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This season of longing

Father Lou DelFra | Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The title promises a story about this football season, so I should come clean up front – this is the weekly Faithpoint article.

As we approach the season of Advent – it begins this Saturday night – we do so, surely, with many wants. We want the semester to be over. Or we want a paper to write itself while we sleep. We want the Irish in a Bowl game, in a warm and fun place, and, please God, we want to win it. We want more time with our friends, preferably without study obligations. We want a job. We want Christmas break. We want our family’s Christmas traditions, even (and, secretly, maybe especially) the cheesy ones. If we have lost a loved one recently, we will feel over these holidays that we want them back with us. We want to be close to our families. Or, if there is division in our family, we want our family to be at peace for the holidays. We want joy to overwhelm our sorrow.

As we look inside ourselves, we find – what we always find – that we are teeming with wants and longings.

Those of you who study marketing need no convincing of this. It is one of the primary motivations we have for buying things – a gnawing sense of our incompleteness. Every sidebar ad that pops up on our computer screens makes some attempt at reminding us of what we don’t have – but could, if we click this flashing box. Incompleteness, and unfulfilled desire, is an inescapable human reality. And it rarely lies dormant…

Our faith teaches us that there is a reason for our longing. Deep in the heart of our Judeo-Christian spirituality is the realization that we humans have a deep emptiness at the center of our being. And this emptiness longs to be filled. This is our foundational story as the People of God. That once upon a time, in Eden, we had lives of perfect contentment and union with our Creator. A snake and an apple later, however, we had been cast out of the Garden. And ever since, we have carried within us an incessant ache to return home, to that place where our deepest contentment beckons.

The stories of our Scriptures are filled with this human reality of longing for something more. Abraham and Sarah are lured away from their home to wander after a Promised Land. Moses and the Israelites in Egypt flee, in the middle of the night, on a desert journey, because they long for freedom and a land to call their home. All the prophets we will hear from in these next four weeks of Advent – none more aware of the sheer depth of his longing than Isaiah – kindle and rekindle the flame of our desire: “You want, you need, you long – and One is coming.” Finally, John the Baptist, tipped off in Elizabeth’s womb that the One has taken flesh, grows up breathless and breathing fire. He can no longer contain his longing, and, as we hear in the Advent Gospels, begins to shout, almost maniacally, “Turn and see, the Kingdom of God is at hand!” John is the personification of Advent – this season of our longing.

Through the sacraments and liturgical seasons – like this season of Advent – the Church takes existential realities that are always and everywhere occurring, so much so that we can almost forget them, and lifts up and celebrates them in specific times and particular places. So, for example, we believe that it is always and everywhere the case that God is nourishing and sustaining our lives. This is so much the case – as true as our knowledge that oxygen in the air we breathe is constantly keeping us alive – that if we didn’t stop to celebrate that reality, we would be in danger of forgetting it. (For, we must admit, it is not often we say thanks to God for the gift of oxygen.) So, at 10:30 p.m. in Dillon Hall every Sunday, or at whatever specific time in whatever particular place, we celebrate the Eucharist, and are fed by the life of God.

The Season of Advent might helpfully be understood in a similar way. It is always and everywhere the case that we humans are incomplete, and therefore in a constant state of longing. This is so much the case that it would be inhuman, indeed dangerous, not to acknowledge this longing explicitly for a specific time. That is, if we don’t somewhere and sometime explicitly acknowledge that we are a people longing for nothing less than union with God, we run the risk of seeking fulfillment, consciously or unconsciously, in all kinds of ways that ultimately frustrate our hearts’ deepest desire.

Here we see the gift of these four weeks of Advent – our season of longing. Contemplate St. Augustine’s most famous words: “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, our hearts are restless, until they rest in you.” Gaze upon Bernini’s statue of the Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila, as she experiences union with Christ her spouse. (You can Google Image it.) These are examples of why the Season of Advent is such a powerful season for us. Advent is the season where we acknowledge our deepest longing -and set our hopes of fulfillment on the One who alone can complete us.

Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, is the director of Campus Bible Studies in the office of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at delfra.2@nd.edu

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