Sunday, November 30, 2014

First Sunday of Advent

    At this beginning of a new liturgical year the Church invites us to lay aside all distress, worry and hopelessness in order to give the light of God’s Word a chance to penetrate our darkness. St. Paul assures us: God, who is ever faithful, calls us to communion with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  All our hope resides in that trustworthy call.  Would God deceive us and call us to something illusory?  But will we truly open our hearts and allow ourselves to become like expectant children, dazzled by reliable promises of a joyful life? 
    Today is also the first day of what our Holy Father Francis has declared to be the Year of Consecrated Life.  Though all Christians have been consecrated to God by baptism into Christ, there are in the Church those of us called to live this consecrated life in a particular manner, totally at one with all the faithful and in no way superior to anyone, yet witnessing before the whole world, by the specific form of our life, to what is of perennial value.
    With reference to us who are vowed to a contemplative monastic life, St. John Paul II has written, By their lives and mission, the members of these Institutes imitate Christ in his prayer on the mountain, bear witness to God’s lordship over history and anticipate the glory which is to come…In solitude and silence, by listening to the word of God, participating in divine worship, personal asceticism, prayer, mortification and the communion of fraternal love, they direct the whole of their lives and all their activities to the contemplation of God. In this way they offer the ecclesial community a singular testimony of the Church’s love for her Lord, and they contribute, with hidden apostolic fruitfulness, to the growth of the People of God. Vita Consecrata 8
    The Prophet Isaiah portrays for us the beginning of the contemplative call, in a way that may be summed up in the two words conversion and supplication.  We are called to the monastery not on account of any merit or special quality of ours—quite to the contrary: in his mysterious freedom, God calls us out of a condition of dire need, of radical dissatisfaction.  You have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt, the prophet cries out to God.  God’s apparent absence and rejection of us have plunged us into a threatening void, and we receive the grace not to turn to idolatry out of desperation but rather to seek the true God all the more fervently, imploring him with savage desire to come to our rescue and save us by showing us the light of his Face: Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for.  The very ability, energy and impulse to appeal deafeningly to God out of our misery is the greatest of graces. 
    It is sheer grace that makes us cry out to God instead of despairing, sheer grace that makes us lament our sins and desire with our whole heart that our life could start again, could assume a new shape (we are the clay and you are the potter), sheer grace even to imagine the joy of clinging to God permanently with all our strength.  Such is the desert place where a monastic vocation begins.  It is a place of precariousness because what goes on here is mostly supplication (the root meaning of “precarious”), pure begging for help, pure dependency, as we sink into the awareness that we can do nothing to save ourselves.  In this place Christ is experienced largely as a still unfulfilled promise, and the typical prayer that dominates this state of soul is the prayer of repentance: Lord, have mercy on me a poor sinner!

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. 
Excerpts from Father Simeon's Homily for the First Sunday of Advent.