The Third Sunday of Advent [A]
Isa 35:1-6, 10 + Jas 5:7-10 + Mt 11:2-11
December 11, 2016
“The desert and the parched land will exult….”
No one is prouder of his home state than I am. But although I was born and reared as a Kansan, as I’ve had the chance to travel through other parts of the country, I’ve had to admit that the beauty of our state is not the same as that of other parts of the country. The beauty of Kansas is simple, subtle, and understated. It’s no wonder that when the first explorers came to this part of North America, their report to those back east labeled this area “The Great American Desert”.
But in fact, the beauty of our state is like the beauty of Advent. Both are rooted in the virtue of humility. There are many virtues through which we grow in our spiritual lives, but each virtue has its proper place, and humility is the virtue of those journeying through a desert.
For the spiritual life itself is a journey. In between conception and death stretches a long path, along which we are called to exercise many different virtues, such as temperance, fortitude, justice, prudence, faith and hope. Each offers some spiritual fruit to nourish us as we travel through desert territory.
But all of these virtues lead ultimately in only one direction: into that perfect love which is called charity, or in the classical language, caritas. Saint John tells us that this caritas is the very nature of God: God is love, he says simply. Saint Paul tells us that this caritas is the greatest virtue, without which every other virtue is empty and meaningless. Nonetheless, sometimes we have to return to the basics. Advent offers us a chance to rediscover what Saint Augustine called “the foundation of all other virtues”: the virtue of humility.
All of the other virtues of our moral and spiritual life grow out of the “spiritual soil” of humility. Humility is laying ourselves bare: it’s really nothing more than honesty about who we are and where we figure in the scheme of things, which is to say that we are nothing without God.
This is why Advent is a penitential season. We seriously examine our consciences, go to Confession, and are reconciled with God and neighbor. This is so because only by admitting how much we are in need of God’s grace can we be ready to accept God the Father’s gift of His Son sincerely. Only with humility can we hope to draw others into the sweep of God’s love. If we allow ourselves to be loved by God and admit what a beautiful thing that love is, we want others to share in that perfect love of caritas. But you cannot force God’s love, or throw His love, into the lives of others. The only way for people to be first drawn into the mystery of its simple beauty is through humility.