Encountering Advent

In a reflection given earlier this year to formators of religious communities, Jesuit Peter Bisson shared: “Religions’ openness to transcendence gives the joy that moves consecrated persons to seek to live communion, which is in turn helped by our vows as forms of relatedness. In building communion, within our religious communities and in the wider world, consecrated persons can be artisans of encounter.”[1] These images have stayed with me and I would like to offer them as launching points for this Advent.

The very fact that this season is marked each year to give us time to reflect on and remember that God transcended the heavenly realms and chose to be with the created world is in itself enough to sit with for the twenty-seven days of Advent. God desired the perfect love of the Trinitarian community to continue to expand. We are the privileged ones caught up in this overflowing gift. We receive this gift so freely and in so many ways and yet we resist it, give it parameters and make rules for it, trapping it, so that it feels caged and guarded, not soaring and joyful.

In the new movie “tick, tick… BOOM!” the life of musical theatre artist Jonathan Larson is captured in song. In the finale song he sings, “Cages or wings, which do you prefer? Ask the birds. Fear or love, baby? Don’t say the answer. Actions speak louder than words.” The invitation of Advent for all the people of God can be heard in this song. Are we going to remained caged and fear-filled with our guarded images of God or are we willing to find our wings and truly encounter God?  The gift of our vows is the breaking free if we allow our actions to show forth God’s love wasn’t just in a yes of a woman centuries ago, in a stable one night, in a message by a beatitude toting preacher or on a cross and empty tomb one weekend. God’s love transcends these specific Jesus moments for God is again and again made known in our daily living (no matter how ordinary). As consecrated persons we can, no, we must continue to break open the cages so all peoples can soar on wings and know the joy of healthy, restoring, reconciling relationships. Our vows demand this, our communal life is to express this.

Joy is relational and communal. Our actions this season and in each season of the year should attune us to this truth. Advent, however, is a good time to evaluate how we have done over the course of the past year. New year resolutions are useless if we don’t look to what we have done, failed to do and what we can still do. Advent, as the start of the liturgical year, is a great opportunity to reflect on our living. How has joy been a part of my life this past year? Have I been an artisan of joy? Have my actions built community? Where do I need to be a community building artisan? What parts of my relationship with God have I left caged and locked down? How can I soar to new heights with God on the wings of hope? Am I an artisan of prayer?

Advent will never grow old if we allow ourselves to be caught off guard by wonder, joy and community. We build community in little ways; with the kindnesses this season has come to know but beyond these kindnesses into the living of the hard parts of life. This past year has had its challenges and obstacles, we can’t deny this reality. We have seen the definition of community broaden and maybe even redefined. This may have left us reeling or finally allowed us to trust that we don’t need to be caged. God has never thought we were any ways.

As consecrated women and men, let’s dare to be artisans of encounter this Advent. Like those artisans before us such as Isaiah, Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph, the magi, the shepherds, angels, the founders of our religious communities, saints known only to us, people who blazed the trail or soared on wings for us and so on; let us be encounters of the Divine. With the wonder of this season, the story of God’s desire to be one with us, and with people from all walks of life willing to be community builders, how can we not lift up our heads and be artisans of joy and artisans of encounter this Advent? The choice is ours. How will we walk in Advent light?

God of Encounters,
You invite us into relationship,
desire for us to build community,
and encourage us to be artisans of joy and life.
During this Advent we accept these opportunities
as we “lift up our soul” (Psalm 25)
to you who are our Truth, Way and Life.
Our eyes and hearts are open to encounters with you
no matter where our Advent steps may lead.

Amen.

[1]Trailblazing Formation – Courage in Uncertain Times” The Southdown Institute Virtual Workshop, February 2021.

– Michael Perras, O.F.M.
Brother Michael ministers at Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre. He has been a Franciscan since 2015.

Photo credits: Robson Hatsukami Morgan and Ole Witt

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