December 14, 2009

Advent and St. John of the Cross

You will not take from me, my God, what You once gave me in Your only Son, Jesus Christ, in whom You gave me all I desire.  Hence, I rejoice that if I wait for You, You will not delay.
For St. John of the Cross, the spiritual life, the life of prayer, is part of a great romance of Christ and the Church.  That is, in the vision of this great saint Christ yearns for the Church in a faithful, indissoluble, sacrificial and fruitful way.  This kind of love evokes the response of love, not only in the Church as a whole, but in each of us who allow the Lord's love to touch and form our hearts.  For this to happen, we need to  keep vigil for his coming, and the best way to keep this vigilance is to behave like the betrothed, to live by love alone. 

This message cooresponds with these last days before Christmas.  It is such a beautiful time of gathering together with friends and family.  We find ourselves easily excited and filled with great expectations about what the reunions will be like.  If sometimes we are caught up in a frenzy of buying, this is only because we want everything to be perfect for everyone we love.  At the same time, it is so easy to exhaust ourselves on anxieties, stress, insobriety and self-pity that we do not remember to pray.  In the midst of it all, we forget that this is a time to wait for the Lord, to live simply in His love, and to seek Him in those He sends to us. 

It such a busy time of year, do we really have time to pray?  Yes.  We make time for those things we most value - whatever is the priority of our heart, that we make time for.   The real question is never really about time, its always about our priorities.  When we make prayer a priority, instead of being driven by our commercial entertainment culture, we find ourselves rooted in love, moved to love by the One who comes for us.  

The One who comes for us is sent by the Father as his great gift to us.   He will never take this gift back, but always offers His Son to us in ever new ways, even if we should for a time reject this love.  In the Father's eyes, we are members of the Body of Christ, the Bride He has prepared for His Son from all eternity.  He yearns to see His Son delight in this Bride, and to see this Bride overcome by His Son's love for her. 

This at least is the picture that St. John of the Cross paints in his poem Romances, one of his few works that takes up the themes of Advent and Christmas.  This poem opens up a beautiful mystery, a mystery only those who say 'yes' to the Lord fully see.  In this, the poem invites us to see with the eyes of Mary, the one person above all who was vigilant for the coming of the Lord.  He not only came to her in her womb, but just as important, He came into her heart, just like he yearns to come into our hearts.  To help us appreciate this inestimable gift, the poem ends with Mary holding her newborn child and pondering how men accostumed to sorrow, now rejoice and how God accostumed to perfect joy, has found a way to bear man's sorrows.