A good guide for us this Advent is Simone Weil (1909-1943) — the French philosopher whom T. S. Eliot described as "a kind of genius akin to that of the saints."
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Weil was a Jewish woman who became a Christian mystic. Fascinated from her childhood with the Gospel commandment of love of neighbor, Weil painstakingly practiced self-sacrificing charity, even to the point of limiting her personal daily allotment of food to that prescribed by World War II rationing, so as to be in solidarity with the afflicted French people under Nazi occupation.
Her love of the Catholic Faith was fostered by encounters with priests like Dominican Fathers Joseph-Marie Perrin and Edouard Couturier. She recounts a dramatic mystical experience:
In a moment of intense physical suffering, I felt, without being in any way prepared for it, a presence more personal, more certain, more real than that of a human being, though inaccessible to the senses and the imagination. Christ himself came down and took possession of me. I felt in the midst of my suffering the presence of a love, like that which one can read in the smile on a beloved face.
We want that certain, most personal Presence of a love to take hold of us this Advent. How can we help it happen? Weil gives us this counsel:
The infinity of space and time separates us from God. How shall we seek for him? How shall we turn towards him?... We cannot make a single step towards heaven. God must traverse the universe and come to us. But in fact anyone who consents to orient their attention and their love outside the world, toward the reality situated beyond every human faculty, is given to succeed.... Across the infinity of space and time the infinitely more infinite love of God comes to possess us. God comes in his time. We have the power to consent to welcome God's love or refuse it.
Weil is entreating us to give our attention to divine wisdom. No wonder, then, that the first of the great O Antiphons of Advent implores, "Come and show your people the way to salvation."
Desire, oriented toward God, is the only force capable of raising the soul. Or rather, God alone comes to possess and lift the soul, but only desire obliges God to descend. God only comes to those who ask God to come — those who ask often, for a long time, and ardently. God cannot prevent himself from coming to them.
This desire is expressed in the ancient traditional Advent plea Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! Or in the words of the O Antiphons, "Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid" — you who are the "desire of the nations" and "the only joy of every human heart."
The attitude that brings about salvation does not resemble any human activity... It is expectant waiting.... The slave that listens before the door to open it when the master knocks is the best image of it. He must be ready to die of hunger and exhaustion rather then changing his attitude.... We must not do anything but wait expectantly for the good and depart from evil.... I realized that Christianity is the religion of slaves, that slaves cannot help belonging to it, and I among others.
We wait like the father of the prodigal son, searching the horizon for the certain return of his beloved child. Our Advent vigilance will pay off in dividends of virtue, for "every time that we truly pay attention, we destroy evil in ourselves." Like famished, eager, listening slaves, we beg through the O Antiphons: "Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness...and lead your captive people into freedom.... Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free."
Simone Weil died at the age of thirty-four from tuberculosis, and she is buried in the Catholic section of the cemetery in Ashford in Kent, England.
Father Peter John Cameron, O.P. "A good guide for us this Advent." lead editorial from Magnificat (December, 2017).
Reprinted with permission of Magnificat.
Father Peter John Cameron, O.P. is Editor-in-Chief of Magnificat. He is also a playwright and director, the author of more than a dozen plays and many books including: Mysteries of the Virgin Mary: Living our Lady's Graces, Made for Love, Loved by God, Praying with Saint Paul: Daily Reflections on the Letters of the Apostle Paul, Jesus, Present Before Me: Meditations for Eucharistic Adoration, and Benedictus: Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI.Copyright © 2017 Magnificat
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