cross, constantly invites us to rejoice (Evangelli Gaudium, 2013)”, and continues with a multiplicity of scriptural citations demonstrating the call to joy.
We are indeed called to joy. However, like small children we are often more intrigued by the brightly colored wrapping than the gift itself. As such, we tend to be willing to trade true and lasting joy for the ephemeral baubles and trinkets offered along the way. True joy is of the heart and is demanding; it requires perseverance but is well worth the effort. In contrast transitory pleasure is by definition incapable of perseverance; it is sought after, consumed and just as quickly gone and forgotten. Through Advent we are called to open our hearts to authentic joy and journey toward receiving it. Yet, as Fr. Cyril counseled, receiving such a gift requires anticipation and readiness. Like the Blessed Mother, we have the opportunity to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem in our hearts, and prepare a place for He Who Is the ultimate source of joy to dwell forever.
Fr. Cyril mentioned that when we are expecting a guest to enter our home, we prepare; we clean the house, dust, vacuum, wash the windows, etc. In just the same way we are called during Advent to prepare the dwelling place of our hearts for the Divine Guest. It’s time to sweep out the cob-webs, shine a light into the darkest recesses and make ready for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Thus, these weeks of prayer, penance, pondering, and purification cleanse our hearts and ready an appropriate crèche for He Who Is Not Made by Human Hands.
Yes, the expedition from Nazareth to Bethlehem is arduous and requires our vigilance and consent. Perhaps the best way to initiate this journey is, like Our Lady, to offer Our Lord our own fiat, our unreserved “YES”, each and every morning. In so doing, we allow Our Lord to lead us toward the joy He has prepared for each and every one of us.
Blessed First Week of Advent,
Ad Jesum per Mariam,