“The only worthwhile striving is after the highest ideals: If you aim for an easy target, your standard will inevitably decline, and no progress is ever made, except through real effort and real suffering.” - Servant of God Fra' Andrew Bertie                                                                                                                                                 "Work as if everything depends on you, pray as if everything depends on God" - Saint Ignatius of Loyola

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REPORT - ADVENT RECOLLECTION - MEDITATION BY FATHER DOMINIC ROBINSON SJ

We are greatly privileged to be able to publish the meditation given by Fr Robinson, for the benefit of members of the Order unable to attend last Friday's evening on the feast of our Lady of Liesse.  The evening began with sung Mass in Latin in the Ordinary Form, in the presence of the Grand Prior, and finished with Last Friday devotions and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
‘A favourable time for the rediscovery of a hope that is not vague and deceptive but certain and reliable, because it is "anchored" in Christ’.  Pope Benedict at his homily for 1st Vespers of the 1st Sunday of Advent in 2007.  For me it encapsulates what Advent is all about.  Advent, explains the Pope as he goes on in the Homily, is a time of expectation, characterised by ‘a movement of the human heart reaching out to the God who responds in the incarnation with that incomparable gift of which we are certain, the gift of hope itself fulfilled in the coming of Christ’.
  
What did the Pope mean?   The Pope’s inspiring words reflected the message of his recently released Spe Salvi (‘Saved by Hope’), Benedict’s second Encyclical, in which he called us back to recognize the treasure we have in the gift of Christian hope.  Here he called Christian hope the virtue of all virtues. Without it, said Pope Benedict, the Christian cannot move anywhere.    
It is, however, in his first seminal encyclical Deus Caritas Est, on Christian love, that we find the basis for his vision of hope.  The hope of the Christian is grounded in the relationship between God and us.  And what does this mean? In the incarnation the God-man beckons us out of our longing to find our hope completed in the gift of the Son.  It is where our desire – what the Pope calls eros love and God’s agape love meet.   
Let’s place these theological ideas in the context of our current liturgical season.  As we recommence the liturgical narrative at Advent we are embarking also on a theological journey and cycle.  The opening acts are played out on a stage which connects with humanity’s original quest and God’s definitive answer to this.  We are reliving the drama of human desire and of unconditional love, or as the Pope terms it in Deus Caritas Est of eros and agape.  This is why Advent for Pope Benedict is ‘the primordial season of the human heart’.   
Reflecting on this we might wonder too at the overall gift of a fresh Liturgical Year.  Advent gives us a fresh start as our hearts set out on a new journey.  Once again, although we know for certain that God will come, will die for us, and rise again at Easter, we are called to see our need of God, to long for our salvation, and to celebrate that as a free gift which not only completes who we are as human beings, but also tells us all about the longing of God to reveal himself to us.   
In Deus Caritas Est Benedict reflects on the nature of our eros love, of our longing, of desire for God’s coming as Beloved.  The Pope plays with this word eros and places it in a drama of Christian love which is completed in the Easter event, the culmination of the drama of human hope, expressed infinitely in the agape love with which the Christ we long for gifts our world which in all its raggedness yearns for the embrace of such a God.   
In Deus Caritas Est agape and eros come together in a new way.  We might think that eros is egoistical, a selfish grasping loving.  Benedict, however, rehabilitates eros as part of the God-human dynamic as he speaks of how this love of ardent desire is also, in a certain sense, within the very being of God himself in Christ.  The love of desire, says the Pope, is the love of the Logos, ‘a lover with all the passion of a true love’, yet this love, finding its fulfilment in God’s becoming one like us in Jesus Christ, ‘is so purified as to become one with agape’.   
God in Christ knows the yearnings of the human heart, of our desire for completion. Our Advent hope is thus assured and joyful.  It is a favourable season of true hope because Christ is truly to be one with us.  For the Pope this graced time when we celebrate our human yearning for God’s coming is integral to life’s Christian pilgrimage.  Perhaps, we might say, this liturgical time which might seem to celebrate more eros than agape is, through God’s definitive answer to our quest in the gift of the incarnation which will be sealed in the sacrificial feast of the Lamb at Easter, a lived expression of the mutuality of agape and eros love.  Both eros and agape, says Pope Benedict, ‘-ascending love and descending love- can never be completely separated.  The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the nature of love in general is realized.’   
These reflections, however, are not just for Advent.  For the Pope this theme of agape and eros is clearly chosen as one which can speak profoundly to the contemporary world of what is at the very heart of a proper understanding and living out of the dignity of the human vocation rooted in Christ.  He intends to bring us back to Christ’s love for us so we may look at ourselves, loved infinitely by him, and called forward to reconnect with our desire for what is on our infinite horizon, the hope of glory.   
As we turn our hearts and minds once more to the God who will come again as one of us and as we set out again on our liturgical pilgrimage towards Christmas and Easter we might reflect on how the grand narrative of desire and gift, of ascent and descent, of nature and grace, which the Liturgical Year expresses with such eternal beauty, is a vibrant treasure of our Catholic life.  Moreover, contemporary theological discourse needs a similar dynamic to be played out in its own theatres.  The narrative of hope, the incarnation, and journey towards the point of it all – the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection, show us in itself how the lover and the beloved are called to be in a mutual relationship in which the beloved is called to be actively engaged and so gradually discover his true destiny.   
So in Advent we place ourselves in the drama played out in the encounter of our desire for transcendence with Christ who meets us and gives to us the inestimable gift of certain hope.  As Pope Benedict assures us ‘[R]edemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey’ (Spe Salvi, Introduction).  
[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at Solemn Vespers for the First Sunday of Advent 2007.
[1] Ibid.
[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2007).
[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2006).
[1] Ibid., # 26.
[1] Ibid., # 7.