As I write this we’re getting ready to celebrate the end of the liturgical year and the beginning of Advent. Thinking about the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, or hell is always sobering. But it also encourages me to remember the love and mercy of God who never leaves us abandoned wallowing in our sin, but in the words of The Hound of Heaven pursues us with “those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with unhurrying chase, And unperturbed pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy They beat.”
Always, always Jesus pursues us with outstretched arms that invite us back when we stray. And we, of course, can pursue others as well. What else is prayer for someone but a reaching out to touch them – and much more effective than a Hallmark card. Prayer works even when nobody knows about it! I had a graphic illustration of that when I was praying for a friend who wasn’t going to Mass. I sent her some letters and when she told me she returned to Mass I thought my letters influenced her. But when I brought it up, she told me she hadn’t read them yet. She didn’t feel ready. So it wasn’t anything I said or wrote to my friend; it was the action of grace. What a lesson in praying without ceasing for those we love.
I once heard pro-life champion Joe Scheidler share about his son who had stopped going to Mass. Joe didn’t nag him. He simply began going to Mass every Sunday twice – once for himself and once for his son. He followed that course for seven long years. “With unhuurying chase” he pursued that lost child until the prodigal returned to the faith. Is that not the image of the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine and goes in search of the lost sheep and the faithful father watching with love and hope for his son’s return so he can kill the fatted calf and rejoice that his son who was spiritually dead was alive? The God who made heaven and earth loves us! Such a reality is almost beyond comprehension. Perhaps that’s why so many don’t believe it. St. Augustine Is their model. Enamored by creation and its pleasures, they are blind to the beauty of the Creator. Like Francis Thompson, author of The Hound of Heaven, Augustine fled the Lord. “sore adread, lest having Him, I should have naught beside.” Finally, captured by Love Incarnate, Augustine, like Thompson, on fire for God wrote, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace”
Should not we, like Augustine and Thompson, burn for the Lord? Should we not say with the psalmist, “I long for you like the deer longs for running water.”
This Advent let us pray every day for the grace to desire the Lord with an undivided heart and soul – to burn for love of Him. How will we know if our prayer is answered? By the depth of our desire to serve Him. Love isn’t a noun, but an action verb. When St. Ignatius sent St. Francis Xavier as a missionary to India where he would burn himself out like a candle bringing souls to Christ, Ignatius exhorted him, “Go set all on fire!” St. Teresa of Avila, who reformed the Carmelite order and founded many contemplative houses throughout Spain, begged the Lord to make her a “burning furnace of charity.” The Lord sent fire on the apostles to fill them with a flaming zeal for souls. Jesus calls us to burn with thirst as He did on the cross, a thirst to convert the whole world. Will we respond to His call?
Advent is certainly a time to ponder and plan. We know the harvest is great and the workers are few. Let’s join the laborers and do all we can, like the little shepherds of Fatima, to save poor souls from hell! In the course of that ministry, we’ll no doubt save ourselves!