As it has been the custom for many years now, the Maltese Capuchin Province has organized the Advent retreat. This venue chosen for this year’s retreat was the Carmelite Retreat House of Lunzjata (The Annunciation). This special retreat house is found at the limits of Rabat. Being practically in the middle of the Maltese countryside, the Lunzjata Retreat House is a special place wherein one can pray in silence whilst being surrounded by a spectacular rural habitat. Certainly such an environment offers an ideal place for a retreat to done in an ambiance that is conducive to meet the Lord.
This year’s retreat was led by Fr Brendan Gatt, the present Judicial Vicar for the Ecclesiastical Tribunal of the Maltese Archdiocese. Fr Brendan started off by saying that we all live in comfort zones. And, these places of comfort can easily distract us from seeing God’s view of reality. The biblical text that underpinned his advent reflections was taken from the First Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians:
So that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ; who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor 1,7-9).
As Pope Francis rightly affirmed during his Angelus address of 8 December 2013: “For this time of Advent is a time of waiting for the Lord, who will visit us all on the feast, but also, each one, in our own hearts. The Lord is coming! Let us wait for him!” But who are we waiting for? After all is not our life an advent? Thus, within the context of advent, each one of us is called to ask himself and herself: Am I in the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ?
The subtle temptation when God’s Word speaks directly to us is that of abdicating from our personal responsibility. It is so easy to look outside of ourselves and just pinpoint the evil that exists out there. Around us! Like the pharisees and the scribes of Jesus’ time, we can become excellent at finding other people’s faults. Or like the famous Judge Claude Frollo, in the Hunchback of Notre-Dame produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation for Walt Disney Pictures in 1996, who ardently longed to purge the world of vice and sin so much that he saw corruption everywhere except within!
Yet, when we indulge in such a destructive behaviour we simply obliterate what Psalm 51 squarely tells us: For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me (Ps.51:2). If that becomes the fallacious norm of our lives, then Jesus’ rebuke will surely befit us: Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matt.7:4-5).
Again, the thorny questions creep in once more: Are we still waiting or are we fed up? To whom are we waiting for? Are we eager to meet Him? Are we really thirsty for the Lord?
The prophet Isaiah laments to the Lord: Thy holy people possessed thy sanctuary a little while; our adversaries have trodden it down. We have become like those over whom thou hast never ruled, like those who are not called by thy name. O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down (Isa.63:18―64:1). Thus, in my sanctuary have I let the strangers to come in? Have I let the world’s values to take the place that solely belongs to my intimacy with the Lord? Which is the mighty mountain, … the many-peaked mountain (Ps.68:15) which is reigning in my life? Am I letting the Lord ruling over the ‘priorities’ that are taking the front seat in my life? Do I permit the Lord to rend my heart?
World history keeps being awestruck at the subtle way of how the Son of God, God incarnate, entered into our world. The great British writer, lay theologian and academic, C.S. Lewis, marvelously explained this fascinating insertion of Christ amongst us. In his theological book which is an adaptation from a series of BBC radio talks he delivered from 1941 and 1944, at the heart of World War II, whilst he was at Oxford, Mere Christianity, Lewis wrote: “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”
How ugly and horrible is the world without God! And how appalling we ourselves become when, deep down into our being, we notice that God is not there! The American novelist and filmaker, Tiffanie DeBartolo, in her novel God-Shaped Hole, writes: “We’re all searching for something to fill up what I like to call that big, God-shaped hole in our souls. Some people use alcohol, or sex, or their children, or food, or money, or music, or heroin. A lot of people even use the concept of God itself. I could go on and on. I used to know a girl who used shoes. She had over two-hundred pairs. But it’s all the same thing, really. People, for some stupid reason, think they can escape their sorrows.”
What is that something that we really need to fill up that God-shaped hole? Many people say love. Let us see what the English novelist, Louis de Bernières, wrote in his 1994 historical novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, concerning love:
“Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and, when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.”
But who and where are our roots? Where are they entwined? Are our roots rooted in Jesus Christ, [who] is the same yesterday, and today and for ever (Heb.13:8)? Or are they rooted in man [who] is like a breath, his day are like a passing meadow (Ps.144:4)?
If Christ is the one we are rooted in, let us heed to St Paul’s exhortation that we find in his letter to the Colossians: As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (Col.2:6-7).
In his homily at the Mass he celebrated for the Congolese community, on the First Sunday of Advent, 1 December 2019, Pope Francis noted that consumerism “is a virus that afflicts faith at its root because it makes you believe that life depends only on what you have, and so you forget about God Who comes to meet you and those around you.” Rather, Jesus Christ, “the Lord [who] is coming, is the root of our hope, the certainty that among the tribulations of the world, God’s consolation comes to us; a consolation that is made not of words, but of presence, of His presence that comes among us.”
Am I ready to be rooted in this true consolation?