Chapter Talk – First Sunday of Advent – November 29, 2020, cycle-B
“Is longing not a voice? It is indeed, and a very powerful one” (Song of Songs, #74, p.87). With these words from St. Bernard, we enter Advent, a time when the veil covering our longing falls away, and we hold this longing as something precious, so precious that we do not want to lose it. With longing silently pulsating, we wait…we wait, awake and attentive to the movements of the heart. Advent invites us into the silence where longing becomes a voice, a voice that calls upon the Word of God to return: ‘Return, return’, she cries out, ‘be born again in our lives’. The powerful voice of longing…silently speaking, asking only our attentiveness, our presence, our hope and faith.
The Advent season circles around two ‘comings’. We prepare to celebrate the first coming, the historical birth of Jesus. And, as well, the second coming, the birth of Christ in the soul. In the larger horizon is the final, third coming, at the end of time. The emphasis on the first and second coming is what the Advent season invites us to prepare for. To dwell on the ‘second coming’, the birth of God in the soul, will indeed help us to celebrate the historical birth of Christ.
If we want to know how the Lord comes or will come, here is what Bernard says: “The Word has come to me…and has come many times. But although he has come to me, I have never been conscious of the moment of his coming….” (p.89-90). Could we not join Bernard and say the same? Indeed, we have experienced God’s revelation, but how or in what way we do not know exactly! This is why the Advent season of preparation is so important: calling us to listen with the ‘ear of the heart’, to enter more the silence holding the longing within our hearts. Then, to patiently wait, to wait even in the midst of the doubts and fears, anxieties and uncertainties that will be there, and that can pull us away from this pregnant silence, if we are not aware of them. “Stay awake” is the message of the gospel for the first Sunday of Advent. Being awake attunes us to our longing, it helps us prepare to receive this new birth in the soul, a birth that we each personally need and a birth that our community, Church and world needs as well. For the Coming One will be born within ourselves and in our midst.
Bernard continues: “You ask then how I knew he was present, when his ways can in no way be traced?….Only by the movement of my heart…did I perceive his presence” (p.91). How delicate, how subtle, how easily missed: ‘only by the movement of my heart’. Dear sisters and brother, this is why contemplative, silent prayer is so important during this time of waiting. Contemplative prayer brings us into the silent space where the new of God will be born. Silent prayer helps us to be awake and vigilant to what is stirring in the heart. Bernard then adds this: “And I implore him not to come empty-handed but full of grace and truth, as is his nature…” (p.92). In calling out for his return, Bernard is asking that Christ not come empty-handed but with the gifts of ‘grace and truth’, and Bernard implies that he has to come with these gifts because they are his nature. “From his fullness we have, all of us, received” (Jn 1:16,17): grace upon grace, truth upon truth. We will know he has come through the movement of the heart…We will know he has come through his gifts: grace and truth….Not just grace, not just truth…but both grace and truth. To receive this new birth with its gifts of grace and truth: Imagine how the eye of the heart will begin to see anew one’s self and one’s sister and brother…Indeed, we will see more than the blemishes that my sister or brother has…We will see more than the negative reactions within our hearts…we will see more like Christ sees. With his gifts of grace and truth, the Christ of God is born again, bestowing life, hope, a faith that casts aside our fears and ushers in the Love that is stronger than death. We need grace to receive the new life of God, to open and soften our hearts, to stir and awaken our consciousness. We need truth, God’s truth, to shed light upon the ways our truth is partial and limited. We need the light of truth to reveal where we need conversion, a change of attitude in mind and heart. With grace and truth, we will be ready for the new of God to become incarnate within us.
Jean Daniélou writes: “We pass from miracle to miracle or as St. Paul says, ‘from glory to glory’” (Prayer, p.36). A miracle is about to happen again. A miracle that happens in the context of the ‘ordinary’ experiences of human life. Ordinary, simple human lives: every human life has the capacity for God (Capax Dei), the capacity to receive the Divine life. The preparation from our side asks nothing impossible. It is simply a trusting heart, holding its longing with faith, pure in its intention, ready to be changed. The human heart is capacious, it has an immense capacity to receive and to give, to become Christ-like in its service, in its relationships and choice-making. A miracle indeed is about to happen: Love will be born again at the center of humanity…and the face of Divine Love will radiate on human faces….it will be a gift to behold and a gift to be thankful for, a gift that brings us to our knees in adoration.
Sr Kathy DeVico, Abbess