The other evening, I was watching a World Cup match with a priest friend of mine who is 80 years old. He leaned in towards the TV to read aloud a quote that appeared on the screen. “You Can Be Anything .” He said, “That’s a lie.”
Even though it is a lie, marketing experts are bright enough to know something about the human heart. They know that the human heart has infinite desires. Every human heart desires to be more, to possess more, to live more. And every human heart feels deep within itself the incapacity to fulfill those desires.
The world, the flesh and the devil all try to capitalize upon these desires of ours. They tell us that “You can be anything” or, “you can do whatever you want.” It goes right back to the Garden: “You can be just like God.” As we all know, we cannot be anything we want to be.
But the desires of the heart are still relentless and restless. Advent affords us an opportunity to turn our attention to the crying out of our heart. To pay attention to that ache that exists within each one of us. The ache that comes from longing for fulfillment, but always feeling incapable of achieving it.
Advent does not tell us we can be anything. But it reminds us that we CAN be what we were made to be. Advent is a season of memory. It invites us—once again—to remember that we were made to be the friends of God. We were made to have union with Him. The Devil, the World, and the Flesh all do their best to distract us from this truth. They cloud our memory and leave us grasping at straws. Advent begs us to remember. To remember that the answer to our heart’s infinite desires is none other than the infinite God who comes to us in Jesus Christ. And that Christ alone can heal the human heart so that it can attain the fulfillment of its desires.
We all begin Advent wondering, “What should I do?” “What should I do to make this Advent a good Advent?” I’d like to propose one possibility. It is to imitate the centurion in today’s Gospel. He had a look upon reality that was true. He felt things deeply and he acted boldly.
He looked upon his servant and was moved with pity for him. He didn’t gloss over the situation. Instead, he looked at this man with sympathy. He saw the pain of a man who was made to walk, but was prevented from doing so. This man is an image of every person. We all are made for more, but struggle to move forward. The centurion feels this tension deeply. And see, what he does. He goes to Christ. He does not tell the servant to try harder to walk. He does not give up on the servant. He does not become angry at the servant’s incapacities. He goes to Christ. He puts all of his hope in Christ.
The gospels are filled with examples of people who seemed incapable of becoming what they were made to be. The woman caught in adultery, the man left for dead by robbers on the side of the road, and Zaccheus. But Jesus entered their lives and healed what was broken.
Advent is a time to feel once again these infinite and glorious desires that God has placed in our heart. And to feel again the anguish of our incapacity to fulfill these desires. And to renew our confident hope in the coming of the One who alone makes us able to walk towards our Destiny.
When we live Advent in this way, it transforms us to become bearers of hope for others. It makes us able to look at others with this intense sympathy. Everyone desires more. Everyone desires to be more. Everyone desires to live more. And everyone feels a certain hopelessness. Everyone feels incapable of ever satisfying these desires.
Advent affords us an opportunity to look upon everyone we encounter with the eyes of sympathy, with eyes filled with hope. When we look upon someone in this way, we awaken hope within them. Our gaze reminds them that they are not merely an accumulation of their faults, weaknesses, and incapacities, but rather a person called to greatness. Our gaze upon them can awaken within them the hope that Christ will bring to fulfillment the desire of their heart.
And of course, this all is possible because Christ does this for us. Every day, we come to the altar and we feel deeply our incapacities, our failures, our weaknesses, our sins, our faults. We echo the words of the centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy.” And from this altar, Christ looks at us with sympathy and with love. In the Eucharist he comes under our roof, he brings us healing remedies that make us able to walk again . . . to walk amid the passing things of this world, so as to love the things of heaven and hold fast to what endures.