The Mystery Of The Church In Advent

Advent is a season for us to rediscover the mystery of the Church. She is the Bride who awaits the Bridegroom with eager anticipation. The shining glow of a secret joy glistens in her eyes. To glimpse her fierce majesty is to be drawn into her invincible dynamism.  For she awakens a longing that nothing can overcome and in the deepest center of the heart, brings to birth a new certitude.

The Bride knows, in a way that no one else can know, the truth and goodness that the Bridegroom imparts, and each new gift that he gives makes her yearn for Him all the more. Conversely, without the Church, we are deprived of the passion that the Christian faith demands. We can only strain for what lies ahead as we learn to see the goodness of the life that He has given us now. The life of the Church spans the “here and now” with an eternity of new beginnings so that as she journeys, He makes all things new.

His Bride knows more than any other with what unsearchable riches He floods the heart. If she teaches us to fast and to renounce otherwise good things, it is only so that we will be hungry and open for better things. Of all things, knowledge of Christ is best of all. It is a knowledge that suffers His obedience in the whole of one’s entire being, even into its deepest abyss. If this excelling knowledge becomes too much to hold in and one suddenly needs to surrender and let it flow out, it is because those who draw close to her mystery are overtaken by the same joy and heartache to which the Bride of Christ too has surrendered. When we allow it, what flows out can change the world.

Conversely, disobedience to God obscures our vision of the beauty of the Bride even to the point that all sight of her radiance is lost. In the face of the gross mediocrity of her shepherds or else the cold hypocrisy of her members, it is possible for the soul to fall into a kind of spiritual shock that closes the eyes of the heart. Under this blinding spell, one might still practice many different kinds of piety, but does so–at least, to some extent–extra ecclesia, outside the Great Mystery, or at least only on its outskirts. In a certain way, all of us, to the extent we are not obedient to Christ, allow ourselves to be subject to this spiritual blindness. Only through embracing the obedience of the Bride in our own lives do we see the Church the way Risen One sees her.

 

Not ever to see what the Lord sees can only be the greatest tragedy in this short life of ours. This vision of the Bridegroom–that loving gaze that sees possibilities that eyes still subject to death cannot see–sees the truth of His Mystical Body. What He sees delights Him to the point that nothing could ever overshadow the joy that He has in the Bride given to Him by the Father. If only we will allow Christ to show us the truth about his Bride, if only we will enter into the mystery of obedience that he lays open for humanity, that very joy that He shares with her becomes ours too.

At a time when hope is tested and the bonds of friendship are often forsaken, we need this joy–that joy that Christ and His Bride share together. This is the joy of faithful love–and all faithful love that is good and true is as an icon of this great love the Christ brings into the world. Loneliness and alienation are not the last word of our lives– an uncommon love awaits us if we give Him space in our lives to reveal it.

If someone has left the Church, ask Christ to show you His Bride anew. He does not wish to hide what He came to raise up with Him for eternity. Instead, He yearns that we might share in this sacred mystery – the flashpoint of holy humanity joined in communion with Him.  Advent declares that fullness of life awaits those who will walk with this Virgin, Bride and Mother, and learn to see with her eyes the Risen One who comes for her.

Glorious Mirror of that Dawning Splendor
Living Witness of yet to be seen Brightness
Shadowed power magnified terrible and tender
In that heart pounding gaze
Of Him who comes.

Across every distance and through each age
On the Wind of ageless processions
Into the bosom of Threefold Oneness
Those deep currents surging
Towards Him who comes.

She steps through those meaning filled silences

Of hearts given, suffering
Unfamiliar tensions, resolved
Only in what secret harmonies find,
fasting, kindliness and truth’s trials,
For His Bride. He cries:

Come Beloved, bathed in My Blood
Rise up immaculate and free,
Loving you first, I surrendered to your love
Until whosoever joins your journey Advent,
Comes to Me, and, with each new maranatha, I come.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

This article originally appeared on SpiritualDirection.com and appears here with kind permission.

Anthony Lilles

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Anthony Lilles is co-founder and Academic Dean of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation and also serves as the Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Theology at St. John’s Seminary. He is a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary where he was Academic Dean for nine years. Dr. Lilles has provided graduate level courses on a variety of topics including the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Healing, Church History, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Direction and on various classics of Catholic Spirituality.

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