This evening at our 4pm mass, the final candle on the Advent wreath will be lit. Advent, our time of waiting and preparation ends or rather reaches its fulfilment. As part of our preparation, Thursday saw our final Adults’ Advent group. We looked at the Gospel and quotes from Blessed John Paul II on our theme of Love. This week things were a bit different as we had a long time for personal, silent prayer, and then discussed as a group. If you weren’t at the group you might want to take some time yourself to read the materials we used.

Here are some of the things individuals noticed (as much as my memory allows):

Love brings openness. People often talk about “give and take” in relationships. However “giving and receiving” better describes the nature of love. ‘Take’ is possessive. In the descriptions of Love, we again encounter the expansiveness of God (which has appeared in each o f our sessions.) The quote about vocation reminds us that love is ‘written into our DNA’, it is at our core, central to who we are as human beings- summed up in Blessed John Paul II’s sentence “God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion.”

Looking at the quote about the Blessed Virgin Mary, one person noticed a path or sense of calling in the nature of love. Mary is our model of how to love. We do not follow our vocation to love on our own. Love assumes and requires relationship and is an important part of our calling as is to trust God and let go of those things that get in the way. Our vocation to love, can sometimes feels heavy and difficult, but when we give ourselves over to encounter love we discover an overwhelming joy.

One of the recurring phrases that were noticed was about of God’s promise.

Our vocation is to fulfil our unique way of loving and this is always outward moving.

Personally, I was struck, in the prayer time and in the discussion of this feeling of openness. Whatever scripture passage or quotes we have looked at, each session has had this sense of God’s all encompassing joy and love that was particularly evident in the readings in this session. In each session it has brought out an awareness of the tensions and obstacles in ourselves and also puts them in perspective. They seem very small and insignificant compared to the faith, hope, joy and love that God offers.

Towards the end of the discussion we looked at the final quote from Blessed John Paul II. This was part of an address in San Francisco in 1987. The context struck us. It was at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, in a city where promiscuity was rife and where many were shouting words of condemnation. In steps the Pope, as Persona Christi, and chooses to talk about the over powering love that is God. Remembering the atmosphere around AIDS in the ‘80s it was striking that John Paul II calls people to encounter a God who “loves all of you, boundlessly, without distinction.” There is a call to turn from sins but not the angry, hate filled rant that was so common. Instead the Pope talks about hoping “for the grace of conversion, when we have sinned.” Reading this quote, years later reveals the nature of Christ’s love for humanity. The quote we had ends “Cast away you doubts and fears and let God’s compassion draw you into his heart.”

For me, the session drew to a close with the awareness that this is what has been growing in me this Advent: a longing for the God who loves us with an expansive, vast and generous love. I go in to Christmas with the joy that comes from knowing that I will see this God, in human form in the manger on Christmas morning.