In the early 1980's the famous Benedictine monk John Main came to Tanzania to give a retreat and teach his Maranatha method of meditation. It's a simple method of sitting still for 20 minutes morning and evening, repeating the Word 'Maranatha' over and over in silence. The word is referred to as a mantra. Maranatha is the great prayer of Advent and it means 'Come Lord Jesus', expressing the profound yearning for God that is in the heart of every person. It is the Advent prayer of the whole Church.
The retreat was attended by the Medical Missionaries of Mary and some Pallottines and it's safe to say that the sisters were more enthusiastic about it than the priests.
One day, a long time after the retreat, one of the sisters was on her way to Arusha and she stopped for a break in a Pallottine Mission house where she asked the priest, "how is your mantra going?" "Well sister" he replied, "it's like this! Every morning I get up and I sit down and I say to myself, 'hopeless, hopeless, hopeless!'"
Hopeless - this is something we often feel in relation to prayer and our spiritual lives; people feel hopeless about a lot of situations. Hopelessness affects the sick, the old, the addict, the sinner, the child at school, the student, the unemployed. It affects many people coming up to Christmas.
Last year more than ever I had been affected by the early darkening of the evenings of winter. It comes in so fast even on bright days and it will continue to get darker a bit earlier every day until near Christmas. It's like the darkness tugs at the darkness within myself, tugs at my depression, seeking to bring me down.
One day at home in Mervue, Galway I was standing in the kitchen, looking out the window into the back garden. It was so dreary and damp and cold. And it touched the dreariness within me, seeking to take hold of me.
Like my mother I like to go out into the garden first thing in the morning, just to look at it, but that day I thought 'I can't go out into that misery'. Still something persuaded me and as I walked I saw in the midst of all the dreariness a fuchsia in full bloom. It was one I planted there earlier in the year, one of my very few successful plantings. And it struck me that God was reminding me that it is always necessary to be on the lookout for signs of hope and beauty.
We are one with Jesus who is saying to us in the gospel - stay awake, be alert! Be aware that, as this fuchsia is the work of God's hand, so are we - even more so. And God is our Father as He is the Father of Jesus. He is hid from us in the mess of our lives and He is there to be found, to be waited for and searched for. This is an essential of our Advent, our preparation for Christmas, for the coming of Jesus who is always Hope for the hopeless!