Advent is the season of the seed: Christ loved this symbol of the seed. The seed, He said, is the Word of God sown in the human heart. “The kingdom of Heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed.” “So is the Kingdom of God as if a man should cast seed into the earth.” Even his own life-blood: “Unless the seed falling into the earth die, how shall the earth be sown?”
The Advent, the seed of the world’s life, was hidden in our Lady. Like the wheat seed in the earth, the Bread of Life was in her. Like the golden harvest in the darkness of the earth, the glory of God was shrined in her darkness.
Advent is the season of the secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of Divine Love growing in silence. It is the season of humility, silence, and growth.
For nine months Christ grew in his Mother’s body. By His own will she formed Him from herself, from the simplicity of her daily life. She had nothing to give Him but herself. He asked for nothing else. She gave Him herself.
Working, eating, sleeping, she was forming His body from hers. His flesh and blood. From her humanity she gave Him His humanity. Walking in the streets of Nazareth to do her shopping, to visit her friends, she set His feet on the path of Jerusalem. Washing, weaving, kneading, sweeping, her hands prepared his hands for the nails. Every beat of her heart gave him his heart to love with, his heart to be broken by love.
All her experience of the world about her was gathered to Christ growing in her. Looking upon the flowers she gave Him human sight. Talking with her neighbours, she gave him a human voice. The voice we still hear in the silence of souls saying, “Consider the lilies of the field.”
Sleeping in her still room she gave him the sleep of the child in the cradle, the sleep of the young man rocked in the storm tossed boat. Breaking and eating the bread, drinking the wine of the country, she gave Him His flesh and blood; she prepared the Host for the Mass.
Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God
Reflection – Today and tomorrow I will offer reflections from this magnificent book by this great Englishwoman, a contemporary mystic who wrote the above words while bombs dropped on London during the war. Her insights into the power of Christ to transform every aspect of our humanity need to be heard against that backdrop of the Blitz and its terrors and privations.
We read this book almost every year during Advent for our communal spiritual reading after lunch – it has become as much a part of our Advent traditions as the wreath and the Nicholas cookies. Since today is the ‘normal’ date for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and tomorrow is its deferred celebration on our liturgical calendar, I thought I would share some of Houselander’s thoughts here.
Her description of Our Lady’s pregnancy is, on one level, the simple objective fact of pregnancy. Any mother, anywhere, at any time, has entered this mystery, and what a mystery it is. That one human being, a woman, can fashion within her being another human being, that the shaping and nurturing of a human life, made in God’s image and likeness, made to live in immortal and eternal splendour, happens in the hiddenness and darkness of the womb of a woman—already this is holy ground, and yet it is holy ground that billions of ordinary women, and the men who love and cherish them, have traversed since the beginning of the human race.
But of course, this Baby who Mary is shaping and fashioning is not only made in God’s image, but is God, is not only destined for eternal glory, but already is the eternal glory of the Father. And so a mystery is introduced into humanity that is meant to implicate the lives of every person who receives Christ, male or female, makes all of our lives a holy mystery before which we should fall prostrate if we had eyes to see it even slightly.
Every human being who is in a state of grace (and we cannot know for certain with anyone if this is the case or not) is shaping Christ within themselves. Or, rather, the Holy Spirit is shaping Christ within this person. And it is precisely through the concrete events of the day that this shaping is occurring. The joys we delight in, the work we labor at, the love we offer, the pain and anguish we endure: all is meant to shape Christ within us, become His joy, His work, His love, His passion—in us.
The season of the secret—well, Advent and the coming of Christ to you and me is certainly a well-kept secret. A secret kept from us as much as from anyone else. It’s probably for the best – if we could see what Christ was doing with our frail, pale lives, we would probably be so paralyzed with astonishment and awe that we’d be unable to get out of bed in the morning.
But it is so – our whole Catholic faith bears united witness to this. Our Lady, being immaculate, cooperated fully and perfectly with this shaping of Christ from our humanity, and so we have what we have—the perfect Incarnation of God through the fiat of a human creature and the action of the Spirit.
We know it’s a bit messier with us—our yes and our no mingle together in a way that makes it all much more difficult. But it is so, nonetheless. This is what every ‘yes’ we say effects; this is the whole action of God in us, to make Christ take shape in our lives so that our lives become His, and His becomes ours, and the glory and love of God can shine forth in us and the world be blessed, and our own lives made secure for eternal joy and light.