By Fr Peter Fitzsimons
WE began the new liturgical year on December 1. The focus on Advent is on Our Lord Jesus Christ, to celebrate His first coming as a child, and to better prepare for His definitive coming.
Not only did we begin the new liturgical year, but Pope Francis also gave us the great gift of his first apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel.
Similarly he invited us to seek Jesus, “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus … I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her.”
He assured us that the “Lord does not disappoint those who take the risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realise that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms”.
All of this is an echo of the very first point of the Catholic Catechism which tells us: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man.
“He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength.”
We have a longing for God because God has written it into our nature. He has made us to want to love the infinite, which is Himself.
Material things, even people, are finite and they can’t satisfy the longings of our heart. We all know how we can desire some particular new piece of clothing, a new electronic gadget or phone, a particular form of entertainment but how, after a while, we lose interest in it.
Only God can satisfy our hearts totally. An example of this is shown in the life of a young woman who was living a high-stress lifestyle in the early 1990s: running a successful international business and raising three children.
She had no particular religious practice to speak of because she had given up Catholicism when at university. At the same time, medical treatments for a debilitating injury had proven ineffective so she turned to yoga.
She commented that, “Over months and years of yoga practice, my health improved, my body became stronger and more flexible, my injury healed, and my stress level decreased.
“These positive effects encouraged me to go further: I adopted vegetarianism and became certified as an instructor.
“The deeper I got into yoga meditation, the more it became clear to me that the centre of the silence was a longing for something – or, rather, Someone – beyond yoga. Ultimately, it was not an experience of myself, or even self, I was seeking; I wanted to be connected again to Christ.
“Christian meditation involves a focus on Christ. For me this became much more fulfilling than yoga. All the emptying gained from yoga practice now seemed to necessitate a filling up with something or, rather, Someone, who is Christ.
“I continued to teach yoga for a few years after my return to the Church. But yoga’s philosophy became increasingly difficult to reconcile with Christian faith. Ultimately, I could not go on with yoga teaching.
“I appreciate its health benefits and the techniques I learned for quieting the mind. Yoga does not, however, answer the deepest longing that I found at the core of all this work on myself: the worship of Christ.”
How do I fill up that longing for God?
Through coming to know Our Lord Jesus Christ in reading the Gospels, in prayer and in the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and confession, and finding him in and through my ordinary life – my studies, my family life, my social life so that we can say with Pope Francis, “I have the joy of encountering Jesus”.
Fr Peter Fitzsimons is a priest based in Sydney.