Fourth Advent Virtue: Meditation

(December 23, 2018)

Bottom line: Meditation brings together and makes possible the other Advent virtues.

We've reached the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. Each Sunday we saw a different virtue. Today we have the virtue that ties the others together and makes them work. Before saying what it is, I will summarize the first three virtues.

We began with the virtue is patience. Without it we cannot sustain a relationship with God or with any person. Love is patient; patience is love. To grow in patience we should consider fasting. In the bulletin I've written something about that biblical practice. It seems counter-intuitive, but as we celebrate Christmas and look toward the New Year, this is a good time to reflect on the role of fasting in the Christian life. Fasting is delayed gratification, patience.

The second virtue puts patience into practice. It's the virtue of generosity: not so much spontaneous giving, but thoughtful and consistent generosity - what Jesus calls Stewardship. I am grateful for your Stewardship: St. Vincent de Paul, Knights of Columbus, Mary Bloom - and the time, talent and financial resources that make our parish possible. Stewardship is thoughtful, consistent generosity.

Last week we saw that patience and generosity become the building blocks for the third virtue: happiness. It surprises people to hear that happiness is a virtue, a duty we owe to others. Yet St. Paul says, "rejoice in the Lord always". We do have some control over personal happiness and it's one of the greatest gifts we can give to the people we live and work with. For that reason we should pursue happiness. Not so much pursuit of pleasure, but happiness. As our Founders understood it to pursue happiness means to realize ones potential. So pursuit of happiness is really pursuit of excellence.

So these three virtues: patience, generosity and happiness. We now come to the fourth Advent virtue, the one that ties the three together and makes them work: meditation. Meditation could also be called the virtue of prayerfulness or maybe even, mindfulness. Meditation involves setting aside time to focus on what matters most. For us, that means God - or Jesus.

Studies have shown that meditation improves a person's well being: emotional, psychological and even physical. A new field of research called brain science demonstrates this positive impact. We can see this positive impact in contrast to things that damage the brain: opioid drugs, excessive alcohol and pornography.

Viewing porn forms neural pathways that lead to physical addiction. That's the bad news. There is, however, good news. Meditation can actually rewire neural pathways. Scientists have reported the positive effect of repeating some phrase or mantra to the rhythm of breathing.

Let me give an example of a mantra. You may have noticed Sister Barbara and I wore a wristband from the Year of Faith 2012. It has these initials: LJC SoG HMoM aS. The letters stand for Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me, a Sinner. Repeating that phrase, as you slowly breathe in and out, brings a peace that restores the soul and body. Some monks - especially in the East - repeat that mantra throughout the day: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me, a Sinner. Thus they fulfill the command, pray always.

Now, I don't claim any great spirituality. My mind is often jangled, but I know meditation brings peace and restoration. You can find many good articles and books explaining how to take advantage of what they call neural plasticity. Meditation can rewire our minds.

We Catholics have a way that has worked for centuries. I have it right in my pocket - the rosary! Studies suggest that one the best forms of meditation for its effect on the brain is the rosary.

The rosary involves repeating certain Scripture verses, including the one we heard today: Blessed are you among women and blessed in the fruit of your womb.

The rosary brings peace in desperate situations. Last week I mentioned Immaculee Ilibagiza. During the Rwanda genocide, she hid in a small bathroom with 7 other starving women for 91 cramped, terrifying days. She had with her a rosary her dad had given her. She began to pray the rosary constantly. It carried her through and eventually enabled her to forgive the men who had killed her parents and siblings.

Her story - Left to Tell - became a New York Times best-seller. She has since written a book specifically on the rosary. It's one of many books testifying to the power of the rosary. The power ultimately comes from the prayer to God asking Mary's intercession, but it does also have natural power, as modern brain science shows. The question is: Why not try it yourself? Make the rosary part of your daily meditation. Even a single decade can have good effect.

So the fourth Advent virtue is meditation. Mary is the supreme model. As we will hear during the Christmas season, she kept all these things, turning them over in her heart. That's meditation. It brings together and makes possible the other Advent virtues. Meditation enables a person to practice patience and generosity. - to pursue happiness in the true sense, not pursuit of pleasure but pursuit of excellence.

As our Psalm says, "Lord, make us turn to you." Meditation like all virtues is a gift. None of us can achieve it on our own power. We'll see that more clearly on Christmas Eve. Ultimately only Jesus can lift us from darkness and misery. "Lord, make us turn to you. Let us see your face and we shall be saved". Amen.

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Spanish Version

From Archives (Third Sunday of Advent - Year C):

2015: Are You Missing Out? Week 2: Mercy with Justice
2012: The Day of Christ Jesus
2009: Connect with the Ocean
2006: The Affection of Christ Jesus
2003: A Pregnant Woman's Dream
2000: Take Off Your Robe of Misery
1997: They Confessed Their Sins

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New episodes for Summer - Kings and Prophets*

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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron

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