The refrain or the ‘mantra’ if you will for this Second Sunday of Advent is “Prepare the way”. We hear it in the first reading of Isaiah (40:1-5, 9-11), and it is repeated at the beginning of the gospel of Mark (1:1-8). What does it mean to prepare ourselves for this new manifestation of God’s presence? Keep in mind that God will come, but come how and what will he bestow upon us? St. Bernard in sermon 74:7-9 will say he comes with ‘grace and truth’. Not just grace, no, but grace and truth…the two go together and cannot be separated. Truth brings us back to the intention of the heart, making sure God is at center, it teaches us the truth of ourselves so that we can better and more authentically love our neighbor as ourselves. Bernard, in this sermon, will get us to consider ‘truth’ without ‘grace’…The truth will be too hard to bear and we most likely will not accept it…but then there is grace which gives us the experience of God’s love weaving in and through the truth we are receiving. Bernard will also say that grace alone falls empty in our lives without a change in both our interior demeanor and outer behavior. And so, this we need, ‘grace and truth’. Dear Sisters, is this not a profound reflection on what we are preparing for? Christ, the Divine Word of God’s salvation, is coming with truth and grace. Do you need ‘grace and truth’ in your life right now? If we answer a resounding ‘yes’, then we are very glad to receive the prophet’s voice proclaiming to us ‘Prepare the way’.
Truth and grace, these we long for…we long for them more than gold and silver, more than any position or role, more than any selfish or inflated inclination that surfaces in our hearts. Last week I quoted this from Bernard’s sermon: “The Word is recalled—recalled by the longing of the soul (74:2)….And I implore him not to come empty-handed but with grace and truth, as is his nature” (74:7). Our Advent encounter with Christ is thus an encounter with grace and truth; these will come ready to expand the horizon of our hearts and our lived lives, meaning expand the horizon of how we love, how we forgive, how we open ourselves to change and conversion.
Sr. Maria Boulding in her book, The Coming of God, says this about ‘grace’: “Creation is shot through with the self-gift of God. The divine life, the divine self-giving called grace, is the secret dynamism at the heart of creation, penetrating, lifting and inspiring it from the innermost personal core of every human being, drawing it onwards to its destiny” (p.2). What are these profound words telling us? First, she is speaking of prevenient grace meaning ‘grace that precedes’. We are shot through with the self-gift of God. This divine self-giving is grace. Advent emphasizes that this self-gift is knocking on the door of our hearts. Will we open the door, open our hearts to the truth of ourselves in any given moment which enables us to receive fully the self-gift, the grace that is to come. Prevenient grace is grace before conversion….the heart that opens to conversion is the heart ready to receive the grace being offered…a converted heart, welcomes the truth. Thus, together, grace and truth enable the new of God to be manifested in our lives.
Grace is already operative; God’s self-gift in Christ has been given. Still…more of God is to come. Advent asks that we prepare the vessels of our heart to receive Christ, who is coming with grace and truth. We are the incarnate vessels in the process of becoming more Christ-like inside and out as we receive his self-gift which is coming with grace and truth.
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess
(2nd Sunday of Advent – December 10, 2023 – cycle B)