Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Repentance and Advent

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published December 5, 2013

The church sets aside two periods every year when we are called to reflect on the meaning of repentance and to act on it. Both periods, Advent and Lent, urge us to take stock of our lives, find out what is missing, and to go about finding it. And such is the way we prepare our hearts for the great feasts of Christmas and Easter.

We are now into the season of Advent. We have four weeks to focus on our lives and what they mean in the light that shines from a birth yet to come. And perhaps that is what we are called to ponder. The light is already shining on us. It is a light we can never lose, for it is a living part of us. But for a good part of the year, we may be too busy, too preoccupied, to bask in the mystery that burns brightly in the life of every human being who has been born into the world.

There is no chasing after the proper meaning of this light. It is right in our midst, within us and all throughout our world. What might help to see it, maybe even bask in it for a while, is the relaxed effort to be still, to look back and remember, and then to simply look around.

It is kind of like making the invisible come into view. It is a trust in the many and ordinary ways God makes his light shine through the beauty of human life, human activity.

And there are many places you can look.

Think back on growing up and all the love that was poured into you. It was, in most instances, a wordless, but very real and effective loving.

Your parents named you with joy. They held you tenderly, with a love that could never be as well expressed in words. They clothed you, schooled you and prepared you as best they could for life’s journey.

And as you entered this big world, you met countless people who eased your way with kindness, patience and tales of their own ups and downs. The word “encouragement” is a beautiful word. It basically means to give heart to, to support, to uplift. These gifts we often look to God to provide. And provide them he does, all through our lives, through the kindness of others. We are bearers and sharers of grace. We impart God’s light to each other.

Our Father Augustine gave a beautiful homily this morning in which he quoted St. Francis of Assisi. Francis told his followers to spread the light of the Gospel, and, if they felt compelled to do so, to “use words, if necessary.”  In other words, the immeasurable flow of light that shines in this world every second of life illumines all that we are and know without the need for words. The best words we can ever hope to say are those that point to the wordless presence of God in our midst.

God is beauty. God is truth. God is goodness. God is sublimity. All seemingly such lofty things, until we pause for a while, look within, and see that these are living mysteries of our hearts.

Take some time this Advent and simply rest, and remember. God wants to tell you something—that he is already there, in your life and mine, waiting for us to better see him. He wants us to see where and what Christmas really is—not a calendar date but a human mystery that dwells within each of us.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at