Saturday, December 8, 2012



Aristotle wrote that art imitates nature. I ran into a good example of this during the past week when talking with the Bongiornos, with whom I’m writing a screenplay for a possible fictional film about our monastery and school. In the course of writing the outline for the movie they raised the question “What are we (the audience) waiting for?” Most story plots involve some sort of tension cause by wondering if or when a certain thing is going to happen. Will the ship make it through the storm? Will George Bailey come up with the money to keep his savings and loan afloat? Will our hero eventually win the heroine’s heart? What is it that we are waiting for in the movie?


Advent is a time of waiting. And it’s a great time to ask ourselves, “What is it that we’re waiting for?” [The following ideas are excerpted from an excellent book of meditations for Advent and Christmas entitled “From Holidays to Holy Days.]

St. Augustine thinks that all our human hungers and all our yearnings are simply facets of one single, inborn longing: the desire for the Divine. My fondness for chocolate ice cream, my attraction to a pretty face, and my passion for Mozart’s horn concertos are all aspects of the one deepest desire, to possess God. In Augustine’s view, we are each born with a natural thirst for the Divine, which only something Infinite can ultimately satisfy. Advertisers know about this inner longing; they redirect it, converting it into a desire for a flashy car, the latest video game, or this year’s “must-have” toy. Millions of us fall for this switch because we don’t understand the real goal of our inner hunger. Under the spell of advertisers, political demagogues and others, we get caught up in a frenzied, frantic seeking after created things such as material possessions, power or comfort.

Ironically, this misguided passionate searching is most apparent during the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy, which occurs during Advent, the very season when the church keeps pointing us toward the true object of our longing: the only one who can fill the nagging emptiness at the center of our hearts. The message of Advent has never been more needed than it is in our day, when so many people are caught up in a frantic but misdirected search for happiness.

In his Rule for Monks, St. Benedict demands that any new aspirants to the community “truly seek God.” He orders the entire life of the monastery toward this seeking: poverty and silence, stability and holy reading, caring for the sick and waiting tables; everything is carefully designed to keep us focused on our single-minded search for God.

But Benedict, a wise student of human nature, also knows that his monks will get distracted from time to time, whether by unruly appetites, by anger and other emotions, or by discouragement. I’ve certainly forgotten the one true goal myself from time to time, and have gone instead after pursuits contrary to or at least different from the only one that matters. Sometimes I have aimed at my own comfort or convenience; at other times I have tried to accomplish my own agenda instead of God’s. But sooner or later grace has always called me back each time, reminding me what I am really striving for and longing for: the one thing necessary.

At this time of year the full-page ads in the newspapers get ramped up as merchants try to create in us a desire for earrings that cost $2,500 a pair or crystal figurines that can be had for $4,500. This year, though, there’s sometimes a bit of irony involved. On the page facing the full page ad for a $5,000 wristwatch is an article with photos of people and their houses that have been totally destroyed by wind and waves of Sandy. Facing a picture of some forlorn woman starting in shock at the empty lot that used to contain her home is a photo of a pair of platinum earrings with no price attached – it’s as if the merchant knew where the ad would be place and didn’t want to be embarrassed.


There are some interesting things on some folks’ Christmas lists this year:
A house that has a roof, heat and electricity.
The gift of perseverance after “losing everything” to Sandy.
The virtue of hope in the face of devastation.

What are YOU waiting for?

In today’s gospel for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception the angel Gabriel explains to the puzzled young Virgin that “nothing is impossible with God?’ (Lk 1:37). During Advent we are waiting once again for the miracle of God’s power that overcomes human incapacity. We can never have enough Advents, never enough Incarnations, and never enough Seasons of Hope. Let us pray that during this somewhat somber Advent of 2012 we might learn something from Sandy: that in the end we all have only one real and final fulfillment, Jesus Christ, for whose coming we watch and pray.

What is it that we’re waiting for? On the count of three everybody sing “O Come, O come, Emmanuel.”

 Overwhelmed by damage to her house, I wonder what Regina wants for Christmas?

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