byMost Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
All during our lives we look forward to things and events that are going to make us happy. Whether it be relatively small, such as going on a vacation, or more significant, such as getting a degree from college, we are always looking forward to something. When that event arrives, we automatically look forward to the next. Sometimes, we have the impression that there is that one thing that will completely satisfy us to the point that we will never need to look forward to something else. Every parent knows the situation of the child who wants a new toy and promises, “If you buy it for me, I will be so happy with it that I will never ask for anything again!” Every parent knows that never happens. We all know in our own lives that there is never that one thing, no matter how much we look forward to it, that satisfies us completely. There is always a better vacation. There is always the position after the college degree and the better one after that. There is always something more and we never seem to get to the point where we are completely content.
That yearning inside of us is something that God put there. While all the things that we look forward to are good, it is ultimately God who is the only one who will satisfy the yearning inside of us. Nothing in this world, no matter how wonderful and satisfying it may be, can ever take the place of God. It is for Him that we are looking and that is why there is always something beyond the good we have achieved. St. Augustine put it so well when he stated at the beginning of his famous work, The Confessions, “You have made me for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
Advent is a season that reminds us of our continued anticipation during life. It is filled with expectation as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas. However, that preparation for Christmas can be a very hectic one that leads to frustration and, for some people, even a sense of loneliness and “feeling down.” We sometimes get the idea that there is the “ideal Christmas” when families sit around in perfect harmony, everybody gets the perfect gift and everyone is happy with it! We all know that that never happens.
Advent provides us the opportunity to realize that our hearts are indeed restless and will not rest until they find God. Indeed, only when we see God face to face in heaven will our hearts be completely satisfied. However, Advent also reminds us that, while we look forward to the celebration of the Birth of Christ and the coming of His Kingdom with anticipation, Christ is already here and our hearts can rest in Him. Advent is a season of waiting in anticipation for God but it is also a season which rejoices in God’s arrival and presence. In a very real way, Advent sums up all of our lives.
During the wonderful season of Advent, we need to take the time to realize God’s Presence among us. We need to see Him in all of the people and events that come into our lives and especially in prayer, the sacraments and the “Sacrament of sacraments” – the Eucharist. Indeed, our hearts are restless and the only thing that calms restlessness is another heart. That heart is the heart of God Himself. Perhaps, the Lord said it best in His words, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:28-29).
During the Advent season, we are reminded that the Son of God took a human heart through Mary. When the angel announced to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Messiah and she faithfully accepted God’s will, at that moment, the Son of God became incarnate in her. Christ’s heart beat in her. By becoming one of us, Christ also took our heart to Himself. He shared our human nature in everything but sin. Truly, in the Incarnation, through God’s initiative, the heart speaks to the heart in the most intimate way.
Let us be more attentive to the restlessness of our hearts and their seeking for something more. However, let us realize our seeking can be fooled into thinking something less than God can satisfy our yearning. Even all the joys of a wonderful celebration of Christmas will not satisfy the deepest yearnings of our heart for God. Our yearning in this life makes the present time worthwhile only when we realize that yearning is for God. When we realize that He is present with us now and will be fully with us when we come to His Kingdom, then our hearts find rest. The heart speaks to the heart in the quiet of prayer and here we find the beginning of our rest.
On the first Sunday of Advent this year, Pope Francis reminded us of the necessity of prayer in our lives. He stressed that prayer keeps us focused, even in the most difficult times. The Pope expressed that we must never neglect prayer and in order to keep ourselves vigilant we should, during the season of Advent, consider the simple prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus,” the prayer of the heart.
As we continue our journey during this midpoint of the Advent season, we recognize the yearning of our hearts and pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
December 10, 2021