Saturday, November 30, 2013

Entering Advent - Reflections, Meditations and Books

Sunday, December 1st is the First Sunday of Advent so I thought I would create a post with some reflections, meditations and books that focus on the theme of Advent.
Truly a great book on Advent is Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings by Alfred Delp, S.J., a German Jesuit priest who was imprisoned in Berlin in 1944, then tortured, imprisoned, and executed on February 2, 1945. Fr Delp's writtings and sermons always challenged us as he would say, "we are called to be 'shaken awake'; we are called to integrity and authenticity to confess and proclaim our faith; and we respond to God with reverent amen." Fr. Delp wrote:
Advent is precisely the liturgical season in which the interior religious tension of our time is most conspicuously revealed. ...
The season of Advent is, first of all, the time of man's original religious instinct. Never will we experience our primeval homesick yearning for God more actively and alertly than in this season of ... Advent wreaths. Advent is the time of the God-seeker. The original longing within every human heart is a great impulse toward the hidden and distant God, a longing to wander in that far-off forgotten homeland of the soul. That longing is what the Church expresses, both in her inner attitude and in the liturgy of the season. 
In a reflection written in 1935, several years before being arrested, Fr. Delp directly addressed the increasing hostility toward "the original religious meaning of Advent." 
Stay awake, so that you may be ready!
"Each one of us is confronted with new religious ideas in one form or another. It is not enough to be faithful within the privacy of your own heart or home. This is the moment for public, serious, and faithful profession of our faith."

Father Albert Haase's book, Living the Lord's Prayer - The Way of the Disciple, is not on Advent however you might say it helps us prepare the way for it. He wrote: 
Remember your suffering. It need not be in vain. It can become the womb of compassion.
The womb is a place where something is in the process of being birthed - a place where something is formed.  Fr Albert goes on to say, 
Compassion makes us aware of who we truly are as it bonds us to others in relationships.
Interestingly, the word religion is a derivation from the Latin word, re-ligare: meaning, "to bind back." As we are beings in and of and for relationships - and as we are always falling in and out of relationships, we, by nature, are religious beings forever in the process of patching ourselves back together. And so I was struck by how suffering works in all this and how compassion is the out-growth of suffering. 

Richard Rohr, when lecturing on suffering and pain says; If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.  So at the point of suffering we have the breeding grounds of choice - either we are being transformed through our suffering or it is a source of transmitting the suffering on to others.  

During the Advent season we are ever reminded of Our Lord and how He came to awaken in us a self-donating transformation of suffering in the world.

Oscar Wilde once remarked on suffering:
Jesus understood the leprosy of the leper,The darkness of the blind,The fierce misery of those who live for pleasure,The strange poverty of the rich, And the thirst that can make people drink from muddy water. He penetrated the outward shell of things and understood that whatever happens to another happens to oneself, and whatever happens to oneself happens to another.
These words give us an image into our relatedness to one another. Embracing our sufferings as well as being with others during their sufferings is the beginning of the transformation of the world. It is the meaning of Advent. My friend and mentor, Gil Bailie, talked about entering into the biblical story this way: 
Advent Banner 
by Rebekah Holten
Jesus says, "take this cup," which is the cup of suffering. We don’t have to be melodramatic about it; there is suffering in our lives. The suffering that I should understand as redemptive is my suffering. The sufferings that I see other people undergoing I should not think that I am going to take it away, I won’t be able to, but I can be present with them in that suffering so they can feel that they are not alone in that suffering and perhaps feel the truth of the situation which is always, always, always that Christ is in it with them. They may not be able to experience that unless they know that I am in it with them. That act of being present with them may be their only entrée to the discovery that Christ is in it with them. Being in that suffering with others, and of course, that sometimes means helping to relieve the suffering, is our responsibility... (See link HERE to get the transcript of Gil's talk on Entering the Biblical Story.)
ISeek That Which Is Above: Meditations Through the Year the future Pope Benedict XVI wrote:
Advent is a time when a kindness that is otherwise almost entirely forgotten is mobilized; namely, the willingness to think of others and give them a token of kindness. Finally Advent is a time when old customs live again, for instance, in the singing of carols which takes place all over the country. In the melodies and the words of these carols, something of the simplicity, imagination and glad strength of the faith of our forefathers makes itself heard in our age, bringing consolation and encouraging us perhaps to have another go at that faith which could make people so glad in such hard times.

