Fourth Sunday of Advent
It is a rainy Sunday morning in England as I write this, first morning of a Christmas mission trip. Remote hints of Christianity filter through the sensual music piped into stores. A host of drunken young people in Santa Claus costumes filled the parks of London yesterday afternoon. What had been England seems to keep disappearing before the waves of an immigrating empire. And yet – the parking lot of a lone Catholic church, St. John Fisher, in a humble suburb, was full to overflowing this gray, rainy morning. Hearts are hungry.
Always new: the Annunciation of the angel is always new. The coming of Christ into the world is never captured, let alone exhausted, by any form, either that of the high culture – like Handel’s Messiah to which I am listening as I write – or of the mass culture, which is always really about one thing: money and what it can buy.
We turn to God from the darkness and despair of this fallen, lost world, but He has first turned toward us, giving us a mother, one “full of grace.” Just when we are tempted to despair of this world, and all its inhabitants, the eternal freshness of the angel’s greeting, and of Mary’s surprised response comes to refresh our hearts and souls. This is the only news that has ever been new: the rest of it is the same, sad story of this fallen world. And yet, in the mid-winter darkness, beneath the wet and sodden leaves, something from out of this world, something of a freshness we could never have imagined is stirring. Let us praise – and magnify – God for it!
Grace: An intimate knowledge of the many blessings received, that filled with gratitude for all, I may in all things love and serve the Divine Majesty.
Reflection: In the meditation upon sin, we made reference to Dante’s vision of hell, a cold, desolate place where the fire of love has been extinguished and all lies in a spiritual torpor. This is the perfect image of the heart grown cold to the stirrings of love which God places within it. At the opposite end of Dante’s journey lies a vision that perfectly encapsulates the final meditation of the Spiritual Exercises, the Contemplation to Attain Divine Love. From the lowest reaches of the spiritual universe, Dante ascends to the heights of heaven, where he views “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” At the heart of the universe lives the Trinitarian God, whose perfect love draws all being into an ordered symphony of praise. Dante feels himself drawn into this harmonic vision through the enflaming of his passions and desires. No one with eyes to see can sit impassively at the vision of God’s love. From the disordered state in which Dante had fallen at the beginning of the poem, he becomes progressively cleansed of his disordered affections through the grace of God and the intercession of Beatrice until finally he is able to pass through the heavens and stand in the presence of God. But notice that Dante only sees God’s depths after he has been interiorly transformed.