Heart and knees…


Advent Meditation with Saint Alphonsus and Pope Francis

“Heart to get closer to God affectively, with the heart and not only with ideas… This helps to get closer to people with the heart and to think of theology that speaks effectively to everyone… And knees for prayer. Theology is done on one’s knees. But kneeling also indicates the attitude of one who wants to learn…the attitude of one who bends at the feet of the other, before what we call [1]human misery…”.

Solicited by these words of Pope Francis, we would like in this time of Advent to try to draw from the Alphonsian writing some “new” element of reflection and theological and spiritual deepening. In this modest path, we will commit ourselves to approach some of the works that the holy Doctor expressly dedicates to the preparation for Christmas. Specifically, the Meditations For the days of Advent until the novena for the birth of Jesus Christ[2] and, in a small part, the Meditations For the eighth of Christmas and for the other days until the epiphany.

God, out of love, meets the man to be loved
O God, our Father,
arouses in us the willingness to meet with good works
to your Christ who comes, that He may call us beside Himself in glory
to own the kingdom of heaven
(Collect of the 1. Sunday of Advent)

In this first stage of the journey, we will let ourselves be guided by two words “encounter” and “vigilance”. Given the liturgical context proper to Advent, the connection between the word “encounter” and the mystery of the Incarnation is almost immediate. In the 18 texts that de Liguori dedicates to the days of Advent, the theme of the Incarnation is present from the very first meditation, and in this initial writing, we can see, first of all, the initiative of God the Father who – writes Saint Alphonsus – “sent his own Son to become man and to clothe himself in the same flesh as sinful men”. Alphonsus “narrates” the aetiology of this initiative and highlights its salvific purposes.

Man’s creative act and disobedience

God the Father, writes de Liguori, created the first man enriching him with “enlightenment and graces” so that “he would serve and love him in this life” and, again, to “lead him in the eternal life to reign in paradise”. But “the ungrateful man rebelled against God, denying him the obedience he owed him for justice and gratitude” and so, “with all his descendants” he remained “deprived of divine grace and forever excluded from paradise”.

The redemptive act and the conversion of man

God, however, “looking at men reduced to this wretched state, moved to pity, resolves to save them” and “does not send an angel, seraphim, but to manifest to the world the immense love he brought to these ungrateful worms, “send his Son into a flesh similar to that of sin” (Rom 8:3)” so that “with his pains and death he would satisfy divine justice for their crimes, and thus free them from eternal death; and by reconciling them with his divine Father, may he obtain divine grace and make them worthy to enter the eternal kingdom[3].

Vigilance becomes industrious prayer.

It is important to note, in these texts, how the mystery work of the Incarnation is not separated from the mystery of death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which makes us perceive a “projection”, already in Advent, to the Easter of Resurrection[4]. Hence the attitude of “vigilance” that Alphonsus translates into “industrious prayer” in the “confidential conversations” (affections and prayers) that accompany the texts of his meditations: “Dear Redeemer, for the offences that I have done to you I no longer deserve to love you; but I seek you because you deserve them and the gift of your holy love. And therefore let me know the great good that you are, the love that you have brought me and what you have done to force me to love you. Ah my God and Savior, do not make me live ungratefully for so much of your goodness anymore. I no longer wish to leave you, my Jesus. Enough of what I have offended you. It is a reason that these years that remain of my life, I use them all to love you and give you taste. My Jesus, my Jesus, help me; help a sinner who wants to love you[5].

In this brief text, we recognize the fundamental passages of a journey of conversion to the Lord: the initial recognition of one’s condition (I would not deserve…) accompanied by the declared desire and consequent commitment to meet/seek for it (but I seek you…). The latter is based not so much on one’s own strength alone but on the certainty of a Love which, unconditionally, has already given itself (for you deserve it…for the gift of your holy love…) and which must be continually known and deepened (let me know…). Hence the request for help, so as not to live one’s own existence as an ungrateful man, but as a lover, and thus give taste to God. He – Alfonso writes later – “giving us the Son for Redeemer, for the victim and the price of our ransom, he could not give us stronger reasons of hope and love, to give us confidence [in His mercy] and to force us to love Him”[6].

…still food for thought

Many Christians go a long time ahead to prepare the crib in their homes to represent the birth of Jesus Christ, but few are those who think about preparing their hearts so that the infant Jesus may be born in them and rest there. But among these few, we still want to be us, so that we are still made worthy of remaining lit by this happy fire, which makes souls happy on this earth and blessed in heaven. Let us consider on this first day that the Eternal Word became man from God to this end, to inflame us with His divine love. Let us look for light to Jesus Christ and his most holy Mother, and let us begin (Cf. Novena of Holy Christmas, 9-11).

Fr. Antonio Donato, C.Ss.R. 

(original is in Italian)

[1] Francesco, “Intervista per la Rivista Studia Moralia“, in Studia Moralia 58/2 (2020) 219-232.

[2] Cf. A. M. de Liguori,[Meditazioni] Per li giorni dell’Avvento sino alla novena della nascita di Gesù Cristo, in Opere ascetiche, IV: Incarnazione – Eucaristia – Sacro Cuore di Gesù, Redentoristi, Roma 1939, 141-179; [= Avvento]. «La Novena del Santo Natale colle Meditazioni aggiunte per tutti i giorni dell’Avvento sino all’Ottava dell’Epifania, venne pubblicata nel 1758, coi tipi di Alessio Pellecchia, in Napoli. In fine erano aggiunte la Novena al SS. Cuore di Gesù, il Settenario in onore di san Giuseppe, l’Apparecchio e ringraziamento alla Messa per li Sacerdoti. L’edizione veneta del 1760, con alcune correzioni autografe, si conserva nel museo civico di Bassano del Grappa» (Cf. Ibid., 9).

[3] Cf. Avvento, med. I, 141. Cf. Novena del Santo Natale, I discorso, 11-12.

[4] Avvento, med. II, 143-144. Cf. Ibid., med. IV, 149; med. X, 160-161; med. XII, 165-168..

[5] Cf. Ibid. , med. I, 143.

[6] Ibid. , med. III, 10.