There is no better time to enter the biblical story then now during Advent. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Attraction Exercised by God is Like a Magnet

From the Magnificat, (Nov 12, 2013) this meditation from Father Maurice Zundel (1975) a Swiss theologian, a mystic, poet, philosopher, liturgist and author really struck a cord with me.  He provides an image that resonates with what spiritual direction is all about - helping people come to terms with those things in their lives that attracts as well as what repels them in their journey.

The attraction exercised by God is like a magnet, like the process of magnetization. We begin to exist, to be free, to be persons when we respond to this divine magnetization; then we begin to be saints. In the case of saints, the magnetization happens at a closer range, saints cling to the magnet more continuously. And we clearly feel that in Jesus’ humanity there is no longer any distance between it and the magnet. It no longer escapes the attraction of grace. It is projected into God with a force that is God. It is carried, lifted by the magnet.

In Jesus Christ, there is a total renouncement to any clinging of self. If you prefer, from the point of view of his humanity, Jesus is the man who has lost his self. There is no longer any self. There is no longer any possibility for him to cling to his self, to oppose his self to God, because he is completely magnetized, lost in divinity and projected into God by this magnet which is God, because in God each Person is a whole-hearted movement toward the other.

That means that the mystery of Jesus is a mystery of poverty, of infinite renouncement, and that it corresponds to a poverty found in God.

If God does not come through us, even if he is in us as he is in Christ – it is the same God who is always totally true to himself, the same God in our soul and in that of Jesus, the same God, I repeat, the same God as in the saints – if this God in us does not shine through, it is because we cling to our selves and prevent this infinite charity, this infinite poverty from shining through us.

We would be Christ himself if we were in this state of absolute, total, and unique poverty in which our Lord’s humanity is found, this humanity which is totally shorn of itself, which is no longer anything but a living relationship with God, which can no longer be a testimony to itself but is a testimony to the presence of God, of which every gesture, every word, whose total presence is the testimony of the divinity.

In this wonderful excerpt from Fr Zundel one can find an entire meditation every couple words.  The thought that I focus on here concerns our clinging to some psychological notion of a true or false self when in fact, as Christ as our model, there is no back and forth of a true self and false self - it is about total surrender. Like Saint Francis (and all the other saints) we become free persons only when we allow the mystery of poverty in God in us to shine forth from us.  In this state of being magnetized we attract others to freedom - to God being the instruments we were created in Christ to be. How awesome is that?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Healing the past with present action thus reconstructing our life in a new unity - a new meaning

Jesus said, "Do THIS in remembrance of Me." 

and they all, looking around at one another, wondered, "Do what?"

Father Bernard Bro has a lovely way of answering.

Not only do we become by means of the sacraments contemporaries of a past that is the very source of our salvation, but we become capable of recuperating the past, of retaking and reconstructing our life by giving it a new unity. We know that there is a distance between "me" and my history, between the depths of ourselves and our acts. Our actions commit us; but, once they are performed, they escape us and accumulate behind us and form the chain of our history. And this past can be crushing. 

The sacraments continually permit us to transcend this history, and to judge it, and, to a degree, to change its meaning and the value of the whole by means of new acts.... 

The sinner who has been reconciled to God in his person nevertheless drags behind him in his past a failure towards God, a failure towards love; it is true that at one moment in his history he failed the order of charity which should be reflected in every human undertaking. The event, this sin, remains a fact forever; but by means of the sacraments it can take on another meaning in the entirety of its history, and this by means of new acts repairing the disorder. It is possible for us to restore God's honor, not only in our heart, but in the course of our history which is still being written. It is possible to change the profile of our past acts by means of new compensating acts. This is a marvelous conversion which the sacraments place within our reach! We become capable of much more than a compensation for the past; we become capable of offering to God a life really ordered by love. This is where the reflection we mentioned above concerning healing the past by means of present actions takes on its force. The sacraments do not only remove the sickness from suffering; they go infinitely farther: they transfigure and trans value what was perversion and evil into an occasion and fruit of divine friendship. 

— FATHER BERNARD BRO, o.p.--A French Dominican priest, a distinguished theologian;  Magnificat, October, 2013, Pp. 68.