– FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
For Christians, the liturgical season of Advent is a very significant one. I wish to share with you some thoughts on the meaning and relevance of Advent not only during the season of Advent but through our lives. I focus my simple meditation first on Advent as hope; second, on hope as fidelity to the present, and third on the convenience of examining our hope from time to time.
ADVENT AS HOPE – Through the liturgical year, we Christians celebrate the mysteries of our faith, of our redemption. Through the liturgy, we re-live the life, passion, death and resurrection of Christ; in particular, through the Eucharistic celebration, the center of our Christian life. The liturgical year begins with Advent and ends with the Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe. We journey with our Mother Church through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, the weeks of Ordinary Time, the Feasts of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Eucharist, the feasts of our Mother Mary, the angels and the saints. The most important seasons of the liturgical year are Advent/Christmas, and Lent/Easter.
Advent means coming, arriving. Who is coming? Our Lord Jesus Christ! He came over twenty centuries ago in history at Christmas – his birth in Bethlehem; He continues coming to our lives in different ways; He will come again at the end of time. It is fantastic to believe that Christ is always with us (Mt 28:20) – now and up to the end of time.
Advent means also hope. It is the season of hope, and we prepare expectantly and joyfully for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. In a true sense, the season of hope – of Advent – comprises our whole life: life is a journey, and the human person is a pilgrim with a thousand hopes – plus a theological one -, always on the way to different destinations leading us to the final one. Above all, and consciously or unconsciously, every human being hopes in a good final destination – happiness, heaven, God. Indeed, “You, Lord, have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (St. Augustine).
Hope is a theological virtue which inclines us to expect relative happiness here, and perfect happiness hereafter. With God’s grace and love – and our assisted cooperation -, we expect God, heaven as the object of our happiness. Christian hope is faithful and loving, that is, founded on faith in God and practiced in charity or love, which is the form and mover of all virtues. Faithful and loving hope in heaven does not take away our human hopes but nourishes them with love and transforms them in true hopes under theological hope. Human hopes which unduly attach us to a person, or a position, or a possession, or a place cannot be authentic human hopes for they are not permeated by faithful and loving hope in God.
HOPE AS FIDELITY TO THE PRESENT – Christian hope is not “a pie in the sky,” but a commitment to change our present – as individuals and as social beings. Rooted in the past – in our loving faith in the Crucified and Risen Lord -, and looking towards the future with the eyes of faith, Christian hope concentrates on the present, on the “now”: God, the object of our hope is “the eternal now.” The only thing in our hands is not the past or the future but the present. Hence, to be truly hopeful Christians – or hopeful believers – we ought to be faithful to the present moment: “I just keep concentrating on the present moment… Let us see each instant as if there were no other. An instant is a treasure” (St. Therese of the Child Jesus). A Zen saying: “The past is unreal. The future is unreal. Only the moment is real. Life is a series of moments either lived or lost.” What a hopeful invitation! Life is, hopefully, a series of moments lived.
What does it mean to live the present, this moment? It means to do what we have to do every moment with love. To put love in our daily activities is to do good every moment and to witness it. Indeed, “only the love that we have accumulated throughout our lives will stand out, and is the only good that will accompany us” (S. Galilea). “What are your plans for the future?” a journalist asked Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Her answer: “I just take one day at a time. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today to love Jesus.” Fidelity to the “now” implies saying ‘yes’ to love and, therefore, ‘no’ to sin, which is a betrayal of love. I like to repeat often the Russian Pilgrim’s continued mantra: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, a sinner.”
EXAMINING OUR HOPE – How is my hope? How is yours? I have this habit of checking my hopes and hope from time to time, particularly in Advent. My meditation is helped by some books I treasure and continue reading. The Sacred Scriptures continue to be the best word on hope for me – and for all believers in the Book. One of my favorite texts on hope is from the prophet Isaiah: “Those who hope in Yahweh will renew their strength. They will soar as with eagle’s wings; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and never tire” (Is 40:31). The Gospels, in particular, continue watering our hope in the midst of the evil in the world and of our personal fragility and inevitable suffering. They present a portrait of Jesus Christ as our hope, and of his resurrection as the foundation of our hope in our resurrection. Indeed, what better inspiring words than these: In Christ we live; in Christ we shall die, and in Christ we hope to live forever (cf. I Cor 15:20-22).
Mary the Mother of Jesus and our Mother – in the company of angels and saints -, is the most helpful travelling companion, after the Blessed Trinity. As the disciple of disciples and intercessor before God, Our Lady strengthens our Christian hope: Fiat. Let it be!
Like any other saint, Saint Augustine was a hopeful Christian, and writes powerfully and elegantly on life as a pilgrimage. His incomparable Confessions keep telling us that no one can say, “I cannot change.” “Yes, you can, because I could”! He reminds us: Happiness does not consist in having more, but in needing less. As pilgrims, we travel light!
Dominic, the apostolic and evangelical man, strongly believed in hope, because he believed in love and in the mercy of God: Saint Dominic de Guzman, “never asking for reward, he just talks about the Lord.” The open book of St. Francis of Assisi’s life is so readable and fascinating: the Poverello went through his journey of life giving thanks with faithful and hopeful love. From St. Thomas Aquinas, theologian and mystic, the apostle of truth (St. John Paul II), one always learns something new: “Every truth, regardless who said it, comes from the Holy Spirit.” I continue feeding my roots – and my Christian hope – with the sublime works of the mystics from Ávila: St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Teresa is a perennial teacher on prayer. She advises us all: “Never leave prayer. There is always remedy for those who pray” – prayer believes, hope and loves. St. John of the Cross is a guide through the dark nights and shadows of life: Oh guiding night!/ O night more lovely than the dawn!/ Oh night that has united/ the Lover with His beloved,/ transforming the beloved in her Lover!
A little book I read from time to time is Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. It refreshes my hope. Jonathan is the winged symbol of hope. For him, “It was not eating that mattered but flight.” More than anything else, Jonathan loved to fly! He was always on the way to a more perfect flight.” “The trick,” he said, “is that we are trying to overcome our limitations in order, patiently.” Once, his mob of birds, interested only in eating, tried to kill him. Jonathan did not mind it, and committed himself to help those hopeless seagulls by loving them: “You have to practice and see the real seagull, the good in everyone, and to help them see it in themselves.” This is love, or better, loving hope.
WHERE IS OUR HEART? – Sometimes, I feel I am in the desert, alone facing the aridity and the loneliness of life. I try to realize then – and when limping, too – that my hope is a hope on the way of Christ that includes the way of the Cross! I pray to the good Lord – with others and for others – to help us keep our hope in cold, grey, and rainy days, particularly when it may become, like Abraham’s, hope against hope (cf. Rom 4:18). J. L. Martin Descalzo, who wrote an elegant and inspiring book entitled Razones para la esperanza (Reasons for Hope), said that we are on the way to the embrace with Christ. Therefore, he added, we have to love more – and faster. This is the best way to prepare for the coming of Jesus this Christmas – and always.
Most probably, we all know the lovely story of the old man trying to climb the Himalayan Mountains. It was winter, a cold and rainy day of winter. The old man took refuge for a while in an inn along the way up to the peak. The innkeeper asked him: “Dear old man, how will you ever get there in this kind of weather?” The old man answered him: “My heart got there first, so it is easy for the rest of me to follow.”
Where is your heart? And mine? With our eyes fixed on God, who is in us, around us and in front of us, we journey today to tomorrow: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard nor has it so much as dawned what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).