Chapter Talk – Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 19, 2021
“If you wish to meet God, go as far as your own heart”. Dear Sisters, these words of St. Bernard were appropriate at the beginning of Advent, and they are as appropriate right now. Our gospel reading for this fourth Sunday of Advent is the Visitation. The encounter of Mary and Elizabeth is an encounter of the heart, heart meeting heart…Without the opening of the heart there would be no realization or awareness of the new birth stirring in the cave of the heart. We hear Elizabeth in the gospel crying out: “As soon as your greeting came the babe in my womb leaped for joy” (Lk 1:44).
Fr. James Conner in an essay he wrote titled “Three Advents” comments that the heart is “deeply ambivalent” as it brings us “face to face with the power of evil and sin within us. Yet the heart is also the place where we encounter God. It is the locus of divine indwelling…” So important is the ‘heart’ not only in this Visitation between Mary and Elizabeth but in the whole Christian mystery. Fr. Conner quotes St. Bernard: “Where then are God’s words to be kept? Doubtless, in the heart….Is it enough to keep them in memory alone? The Apostle will tell anyone who keeps them in this way that knowledge puffs up (1 Co 8:1). Then, too, forgetfulness easily wipes out memory. In this way, keep God’s Word: Blessed are those who [hear the word of God] and keep it [Lk 11:28]. Let it enter into the bowels of your soul. Let it pass into your feelings and your routines….If you keep God’s word like this, you will surely be kept by him”.
We are in the last week of Advent…real change begins from within. If we ‘receive’ and keep the Word in the depth of the heart, in this deepest sense, change is truly happening. The old perspective may still be lingering around, but the ‘new’ now is stronger…We are seeing with a heart that has received God’s self-gift and now grace is stronger than doubts and all the negative voices that can pull us away from this mystery of how God’s life becomes ever-more a part of our lives. God will not disappoint and what of us? Praying the grace to receive…praying the grace for the opening of the heart ‘wider than wide’…if not ‘wider than wide’ then even a ‘crack’ of openness to allow grace in….How stubborn we can be…how challenging is the mind and still all that is needed is our ‘consent’. In the Visitation story we could also view it as an encounter of two ‘consents’. The faith of Mary and the faith of Elizabeth was indeed challenged and, still, both gave their ‘yes’ to a way that was full of uncertainty, and still a way that was full of divine life and possibility.
Consent, reflective of a living faith; ‘yes,’ we utter once again, ever again, for God to take the clay vessel of our life, and renew it, redeem it in love, save it from despair and hopelessness. Bestow the fullness of Divine grace on the suppliant, who is on her knees in anticipation. Already those gentle stirrings of hope, the Word stretching far and wide, ready to bestow new life upon each of us and collectively upon our world. Let us together ‘consent’…let us together receive in the silence of the heart this Divine Child who is born ‘for us and to us’. Let the faith of our consent open us to receive the fullness of grace that God is giving in and through his beloved Son, the Word made Flesh.
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess