This week’s Advent prayer is from Karl Rhaner, S.J. (1904 – 1984), a German Jesuit priest and theologian.
Now God says to us What He has already said to the earth as a whole Through His grace-filled birth:
I am there. I am with you. I am your life. I am your time. I am the gloom of your daily routine. Why will you not hear it? I weep your tears – pour yours out to me. I am your joy. Do not be afraid to be happy; ever since I wept, joy is the standard of living That is really more suitable than the anxiety and grief of those who have no hope.
I am the blind alley of all your paths, For when you no longer know how to go any farther, Then you have reached me, Though you are not aware of it.
I am in your anxiety, for I have shared it. I am in the prison of your finiteness, For my love has made me your prisoner.
I am in your death, For today I began to die with you, because I was born, And I have not let myself be spared any real part of this experience.
I am present in your needs; I have suffered them and they are now transformed.
I am there. I no longer go away from this world. Even if you do not see me now, I am there.
My love is unconquerable. I am there. It is Christmas. Light the Candles! They have more right to exist then all the darkness. It is Christmas. Christmas that lasts forever.
Happy Friday, everyone! For Friday Favorites, we have a collection of Advent posts for you to savor as we wait the last, long week before the Christmas feast. We wish you a joyous season and all of God’s blessings.
Thanks be to God, through whom our consolation overflows in this pilgrimage, in this exile, in this distress.
This is one of my favorite quotations from the history of the Church, uttered by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), a Cistercian monk, abbot, and theologian. I love it because it touches on one of my favorite themes, pilgrimage. I recently discovered that the quotation comes from St. Bernard’s Sermons on Advent and Christmas. I’m excited because one of my favorite sentiments turns out to be part of the Christmas story!
The quote is about more than pilgrimage. Here and elsewhere, Bernard places heavy emphasis on the theme of exile. Throughout his sermons he often uses the word “exile” to refer to our sojourn on this earth. As exiles, we are wanderers who do not have a true home. We walk a hard road, filled with suffering. We are in distress.
But then. Then! Bernard precedes the sentence quoted above with this statement: “The kindness and humanity of God our Savior appeared.” In the person of Jesus, God appeared at Christmas (and was made known at the Epiphany). And this changed everything. Through his humanity, Jesus joined us in our exile. Bernard says:
He Who is glorious and transcendent in His own city, and beatifies its citizens by His presence, became little and humble, when in exile, that He might rejoice the exiles.
This is why Bernard says, “Thanks be to God!” At Christmas, Jesus came to us in our exile. To rejoice us and give us consolation.
And because Jesus came, our earthly journey has a different flavor: our exile has turned into a pilgrimage. A pilgrim, as opposed to an exile, knows where to point her feet. She does not wander aimlessly and dejectedly but has a destination. She’s headed home, and so she is filled with hope. Many of us travel home for the holidays (or at least we did before the pandemic) or take refuge in our family and our home. In a similar way, every step in our Christian life leads toward a home that is the biggest refuge of all. When we get there, we’ll be welcomed with warmth and a meal and rest for our weary feet.
This isn’t some sappy sentiment meant to minimize our current distress. Goodness, our poor world seems to know nothing BUT distress these days. Our road can be bitter and our suffering great. Yet we now walk this road with hope because Jesus points the way home – and walks home with us.
This Advent and Christmas, we point our feet first to Bethlehem to welcome this child born to show us the way. And then we begin walking home. But not alone. Thanks be to God! This Christmas, Jesus has joined us on our long journey.
May God rejoice you on your pilgrimage this year.
Friends . . . if you’re interested in exploring the themes of exile and pilgrimage as they relate to our journey of faith, I hope you’ll check out my book that’s releasing on Feb. 2: 3000 Miles to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life for Spiritual Seekers. It’s all about the hope we have as spiritual pilgrims. You can head over to my website to see more info and to preorder. Thank you and blessings – Lisa
Have you noticed that journeys abound everywhere you look in the Christmas story? Mary and Joseph journey to Bethlehem. Then they take the infant Jesus to Jerusalem forty days after his birth. The wise men journey from afar. And the Holy Family flees to Egypt.
And what about us? Well, the Incarnation sets us on a journey, too.
In ca. 1378, the Italian mystic Catherine of Siena wrote:
You see this gentle loving Word born in a stable while Mary was on a journey, to show you pilgrims how you should be constantly born anew in the stable of self-knowledge, where by grace you will find me born in your soul.
This passage is from St. Catherine’s Dialogue. In the passage, God is instructing the soul. Notice, first, that God calls us “pilgrims.” You pilgrims. Hey, you pilgrims! Mary is not the only one on a journey this year. We are, too. We’re on our way to the stable, and we’re going there, in Catherine’s words, to be born anew.
To be precise, we will be “born anew in the stable of self-knowledge.” This phrase sounds remarkably modern. But by self-knowledge, I don’t think Catherine means “finding ourselves.” She means knowing ourselves as we can only truly be known . . . and that is through our rebirth in Christ. Even on a daily basis, we can be renewed in our spirit and regenerated in our heart by traveling to the source. To the stable. Born into Christ, into his great love, we know who we are and we know whose we are. This is surely one of the great yearnings we experience during the season of Advent – to see Christ come into time, into a hurting world, and make us new and tell us who we are.
In The Magnificent Defeat, Frederick Buechner speaks of this journey of renewal. Riffing on The Wizard of Oz, he writes, “For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning…” What he describes here is like a rebirth – an acquiring or knitting together of all the parts we need to make us whole.
Both Catherine of Siena and Frederick Buechner really speak to me this year. I’ve been feeling so fragmented, so pulled apart by circumstances and people and the warring desires of my heart. For me, rebirth means to be knit together as a whole creation. When this happens, I will not become something or someone entirely new. I will be most fully myself. This is Catherine’s “stable of self-knowledge.”
I like the way Catherine rephrases her thoughts on birth at the end of the passage quoted above. God says, “you will find me born in your soul.” To be reborn in Christ is to have him be born in our soul. It is a double birth.
If Christ is born in us, we can then bring him forth into the world. We can bring the love of Jesus to our neighbors, our friends, our family, and to our hurting communities. In his commentary on Luke, St. Ambrose said, “Christ has only one mother in the flesh, but we all bring forth Christ in faith.” Our own rebirth helps birth Christ for a world in need.
So this year, I am making a pilgrimage to Bethlehem. I hope you’ll come with me. We will travel to the stable like Mary so that we can find God born in our soul. And we’ll travel as our own broken selves so that we can be born into new life. Jesus and us, born on Christmas day.