The following is a homily given by Fr. Michael-Joseph of Saint Thérèse for the First Sunday of Advent. Be sure to subscribe to the free online Carmelite Advent Retreat with Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Advent is the Carmelite season; it speaks so much to who we are. Way back early in seminary I picked up a little book called John of the Cross, Advent Saint. I can’t remember anything else from this book, but the title at least stuck with me! The Advent themes of silence, prayer, loving attentiveness in the midst of darkness, speak so well of our habitual attitudes and desires as Carmelites. Embracing more fully this attitude for Advent will make us a blessing to the whole Church and the world.
Our Lord Jesus in the Gospel for today is very clear that knowing the exact hour of his coming is not what is important, but that we be found ready-in a spirit of being present to God and his demands on us. As the Carmelite Advent Retreat points out, Jesus’ quoting of the Genesis story of Noah and the flood does not emphasize even the great sinfulness of the world (as the Genesis account itself stresses), rather He stresses the people being focused simply on the things of this life-eating, drinking, marrying (good things!). The ignorance and indifference to God in the face of these human realities is the main issue here. It leads to God being ignored, misunderstood and therefore not loved.
But Jesus Christ is so merciful, He says to us through this season that no matter how dark it gets, you can always return to My presence to allow Me in. In a film I recently watched a character said: “The night is darkest before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.” St Paul says as much in the 2nd reading for today: the night is advanced, the day is at hand, for our salvation is near. This darkness is often our experience; Jesus can seem very far, even from the happenings in the Church. But the dawn is coming! The first reading today promises us that the time is coming when even the people who seem very far away from Christ will cling to us and accompany us because we can show them God.
Maybe this is another special part of Carmel’s vocation. To proclaim amidst the deep darkness and divisions in the Church: “Come let us climb up the mountain of the Lord,” let us get back to simply being present to Jesus Christ, making Him first and His demands on us first. And so for us who are Carmelites or who find inspiration in Carmel, we must get back to this reality ourselves. It is so easy to fill in the quiet spaces in our lives with noise and dark thinking. But our call is a little different. We are invited to constantly return to and embrace the presence of God in quiet loving attentiveness. This is where our Holy Father St John of the Cross comes in again as the perfect saint for Advent. Speaking of people being drawn to this deeper quiet prayer he says:
“The proper advice for these individuals is that they must learn to abide in that quietude with a loving attentiveness to God and pay no heed to the imagination and its work.”
And my personal favorite: “What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite [inordinate desires] and with our tongue [interior and exterior], for the language he best hears is silent love.” (brackets mine)
May we resolve to live well this Advent, with the true ownership of it as being ‘our thing’ as Carmelites. We are very at home with the Advent calls to silence, prayer, and loving attentiveness to the presence of Jesus. And this will help draw the Church and even the whole world to say: “Show us the way to God, let us climb the Mountain of the Lord!”