Chapter Talk – Third Sunday of Advent – December 16, 2018, Cycle-C
We have a beautiful lyrical movement from the Second Sunday of Advent to this Third Sunday: Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday to rejoice and give praise. Like a musical composition, the composer’s main theme is building towards its climax, always with its immediate goal present in mind and heart: ‘the God who is coming’. Last week we heard the cry of John the Baptist out of the wilderness: ‘prepare the way’…‘repent’! This week the people who hear the Baptist’s cry, in turn, shout out to him ‘What shall we do’? And Luke’s gospel notes that even the tax collectors and sinners, cry out ‘And what shall we do’? John’s response is concrete: he calls them to a change of heart and mind, a change that is to be reflected in their behavior, in their actions and choices.
If we were to ask our selves what is my purpose for being here on this earth, how would we answer this eternal question? Perhaps just holding this question close, or living into the question will keep our focus on the Advent promise. John Cassian in the fifth century in his first conference titled “The goal of the monk” speaks of the immediate goal, scopos, and the end, telios(The Conferences). I think we can apply this schema to Advent. For Cassian the immediate goal is purity of heart and the end goal is the kingdom of God. During this Advent season our immediate goal is the ‘second coming’, that is, ‘the God who is to come’, which is preparing us for the end, the full revelation of the glory of God.
The Advent preparation for Christmas puts before us the reality we all long for: Christ, the One who is the full embodiment of God’s love, becoming more a part of our lives: our attitudes, our way of being towards one another and all of created life. John the Baptist has the immediate goal in his awareness: the One who is coming. His proclamation, ‘Prepare the way’ evokes the cry in turn, ‘what shall we do’? Cassian tells us: “With the goal always set before us…our actions and thoughts are ordered to attaining it (the goal) in the most direct way” (p.44). With this immediate goal set in our consciousness it becomes an anchor and helps to focus our lives throughout the day. Without this focus, a focus which anchors our interior life, Cassian describes in vivid words what does happen: “It is inevitable that the mind which does not have a place to turn to or any stable base will undergo change from hour to hour and from minute to minute due to the variety of its distractions, and by the things that come to it from outside it will be continually transformed into whatever occurs to it at any given moment” (p.44). Returning to what is essential, to a stable base, to the spiritual foundation of our lives, dispels worries and anxieties, useless distractions, puts our lives back into perspective.
Some of the phrases that Cassian uses in this conference that tell us where our energy needs to be directed are these: “our principle effort,” “constantly pursuing,” “fixed goal of our heart,” “that our mind may always be attached to divine things and to God” (p.46-47). All of these phrases point to what our contemplative prayer practice is to be about, a practice, which then overflows into our daily activities. So: what shall we do? Keep our hearts focused on the ‘Advent promise’, be open to a change of mind and heart, rejoice because our God will not disappoint.