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Opening the Word: Advent reminds us we are pilgrims

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“The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah” (Jer 33:14). This Sunday begins the beautiful liturgical season of Advent, a season that reminds us that we are pilgrims, journeying toward the fullness of the Lord’s promise of love, first made to the house of Israel and Judah and fulfilled in the coming of Christ.

Thus, we journey in hope. In fact, during Advent, we journey as Israel once did, longing and hoping for our Messiah. Preaching during Advent in 1035, St. Bernard of Clairvaux would tell his brother monks how he wept, thinking of Israel’s ardent desire for the Lord. Bernard wished to have such a fiery love, too. This fiery love is still our task during Advent today. We must hope in God’s promise of love such that we grow in our desire for God and God’s love above all things. “To you, O Lord, I lift my soul” (Ps 25:1).

As we set out on this journey of desire, we might be wondering: “How do we find the way?” (Spe Salvi, No. 49). How do we journey toward Christ? In his 2007 encyclical Spe Salvi (“Saved in Hope”), Pope Benedict XVI gave us the answer: follow Mary. Pope Benedict even spoke to Mary as he wrote the encyclical: “Through you, through your ‘yes,’ the hope of the ages became reality, entering this world and its history. You bowed low before the greatness of this task and gave your consent: ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word’ (Lk 1:38)” (No. 49). It is as if Mary, too, said, “To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.”

Mary is our guide on this Advent journey. She is the Star for the fiery desire in our hearts. We look to her whenever we pray the words that announced the Gospel to Mary, the Good News of God’s promise fulfilled in the Word Incarnate: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. …” During Advent, we travel with Mary as she prepares to bear the Word of Love into “this world and its history” — into our history (Spe Salvi, No. 50). Our desire grows: “To you, O Lord, I lift my soul!”

But let us linger longer at the scene of the Annunciation. Mary’s response to the Good News is a prayer. As such, it is an exercise of desire (cf. Spe Salvi, Nos. 32-33). Mary magnified the Lord. This praise further enlarged her soul, increasing its capacity to receive the Lord. Prayer, Mary shows us, fires our desire and enlarges our souls (cf. Spe Salvi, No. 33). “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (1 Thes 3:12).

We should also look to Joseph as a model of desire and an Advent companion. Mary’s magnification met and embraced Joseph. His desire was enkindled by Mary’s, the Good News now enfleshed in her. Joseph, too, waited in hope with Mary, all the while preparing a roof for him.

Thus, Mary and Joseph lead us to the Eucharist. The Eucharist prepares us for Christmas, enlarging our hearts and our souls. We magnify the Lord with our “Great Amen” at Mass, giving ourselves over entirely, desiring to become a “roof” for the Lord. Like Mary, and then Joseph, this “Amen” is our “yes.” “Show us, LORD, your mercy; grant us your salvation” (Ps 85:8).

The Gospel today tells us that Advent prepares us for more than this coming Christmas. It anticipates a final Advent. Every Advent, every Christmas, every Eucharistic “Amen,” helps us understand God’s love for us better and better. The better our understanding, the greater our desire, for these are God’s pilgrim paths, given to us for our journey. In the Gospel, Christ himself orients us to the final Advent. He says he is coming to meet us, “with power and great glory” (Lk 21:27).

Wait and watch, he says. Then, when the final Advent comes, we will truly see him, and all things drawn together in God’s love, enlarged and magnified.

To you, O Lord, I lift my soul!

November 28 – First Sunday of Advent

Jer 33:14-16
Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
1 Thes 3:12–4:2
Lk 21:25-28, 34-36

 

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