Advent: True and False Renewal

By Christian Bergmann

How do we achieve renewal in the Church?

This is a question that has been with the Church since her infancy. Remaining faithful to Jesus requires, after all, a heroic sanctity that refuses to settle for mediocrity and banality. Such sanctity demands, in turn, the kind of humility demonstrated by Mary in response to the angel Gabriel; a fiat, a trustful yes to the work of grace even when it terrifies us. Even when we don’t know what God is up to. Even when he leads us into intense suffering.

But, mediocrity is the easier road. And as the Church we walk that road often.

Every day.

It was not for nothing that Jesus presented to us two paths: the wide and easy path, and the narrow, more difficult path (Matthew 7:13-15). Three guesses which one Jesus associated with discipleship.

We sense this mediocrity within ourselves. We sense the need to rise above our vices, our sins, everything that wants to maintain the security of our personal status quos. We sense our own atheism.

Especially within the Church. The Church is supposed to stand for something more, isn’t it?

Something higher?

Something more noble?

Something more beautiful?

The beginning of Advent has got me thinking. This season marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. The old has passed, the new is here. What is so strange to me, however, is that this new season does not come with any of the things I associate with renewal.

A new beginning usually comes with a fresh burst of energy. A new mindset. A renewed excitement and inspiration for the big things ahead of us.

But not Advent. Advent, surprisingly, is a new season that begins by encouraging us to slow down. To take a breath. To collect ourselves. To prepare.

This goes against almost every fibre of our modern existence. Even when it comes to the life of the Church, we associate renewal with fresh energy, new activities, new programs, the constant doing of things to shake people out of their complacency.

But what if this isn’t the true source of renewal?

If there are two books I could recommend to you, it would currently be these: The Day is Now Far Spent, by Cardinal Robert Sarah, and Christus Vincit, by Athanasius Schneider.

In both of these books, these men make a profound observation: that maybe all of our frenetic activity actually hides a spiritual void inside of us. We don’t want to confront the emptiness inside of ourselves, so we cover it over with constant hyper-activity.

Maybe Advent teaches us something fairly left of field: that if we want renewal in our life and in the life of the Church, it won’t come by doing more things. It won’t come by a hyper-activity that makes it look like we’re more vibrant, more interesting, more exciting.

It will come by slowing down. By occupying a space of contemplation, where we meditate not only on the past – on the dramatic intrusion of grace into human history that occurred in the advent of Jesus Christ – but on the future, too; on his coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead. And wondering how we can prepare. It is in this space of contemplative preparation, where in the interiority of our hearts we succumb to God’s grace, that true renewal can begin. Where a new season can take root.

In other words, through a more prayerful existence.

But, we don’t know how to pray anymore. I don’t.

Lives saturated in technology and distraction are lives not centred in prayer. They are lives incapable of prayer. And when we lose the ability to pray, we lose the ability to hear God’s voice and see him work amongst us.

This Advent, I will be trying to slow down. To shed myself of distraction. I will be trying to shake myself out of my own mediocrity by doing the thing I know least how to do and the thing I least want to do: sitting in silence before the Lord wondering how to prepare for his coming in glory.