The calendar year is drawing to a close. In work and study many of us are bringing things to completion and preparing for holidays. It is a time of wrapping up and assessing. This can feel a bit at odds with the new liturgical year just begun. Endings and beginnings, faith and everyday life, may seem to be tugging in different directions.
The apostolic letter that Pope Francis wrote to all consecrated people for the Year of Consecrated Life may seem an odd place for a lay person to turn to for light. I was struck this weekend by the theme of waking up the world and how it resonated with the readings for the first Sunday of Advent – which is of course when the Year of Consecrated Life officially started. It sent me back for a fresh look at the letter. The three aims of the Year could apply to all of us at this time of year: looking to the past with gratitude; living the present with passion; and embracing the future with hope.
Traditionally the first candle of the Advent wreath represents hope. As we pray with the first purple candle lit this week, how can we embrace the future with hope? In a world full of violence, environmental degradation, cruelty, disease and crushing poverty, where do we find hope? It is easy to lose hope in the face of situations of entrenched injustice. But hope is not the same as blind optimism.
If we stay spiritually awake, rather than acting like consumer zombie ‘Christmas shoppers’ during Advent, we can perceive the movement of God’s Spirit in the world. It is real and active. Behind all those Christmas appeals are people working to care for others and for creation. Perhaps we only notice some of them at Christmas when they ask for financial support, but they are carrying on their action all year. We can nurture alertness to the simple kindness all around us as well as noticing the more heroic, media-highlighted acts like being a medical volunteer in an ebola prone area. Simple things, like refusing, reducing, reusing and recycling can speak of deep commitment and the potential of each of us for transformative action. We wait in joyful hope for God to enter our human reality and transform it, yet Jesus is born every day in acts of loving kindness that make the love of his Heart more visible here and now.
If we stay awake, actively listening for God’s call, we will hear it in our deepest desires. God is already with us there. If we listen, we can hear the heartbeat of God in the world in humanity’s yearning for justice, peace and love. It’s like the heartbeat of a child in the womb already alive, but waiting to come to birth.
And so we wait in joyful hope for the coming of God’s Reign on earth.
A prayer for the First Week of Advent by Sandie Cornish