The 2nd Sunday of Advent
The word of God has been present in creation from the beginning. By God’s word, all things came into being. By God’s word, all things are sustained, until “the day of the Lord comes…and the earth and everything done on it will be found out”. If God stopped sustaining the world by his word, the world would collapse. In a way, then, God’s word is almost banal. It surrounds us everywhere, like the air we breathe. which is a constant gift from God. Even our breath becomes prayer if we are conscious of what it represents. ‘Let Christ be the air you breathe!’, said the abbot Saint Anthony.
The Word of God also resounds more particularly, though. Thus “John the Baptist appeared in the desert”. this detail bears a message. It tells us that God’s action erupts in history measurably. God’s word doesn’t just surround us like a vague atmosphere. It speaks to us personally, expecting a response.
The call to John was preceded by a long prophetic silence. People asked: Has God forgotten us? Why doesn’t he speak? In our days, it is tempting to ask similarly. The life of the Church is marked by crises, compromised trust, broken promises. We live with great sadness and worry. We might wonder: What has happened to the promises that were in the air not so long ago? Does “the Lord delay his promise”? Where is God now?
It’s a stupid question, of course. God is eternal, unchangeable. He is where he has always been: everywhere. The problem is not that he is far from us, but that we are far from him. I am reminded of a letter Pierre de Bérulle wrote to a French Carmelite he accompanied in the early 17th century. The nun moaned (as we are all inclined to moan) that her spiritual life had dried up, somehow. “Why”, she asked, “oh why has God abandoned me?” Bérulle answered sternly. “Why do you expect God to run after you as if he were a babysitter? Are you not a grown-up? We shouldn’t”, he went on, “expect to be given gifts all the time. What matters is to make use of the grace we have been given, to let it bear fruit.” This counsel chimes in with the Lord’s own teaching. Think of the images from agriculture strewn throughout the parables. One process must follow another, in order. The seed must be sown. It must be given time to develop, while we tend and water it.
The message of John the Baptist points towards something that has already been given. To indicate the new that is to come, he has recourse to old words. ‘Remember Isaiah!’, he cries. ‘The Lord asked us long ago to “make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God”. Is that what we’ve been doing, preparing a way for the Lord in our lives, our churches, and our communities? Are our eyes
fixed on him in expectant longing? Or are we really seeking comfort and prosperity for ourselves? Meletios of Nikopolis, a bishop of our times, once wrote: “The Church is not of man. The Church is of God. And whenever God is present, the human element ought to recede. When it doesn’t, when instead it is validated, the Church does not do well. Anthropocentrism kills the Church and its life.”
As far as I can see, these are words we need to hear in our times, in our circumstances. “Do you seek God?” was the only question St Benedict asked candidates who turned up, wishing to embrace monastic life. It was his only criterion of discernment, but one that reached far.
Are we really seeking God? Do we surrender ourselves to him humbly and obey his commandments? Are we eager, as St Peter would have us be, “to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace”?
If the Church, which at present is living through a long winter, is to ready itself for spring, we must learn anew to live on God’s terms. Monasteries have a crucial role to play in this respect. By the grace conferred through profession and consecration, monks and nuns are to show the world that it is possible to live entirely for God and that such a life is a source of reconciled, sanctified communion in joy and peace.
May the life lived here at the Genesee be marked by a profound faith in God, by love of his holy will, and by a readiness to follow it unconditionally. The Church needs holy monks, wrapped in the cloak of integrity, to remind us of all that God’s promise carries; that his fidelity is unfailing if only we enable it to operate by being faithful ourselves. May all of us “conduct ourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.”.