|Jacques Daret - Altarpiece of the Virgin|
This column appeared at CatholicPhilly.com on 14 December 2016, along with additional materials.
…cheer the fainthearted,
support the weak, be patient with all.
See that no one returns evil for evil;
rather, always seek what is good for each other and for all.
Pray without ceasing. — 1 Thessalonians 5:14b-17
St. Paul’s parting advice to the Church at Thessalonica is spot on for this week of final exams. Students come to my office hours and send me email. They catch me in the corridors, full of chemistry questions, but equally in need of reassurance. I cheer the fainthearted: “Yes, I expect you to do fine on my exam!”; support the weak: “Sleep. Eat. Everything looks better after a nap.” And I stretch my time, and thereby my patience, with varying success.
As I approached this Advent, which arrived at the end of a more chaotic than usual semester, I asked God for the grace to be “in love with the roughness of this world in hopes of the eternal,” as an ancient commentary on the book of Job suggested. I wanted both the patience to sit with the world as it is — slow traffic, purgatorial parking lots, and all — and a sure hope for the future.
In a sermon on Christmas Day, St. Augustine encouraged us to be re-born, to see Christ’s birth as both a one-time event and an eternal reality; Jesus, born of a virgin in Bethlehem, and born of the Father before all ages. This was not just a theology lesson from Augustine, but a challenge — a challenge to let Christ be born in us, always.
When I was expecting my sons, it was hard to avoid knowing I carried someone else within me. Their elbows and hiccups were potent reminders that they were with me. Advent offers me the same chance to be nudged interiorly to recall that we, too, are pregnant with God. Let us be as Mary, says Augustine, “heavy with the incarnate Christ.” We, too, should be heavy with the God-made-man, letting his compassion be born in our hearts.
Augustine is suggesting that we be aware of God within us, and how we bring that incarnate God into the world. Do we see those in need? Can we offer a cheerful smile, simple courtesy, or a bit of support, whether it’s to the man trying to get out the door of the Acme with an overflowing cart and two little ones in tow, or to the confused student at my door?
Can we seek what is good for each other? Cheer, support and be patient with all?
As we move deeper into Advent, I long to be heavy with the incarnate Christ, to know him stirring within. To rejoice always; for God is with us, before all ages. To pray without ceasing. For God will come again.
I've been listening to Bernadette Farrell's God Beyond All Names — which pulls many of Augustine's themes into a composition as still and sharply clear as an Advent night.
God, beyond all words, all creation tells your story,
you have shaken with our laughter, you have trembled with our tears.
All around us, we have known you;
all creation lives to hold you,
In our living and our dying
we are bringing you to birth