November 27 – First Sunday of Advent

Our need for the humility of Jesus—found firstly in the manger—is a great place to begin our Advent. Allow me to share with you a little excerpt from one of my favorite novelists, Michael O’Brien, in his book Plague Journal:

There are ways of dealing with trouble in an affluent age. If you have enough money or influence, health and power, you can stave off trouble for a long time. You can pad and buffer and distract yourself until the illusion of mastery is complete. The only weakness in this seemingly perfect method is that your life must then be preoccupied with padding, buffering, and distracting. Most of us do it to some degree. We can’t help it really. Pain just isn’t fun; helplessness is scary. But suffering finds us all sooner or later. There is no hiding place, and, when raising a family, you are especially exposed to the dangers of human existence.

     I didn’t know it then, but the cost of a happy family is the death of selfishness. The father must die if he is to give life to his spouse and children. Not a pleasant thought but a true one. An entire lifetime can be spent avoiding it. It’s simply not enough to provide and protect. In themselves, of course, providing and protecting are good and necessary things. That is our responsibility.

     But a father can provide a mountain of material goods for his family and defend it against all kinds of inconveniences, thinking he can rest easy, having done his part, and still have missed the essential point: he is called to be an image of love and truth. The house he provides, be it a cabin, a mansion, or a barge painted Christmas colors, must have at its core a heart that is willing to look at its poverty. As long as we’re convinced of our own strengths, our cleverness, and our cagey ability to endure, we still think we’re in charge. We construct a life-style of eliminating difficulties at any cost. It takes a lot of padding if you’re to avoid the unexplainable, unjust blows of suffering. There will come a time, however, when this elaborate defense system crumbles.

If we don’t see our need for Jesus, our own poverties, then Advent isn’t very exciting. If, on the other hand, we know that we are nothing without Jesus, and if Jesus becomes the deepest desire of our hearts, then we won’t be able to help but echo the ancient, eager cry of Advent, “Maranatha!” Come Lord Jesus! …into my heart, into my life, into my family, into my sufferings, into my joys, and into my poverty! You alone give perfect peace. You alone give  perfect joy.

Father James