An Advent Retreat: Yours for the Asking
If God has served so much goodness for us, what are we waiting for?
Last week, we reflected on the decisions about life that our finite allotment of time demands we make. We considered the moment of Sister Faustyna Kowalska’s decision about her own life, taken at a dance as a result of a vision of Jesus asking her, “How long shall I put up with you and how long will you keep putting me off?”
Today, I want to introduce another Polish woman: Zofia Tajber (1890-1963). She was declared a “Servant of God” in 1993.
Tajber, like Kowalska, also considered religious life and also met familial objections. Her family went even further: they gave her Voltaire and Nietzsche to read instead. Having a good voice, she decided to pursue a singing career and spent four years in music, from Kyiv to Warsaw to Berlin.
And then she had her kairos, her “moment,” what she calls her “conversion.” She describes it in her work, “A Description of God’s Action in My Soul” (Opis działania Bożego w mojej duszy). Let me quote a passage (translation mine):
I remember that, from the first moments of my conversion, just when I understood that God’s coming into this world as man and all the sacrifices that He made were because He so loved the human soul and assigned so great a value to it; when I understood that all [those] spiritual riches had been merited for our souls and that He only waits for somebody to seek for and reach out for those riches! Oh! He already had me beside them, day and night, because I constantly attired myself in them. And sensing that God liked my dressing up in his Divine jewelry, I [decided] to do so, as far as my spiritual and mental strength made possible. … It came to the state that, whenever I thought about something — for example, the Lord’s Passion — I immediately said, in a way pleasing to the Lord God, that it was all my property: every one of Jesus’ sufferings, which He merited for the salvation, sanctification, and reconciliation of all humanity with God, was mine. … When I thought of the privilege of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, I so loved Him in the Blessed Mother, that I told Him that she — by being the Mother of my Divine Spouse — was also my Mother. And since, from the Mother of God come riches upon the children, so the Immaculate Beauty of her soul also belongs to me and was mine. … In this way … God became my most beloved and closest Father, Savior, Brother, and Spouse, and the Blessed Mother truly [became] my beloved Mother and all-powerful Protector. Everything belonged to me in Jesus: all of humanity and not just this planet, but the whole universe, with its mysteries unknown to me and its entire spiritual and material riches — and all that because the Triune God has become entirely my most precious possession.
One might call it audacious, but there’s an important truth here. Do we really take seriously, in all its vast implications, what “love the Father has given us in that we are called ‘children of God’” (1 John 3:1). But that is what we are.
Father Leo Trese, a Detroit Archdiocesan priest from the first half of the twentieth century, was a popular spiritual author. To this day, I value an insight from one of his books, Everyman’s Road to Heaven. Trese pointed out that Jesus did not come to save generic humanity. He came to save me. Even if I were the only person in the world who needed saving, Jesus would have been born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, been crucified, died and buried and on the third day, risen.
We perhaps sometimes assume an “impersonal” view of the Incarnation. As Sister Tajber and Father Trese both emphasize, salvation is personal. Salvation is retail, not wholesale. “For us and for our salvation, He came down from heaven.” When we changed the translation of the Sunday Creed back in 2011 to affirm that “I believe in one God,” we kept the plural here, not because salvation is impersonal but because salvation occurs along with others in the Church, which is praying this Profession of Faith together. But its truths apply to each of us individually. Jesus was incarnate, born, died, rose, and will come again … for me.
What is important about Sister Tajber’s observations is how she takes that personal aspect seriously: if God earned this all for me, I should dig in. He wants me to do that. It pleases him. He isn’t asking me to stand in line and just try samples, take a nibble. Spiritual goods are not like material ones — a pizza might not be infinitely divisible, but love can be shared without running out. Indeed, as the five loaves and two fishes showed, love shared paradoxically increases.
The Parable of the Dishonest Steward underscores Sister Tajber’s point. When Jesus speaks of the steward that alters his master’s books, reducing his debtors’ debts, he does so to ingratiate himself with those debtors for his own good. He presumes the grateful debtors will remember the one who saved them some wheat, oil, and money. Jesus does not showcase the Dishonest Steward to approve of crooked counts, but to make a different point: if he was willing to go all in to protect his temporal situation, why are those whose spiritual welfare is on line so indifferent? Sister Tajber shows us how to respond: if God served up all these goodness for me, what am I waiting for?
That’s the question of Advent. What am I waiting for? Advent forces us to face the truth: if God served up all this goodness for me and I’m not digging in, does it mean I really don’t care? Are we like the guests invited to a sumptuous royal banquet, looking for excuses to turn down the invitation because I might have to dress up? Is the bottom line that God’s generosity is actually so indifferent to me that maybe I’ll take a look tomorrow, if it suits me? Advent asks me to take an honest look at myself by really honestly answering, “What am I waiting for?”