In his homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis reminds us, “Isaiah addresses the people who have passed through a dark time, that have undergone a very hard trial; but now the time of consolation has come. Sadness and fear can make way for joy, because the Lord Himself will guide his people on the path of freedom and salvation.” During Advent season, the Church, especially in her liturgy, encourages us to take a spiritual and moral inventory to be prepared and purified for the Nativity of Christ. That we may experience a “pass over” from darkness to light, from sadness and fear to the joy of the Incarnation and the freedom of salvation, the examination of conscience and confession of sin, makes us cooperators in the intentional healing that occurs with the Nativity of Jesus.
As we read in the Catechism, “a person’s conscience is our most secret core and our sanctuary. There we are alone with God whose voice echoes in our depths (1776).” When you are alone with God what “echoes” of His voice do you hear in your heart? Do you invite Jesus into the rooms of your heart that are messy or downright ugly? When you examine your conscience, are there areas in your life where you feel stuck in habitual sin? Human nature is fallen but we are not helpless.
Fallen man is self-centered; we orbit around ourselves instead of around God; and in this state we are in “enemy” territory. Satan is the Tempter (1 Thes. 3-5); and as he originated the fall of man, so he still directly influences us to reject grace and commit sin. This is his ordinary mode of action (1 John 3:8-10). The devil, by deception and psychic violence seeks to imprison us in his own separation from God. If an evil spirit tempts us to sin, if we yield to sin, how can we not be united with that evil spirit at some level? In Matthew’s Gospel (5:37) we learn, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Saying “no” to temptation is often very difficult because in truth, we do not want what God wants for us.
Most Reverend Robert Carlson’s Pastoral Letter on Penance entitled, “Jesus Christ, The Divine Physician,” quotes a reflection by Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Lord, Make Me Want!”
Sin is precisely this: that I do not want what God wants. And I can’t see how this opposition on my part could be broken. I can’t see how this prison wall, which holds me captive, could be pierced through. I know precisely what I ought to do. You’ve often told me yourself, the priest has told me, I have told myself. This, then, is not what is lacking. The will is lacking: the being able to want. There is a will in me that wants and there is another will in me (the same one!) that does not want. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do. I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. What a wretched man I am! Thus it is that I am rent apart in my innermost will. And this is why I cry out from the depths of my prison of unwilling, “Make me want!”
The effects of personal sin contribute to the increasing collective oppression that humanity experiences in this hour. What can be done then? We can ask the Holy Spirit to give us a deep and continual desire to want what God wants for us. We can implore the Holy Spirit to strengthen our will to practice habitual virtue instead of habitual vice. We can put on the full armor of God to resist the fiery darts of the evil one (Ephesians 6).
Advent is a time to de-clutter our heart to make room for the new arrival of Jesus Christ. We can be intentional about cooperating with grace to heal our sin sickness. I use the following list during retreats, and share it with the hope that it is helpful for some.
Examining 6 Areas for Intentional Healing
- Your heart: are there areas within that are darkened by recurring anger, bitterness, envy, unruly competitiveness or resentment? Do you manage anger by “exploding” or “imploding”? Possible roots of anger include: perfectionism, pride, control, envy, insecurity, unrealistic expectations leading to disappointment and negativity. Invite Christ to come into the messy areas of your heart to transform them.
- Relationships: Is there someone you need to forgive? Is there someone you need to ask forgiveness from? Are you striving to love the most difficult people in your life, or do you simply avoid them? Are you in relationships that are disordered, illicit, co-dependent and not of God? Do you live in fear of what others think all the time? Are you true to God, yourself, family, and friends? Invite Christ to be the center of all your relationships, and to heal them according to His will.
- Idols: What catches your eye in life? What or who dominates your thoughts? It is obsessive preoccupation, escapism, or addiction to shopping, television, Internet, gambling, food, alcohol, sex, travel, recreation, sports, exercise, or work? Are you impulsive, compulsive, obsessive and out of control in any of these areas? What would it mean if these areas were to become balanced according to God’s will? Possible root causes include: boredom, frustration, loneliness, self-sabotage, escapism. Invite Christ into the areas of disorder and ask Him to heal the root cause of the symptoms for complete renewal.
- Lust: Do you watch programs on TV, explore the Internet or read books that are inappropriate? Does this lead to unwanted, sinful thoughts and behaviors? Possible root causes include: 1) your longing for God has shifted to lust, 2) lack of contentment is feeding a need for immediate gratification or perpetual excitement, 3) lack of self-control and immaturity can lead to rebellion and flippant disregard for God’s law of love that requires purity of life. Ask the Immaculate Conception to defend you in the battle and help you to attain purity of life. Be pro-active in finding resources to help you.
- Laziness (sloth): Are you lazy in areas of personal health, family relationships, or work? Are you slothful in seeking God or being attentive to your spiritual life? Root causes may include: lack of self-discipline, immaturity, low self-esteem, selfishness, or lack of integrity. Invite the Holy Spirit to fill you with the dynamism of Divine Love. Seek to renew your relationship with Christ, especially in the Eucharist.
- Intellectual Pride: Are you stubborn, controlling, insensitive, cynical, contentious, opinionated and slow to say you that you are wrong? Do you judge others harshly simply by appearance? Intellectual pride has a need to always be right whereas humility admits mistakes and readily confesses faults. Possible root causes includes: unruly egoism, selfishness, poor self-image, fear and insecurity. Invite Christ into your intellect and will to heal the root cause of any intellectual pride and ask for the grace and virtue of humility.
Our yes to God prepares the way for God’s healing touch. The Lord Jesus seeks to be welcomed into the messiest areas of your life because His arrival always brings order where there is disorder, light where there is darkness. His Presence brings a new beginning. The beauty of Advent season is that something new and amazing is happening—Jesus is coming! The Nativity of Jesus brings the fulfillment of the promise, healing, gifts, possibilities, life and love. The Word Incarnate is the Father’s provision for aching, fallen humanity. The Father sent His Son Jesus to earth for the intentional healing of the human family.
“Love me!” is the cry of every human heart because we are made to love and be loved. There is something unique in each one of us—a special communication of the Word of God given to the world. The Eternal Father intends for us to become bearers of the Gift of God for one another. This is the experience of being loved—that there is room in someone else’s heart for me! There is a place in someone’s heart where I am welcomed, noticed, affirmed, received—therefore I can trust. The Sacred Heart of Jesus is such a place!
Jesus is coming clothed only in the vulnerability of a Child. Are we willing to be vulnerable too? Advent season is a time to foster a new longing for Christ who longs to meet us in the manger of rebirth. Let us pause to notice Him who cannot cease to notice us first. His love is intentional and healing. Come, Lord Jesus!
For more resources on the subjects of healing and the offering of suffering, please visit: www.foundationforpriests.org