Thursday, December 24, 2009

Advent

For many of us, the liturgical season of Advent, taken from the Latin adventus or "coming," is far from peaceful. Christmas parties, end-of-the-semester work, family gatherings, the beginning of winter sports...each of these seems to make it difficult for us to give ourselves over to the season, to making the true focus of our time a patient waiting for the birth of the Savior.

Many years ago, the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote the following poem entitled "St. Alphonsus Rodriguez". Brother Rodriguez spent 46 years as the porter at the Jesuit College of Montesione on the Spanish island of Majorca. As porter, his basic job was to answer the door. Read, if you will, the following poem:

St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
Laybrother of the Society of Jesus
HONOUR is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may; 5
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.

Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment, 10
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.
It is the job of the porter to await the coming of visitors. He must be ever at the ready, ever watchful of the door. Honor, St. Alphonsus, came neither from epic conquests on the battle field nor from memorizing glory through grand acts. It comes simply from the heart-felt prayer that uttered each of the countless times answered the door to guests: "I'm coming, Lord!"

I mention Saint Alphonsus because I think he captures perfectly the true spirit of Advent. He was a man who lived Advent at all times, for he lived with an awareness that another was coming. His very life was conformed to being hospitable to the ever-arriving guests who knocked at his door. Advent was not, for him, a season. It was, rather, his very way of life.

I hope that this Advent season has enabled you to say more freely, or more sincerely, or more hopefully: I'm coming, Lord! Christ both comes toward us but we must go to him. Many of us have heard the tapping at the inner door of our hearts...but how many cry out with frustration and anger, "I'm coming, I'm coming!" but don't mean it?

It is not too late. The quiet knocking and tapping that prevents us from getting too comfortable is a mark that Someone has come visiting. When you approach the door - whether it be to your office, classroom, home, or heart - summon the strength to cry out inwardly, "I'm coming, Lord!"

If we could find the strength to make this prayer, this simple utterance, our own, I think that the carping about the "secularization of Christmas" would fade away. I think this, simply, because this prayer would christen every day, every moment, with the spirit of Advent, the spirit of anticipation and coming, that we must have for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Advent would not be limited to a few weeks each year but, rather, would be our very lives that are open and awaiting the arrival of the Messiah. This inner transformation of the human heart would speak more clearly than any manger scene or Christmas pageant, because it would speak throughout the year and point without confusion to the true "reason for the season."
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