“In my God is the joy of my soul.”
On this Gaudete Sunday, this joyful Sunday, the theme of identity figures centrally in our readings. Most predominantly, today’s Gospel asks John the Baptist, “Who are you?” His response takes us back to last week: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’” as Isaiah the prophet said.” John expresses an identity bathed in the light of Christ. He is known in relation to Jesus, and by his place in the coming of the Kingdom of God. Without the Lord, John’s path is indiscernible.
The voice of Isaiah that John references is one fully in love with God. “I rejoice heartily in the LORD,” it exclaims. “In my God is the joy of my soul.” A direct result of that love is reflected both in John’s actions and in those described in the Old Testament passage: “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD, and a day of vindication by our God.” The missionary spirit of Isaiah, rejoicing in its role, understands itself only in relation to God and, as a result, in relation to all living creatures.
When I was in graduate school, my program offered an understanding of becoming that is at once individual and interconnected. It strikes me now as a voice borrowing from these Advent readings. Colleen Moore, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame M. Div. Class of 2004, is credited with the definition we used:
“Formation, or conforming ourselves to God, is not only about confirming who we are, but also about risking who we are not yet and allowing others to do the same.“Colleen Moore, M.Div.
Our journey toward Christ necessitates honest self-reflection, the kind of trust in God that moves the most stubborn feet across the floor, and sees ourselves as God’s instruments in the lives of those around us. The fruit of spiritual growth is the “stuff” of this world, meaning that the deepening of our joy in God is made known through our lives and of those around us.
For two of those three years, I lived in one of many large, weathered houses in the heart of South Bend. Fellow students, recent graduates, and young professionals composed an entire street brimming with life. Imagining them elicits an irreplaceable warmth, and in my mind, South Saint Joseph Street will always symbolize what it means to know someone and feel known.
As a way of being present to one another, my roommates and I often gathered for evening prayer on Sunday nights. Hung on the wall of our living room was a prayer composed by Thomas Merton. It is one of identity and direction, and it is one I return to time and again. It reads,
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
Merton’s prayer is one of desire. It is of a person walking in the dark with dulled senses. It tempts despair without succumbing to it. It is the cry of anyone who has ever felt lost. And it is wholly rooted in the person of Jesus, just as we heard from Isaiah and John the Baptist. The contemplation of the Christ child this Advent Season, of who Jesus himself is, is inextricable from the discernment of ourselves. In preparing our hearts to receive our Lord, we come to know Jesus more intimately. We also come to know ourselves and the Source of the joy within us.
A few days ago, as I was driving home with two very sleepy children, we started to talk about waiting. “Advent is about waiting. It’s a time to prepare your heart for Jesus’s birth,” I said, not expecting much of a response. Without hesitation, my daughter replied, “I prepare my heart every day.” Sometimes my children cause me to question that graduate work I romanticize so easily. Their words and actions can reflect truth better than any theologian.
As we move one week closer to Christmas, Lucy is right to remind us that while Advent is a time of renewal and contemplation, both of Christ and ourselves, we must also let it set us on a path forward. May this Advent Season help us to prepare a room for Christ both now and each and every day.
Meg Costantini | Campus Minister