12-10-2017 Second Sunday of Advent
Dec 11, 2017
Advent II / B / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
One of the great saints and mystics of the Church is St. John of the Cross. John was a Carmelite priest, a great 16th century reformer, the spiritual director of St. Theresa of Avila (!), and one of the greatest poets in the Spanish language.
In one of St. John’s writings, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, John talks about the "dark night"—our expression the "dark night of the soul" comes from John of the Cross—and the souls longing for God. Oftentimes this longing—the seeking—is portrayed as climbing a high mountain, "the ascent," to find God at the top.
I’ve used that image before, of climbing the mountain of God, of seeking God, and there is a certain truth to it. But the metaphor is limited, like all metaphors—as if God is just idly sitting on the top of a mountain, out there, like Mt. Hood, just waiting for us! But that image of God is not biblical. The biblical God is one who pursues us. The "primacy of grace" says that God always takes the initiative, seeking us, like the "hound of heaven" (Francis Thompson). What is important for us is to make a place for God—like a landing place—a "highway" for our loving God to find us and fill us with his grace.
In this line of thinking, it may sound a little fanciful, but some spiritual writers describe God as a "helicopter" looking to land. A helicopter that needs a clear landing site. The spiritual life, then, is a process of clearing the ground, moving rocks and trees and buildings, to prepare for the coming of the Lord—a highway for our God.
For St. John of the Cross, this process of "clearing" means to free oneself from attachments—creaturely goods that we imagine to be ultimate goods. Creaturely goods like wealth, or power, or pleasure, or fame, or our self-interests. We have to detach ourselves from these creaturely goods so that the ground is clear—a "highway for our God."
So what does all of this have to do with Advent? As I read the first reading from Isaiah (echoed in the Gospel), I thought of St. John of the Cross—and the helicopter God pursuing us, looking for a place to land. We read: "In the desert, prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed."
The historical setting of these words is the return of the exiles from Babylonian captivity—the return of Israel from Babylon to the promised land. Isaiah imagines a rough road between Babylon and Jerusalem that is evened out, made smooth, made straight, so that God can easily come and lead the exiles home.
Advent is a time, then, to "smooth the path" and create "a landing site" for God, to knock down mountains, to clear the rocks, to fill in the valleys, so that God can more easily come to us. And what are those mountains and valleys? Our attachments. To clear out our creaturely attachments so that "God’s helicopter" can land and bring us home.
The question for us, then, is this: what needs to be cleared away in my life so that I can meet God and God can meet me. What stumbling blocks keep me away from God, and God from me. How is my prayer life? How are my relationships? What is my work ethic? Am I honest, just, transparent, kind? Do I show concern for the poor and needy? Am I a peacemaker? And so on.
Advent is a time to prepare the way of the Lord, to make a landing site for God, so that when he comes, he will find us watching and waiting.