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2017 - Advent Reflection: Our Hearts are Restless, O Lord, Until They Rest in You

2017 - Advent Reflection: Our Hearts are Restless, O Lord, Until They Rest in You

Reflection by Fr. Lou DelFra, C.S.C. - Director of Pastoral Life

Our human story, as we well know, begins in Eden, where we enjoyed perfect relationship with God, with ourselves, with one another, with creation. But a snake and an apple later, and most everything had been lost. This rather inauspicious origin story of the human race ends with the dramatic final lines of Genesis, chapter 3:

“So the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden…. And after God drove them out, God placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden, cherubim and a flaming sword swinging back and forth, to guard the way back to the Tree of Life.”

It is that penultimate phrase – “to guard the way back” – that makes me wince. It is such a terrible, definitive separation – God not only casts Adam and Eve out from their home, but the way back is definitively closed. 

So, what is our human condition, based on such a story? It is one of “separation,” “homelessness,” “alienation.” A life of “wandering” and “seeking,” Of longing for what we once had, of longing for our home – yearning for the right relationship with God, with ourselves, with one another, with Creation . . . a recovery of what we lost, a return to home.

Welcome to Advent – the season of our longing. We are a people who longs to be whole, and home, and at one again, and because we are none of these things yet, we must have a time… to groan in longing.

If the Church has been accused from time to time of repressing our deepest desires, she certainly must be acquitted in regards to Advent. For, look, at the core of our existence is separation, alienation, homelessness – AND, importantly, the longing to overcome these things.

Surely this last piece – the longing – must be present, or God would not have had the need for that nasty cherubim with the flaming, swinging sword, preventing us from sneaking back in. Surely God knew, since He had made us in his own image and likeness, that we would spend our lives – sometimes tenaciously and heroically, sometimes lukewarmly and dejectedly – trying to get back. 

This is all a way of saying what St. Augustine captured in 11 words (probably less in Latin):

“Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.” 

It seems critical that we have this season of Advent, a season for a non-repressed recognition of our deepest longings. For if we do not recognize them from time to time – and see what it really is that we are hoping for – we run the risk of trying to fill our agitations with all kinds of things that will not do the job.

The season of Advent is a time to acknowledge, both that these longings exist, but also that these incomplete parts of our lives are precisely the places where God has promised to act, and to open up a way home. Happy Advent! Come, Lord Jesus!

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