The 4th Sunday of Advent- The Homily
In his recent book, How Dante Can Save Your Life, Rod tells the story of how he moved himself and his family from the big city back to his small hometown in Southern Louisiana. That move resulted in a dark season in his life. He became depressed and physically ill with chronic Epstein-Barr syndrome, a form of mononucleosis. Finally, after testing, a rheumatologist said that there was nothing more deeply wrong with him, that he definitely had the disease, but this was caused by intense stress. The doctor asked, “What are you stressed over?”
Rod told the doctor about brokenness in his family and how he had come all the way back to his hometown in search of some kind of insight, forgiveness and healing.
The Doctor said, “You’ve got to leave Louisiana or you’re going to destroy your health. Rod said, “I can’t do that. My family is here. Besides, I’ve moved my wife and kids too many times.” The doc replied, “Well, you had better find inner peace some way or you’re not going to make it.
Soon afterwards, Rod was in a bookstore and saw Dante’s Inferno. He pulled it off the shelf, opened it up and read the first lines or the first canto of the Inferno,
“In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself in a dark wood, for I had lost the straight path,”
Dreher thought, “That’s me. He’s talking about me,” and he kept reading. … not like a literary analysis; but like a man who was trying to save his life. Five months later, I came out the other side and the Lord had healed me, I believe, through this poem.
Dreher called this “Bibliotherapy.” He later wrote:
Dante revealed to me that I had placed family and place on a high pedestal. I gave them the place in my heart that belonged only to God, and I didn’t see this because I was a Christian, am a Christian, have been a Christian most of my life. If you had asked me, “Are you putting anything above God?” I would have said, “No,” but in fact I was. When I was able to repent of that actively, intentionally and consciously, a floodgate of grace opened up and that’s when the healing began.
We are in a moment now in the West that’s akin to the fall of the Roman Empire, when everything went into chaos. At this time, a man named Saint Benedict of Nursia left the chaos of Rome and went into the woods to pray. Without really knowing what he was doing, he founded a community of men dedicated to prayer. This eventually became the Benedictine order of monks, and over the next centuries – as Europe was covered in barbarian darkness they kept the faith alive throughout centuries and laid the groundwork for the rebirth of a Christian society during the Middle-Ages, the Renaissance and beyond.
Like the culture of Benedict’s time, Elizabeth was “suffering barrenness.” Like Benedict she also was “celebrating anticipation.”
- One woman is very young – one is incredibly old.
- Both women bare children of significance.
- Both children are not born “according to the book.”
- Both are around people who are rather confused yet mesmerized about the entire situation (and in both cases, at the top of the list are their husbands).
The country is not ours anymore. This is not our culture anymore. Maybe it never was our real home, but we have got to prepare ourselves and our families and our churches through intentional living, through disciplined living, and through an awareness of the cultural moment to deal with perhaps even persecution.
(Unfortunately too many Catholics, and especially younger ones) don’t have the strong sense of the faith, not only in terms of what they know, but in terms of the way they live, their habits. The huge problem is that, they don’t have a strong enough sense of the faith to withstand the power of this culture that is rapidly moving from culture to politics to law.
Elizabeth was suffering barrenness but also celebrating anticipation. Dreher was suffering barrenness but – through one simple action, reaching up, pulling a book off the shelf and reading just the first paragraph, Dreher could also celebrate anticipation. He feels that the entire society need to have some kind of mystical encounter with Christ to pull us out of the pending “dark woods.” He also feels that Christians living an intentional lifestyle can act as a beacon to this new type of living. For this lifestyle, Dreher coined the term “The Benedict Option.” It is based on six Benedictine principles:
- Prayer and work
It’s not about pulling away from the world like monks. It is being fully in- and engaged with – but not “of” the world. when you don’t shop on Sunday, when you don’t let you kids touch any electronic devices for entertainment purposes after dinner, when you pray as a family, people will think you are a little strange – much like the neighbors and friends and family of two pregnant women, one old, one young 2000 years ago. But, like almost 1,600 years ago, choosing this “option” might save our culture and have immeasurable benefits to our lives and our souls as well, from a place we least expect it.
Listen to the words of St. Ambrose:
When she hears the news about Elizabeth, Mary sets out for the hill country. She does not disbelieve God’s word; she feels no uncertainty over the message or doubt about the sign. She goes eager in purpose, dutiful in conscience, hastening for joy.
Filled with God, where would she hasten but to the heights? The Holy Spirit does not proceed by slow, laborious efforts. Quickly, too, the blessings of her coming and the Lord’s presence are made clear: as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting the child leapt in her womb, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Elizabeth is the first to hear Mary’s voice, but John is the first to be aware of grace. She hears with the ears of the body, but he leaps for joy at the meanin
g of the mystery. She is aware of Mary’s presence, but he is aware of the Lord’s.
God is love and love is always on a mission. God has a plan – always. And you – are the plan.
The audio version of the homily is here: