Sunday, December 2, 2007
Hope for Advent
I have to admit that the Holy Father's first Encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" didn't do too much for me. I have read most of the books of the Pope that are in English, and they are filled with wisdom and beautiful insights. However, the new Encyclical, "Spes Salvi," released just in time for Advent, is quite simply outstanding. I read it late on Friday night on the Vatican website and was profoundly moved. I realized I didn't need anything else for Advent, both for personal meditation, or for a thread to weave through the Advent homilies, than this work of the Spirit. Father Richard John Neuhaus, discussing the document on EWTN, suggested that it be read "on your knees;" I know what he means. It is deeply scriptural, in fact, I would imagine this is a papal document that our separated brethren will welcome and find deeply satisfying. A number of the other blogs I check out have references to particular parts of the Encyclical that 'jumped out at them.' One of the sections that struck me was the pointed question the Pope asks each one of us - a question which would make a great basis for Advent reflection: "is the Christian faith for us today a life-changing and life-sustaining hope?" He says we must learn again what we hope for, what we have to offer the world - and what we cannot offer. We certainly cannot offer the world the answer to all its questions; we cannot offer the political solutions that will create Utopia. During Advent, when we are both preparing to celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation, and preparing for the Second Coming, the passage about the Kingdom is especially powerful and beautiful. The Holy Father says that Christ's Kingdom is not some imaginary hereafter, but that His Kingdom is present wherever "He is loved and wherever His love reaches us." As we pray during this time of Advent silence, perhaps our meditation should focus on: Where do we experience His love "reaching us," - and where is He loved? It strikes me that we most profoundly experience His love reaching us in the Sacraments - especially in the Mass and Confession. Advent could be a time to really focus on the incredible love shown us by the Lord each time we assemble to celebrate the Holy Mysteries. His love reaches us in a tangible and personal way as we approach Him in need of forgivness and healing. As the words of absolution are pronounced, His love heals, restores and forgives. Where is He loved? - in His Body, the Church - in His suffering members, especially the poorest and most vulnerable - and where charity and love prevail.
Speaking of St. Augustine, the Holy Father says: "renouncing his spiritual nobility, he preached and acted in a simple way for simple people." Although there is nothing simple about this Encyclical, it is certainly the product of a man of "spiritual nobility," a man who has managed to preach and act in a simple way - and to communicate in a beautiful and fresh manner, the overwhelming joy and hope found in knowing Jesus Christ.