Advent Meditations: “Feed on Goodness”

One of the mottos of the Dominican order is contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere: contemplate and give to others the fruit of our contemplation. (I love this motto, so much.) In that spirit, here’s some Advent meditation for you. 

The first Wednesday of Advent has one of my favorite readings in the Office of Readings, or matins. It’s from St. Bernard, and I’m posting it all here, because it’s important for my “contemplation”, and it’s really good stuff:

The Three Comings of the Lord

We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.

In case someone should think that what we say about this middle coming is sheer invention, listen to what our Lord himself ways: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. There is another passage of Scripture which reads: He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God’s word. Where is God’s word to be kept? Obviously in the heart, as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.

Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.

Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.

If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you. The Son with the Father will come to you. The great Prophet who will build the new Jerusalem will come, the one who makes all things new. This coming will fulfill what is written: As we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly man. Just as Adam’s sin spread through all mankind and took hold of all, so Christ, who created and redeemed all, will glorify all, once he takes possession of all.

The bolded part is a part I really enjoy. In Come Lord Jesus, Mother Mary Francis uses “feed in goodness” as the starting point a chapter conference. She relates it to our physical appetites (what we should be eating for health) and relates that to our spiritual life, and our spiritual appetites.

“What are some of those ‘junk foods’ of the spiritual life?” Mother asks her sisters. She lists several of them:

  1. The “Greasiness” of self-pity, which eats away at one’s spiritual life, which “slows down the spiritual heart”, much like too much bad fat can have a negative effect on the body.
  2. Abundance of “spices…well, is this not impatience in the spiritual life? Impatience and irritability, the junk foods of the spiritual life, provide pleasure by the moment and destroy us by the hour.”
  3. Sentimentality–“I have sweet thoughts, and I have sweet resolutions–and that’s it. I often do not get to anything deeper than that.” This will not take us far into the spiritual life. Mother says we want to ” ‘feel’ good when we pray…living on the upper surface of of our life, without really going down into the depths of it…we can do that in the spiritual life, and then get to the place where, if prayer doesn’t taste good, I don’t pray…I don’t make the effort.”
  4. Desiccated food: the lack of generosity. “Each one’s share is everything she can possibly give,” Mother counsels. “If we are not giving the full share, then we are feeding spiritually on a dried-out diet.”
  5. Poisoned food: uncharity. “We are eating poison if we are fostering unking thoughts, uncharitable remembering, playing little records of criticism within us.”

So how to we counteract these unhealthy practices? Mother has answers for her sisters, and for us, too:

  • Instead of sentimentality, perseverance in prayer. “What does it matter how I feel? It is God I am concerned about, just to be there with him, to respond to him in all kinds of weather.”
  • Gratitude instead of self-pity. I’ve talked about that a lot! “To be so grateful that God thought of creating me; that God thought me worth redeeming.”
  • Total giving, instead of “Desiccated, nutrition’s food of holding back.” We “give everything that is asked of me, and more than is asked of me.”
  • Sweetness and gentleness (“which is always one of the characteristics of real strength”) instead of impatience and irritability, and
  • Love instead of uncharity. “Love, in season and out of season.”

These are things we can work on all the time, not just in Advent, but in Advent these things take on special qualities, because the Church is emphasizing these things in her prayer, her liturgy. It’s worthwhile to “feed on goodness”, to find “right nutrition”, as Mother Mary Francis says.