What does the Gospel of this first Sunday of Advent inspire you (read p. 16) which bathes in an atmosphere of the end of the world, with all these shattering signs in heaven and on Earth, with this call to “straighten” head and “watch”?
Caroline Bretones: This apocalyptic language does not immediately speak to me. The text evokes a cataclysm of such magnitude that “men will die of fear”! My first instinct is to say to myself “Oh my, not that! “. But, if I pay attention to it, I hear at the same time a great despair and also a strong hope: “Straighten yourselves up and raise your head”.
The phenomena described are directly reminiscent of the climate crisis …
C. B. : Yes, this passage speaks for us today. But the apocalyptic style is above all a spiritual language, rather than a speech announcing the future. It reveals something to us which is not necessarily visible but which we must discern and understand. Certain events in our individual or collective histories can terrify us, paralyze us and lead us to a kind of spiritual death. If we read these words with the gaze of faith, we discover that it is at the moment when everything seems to collapse that we are called to raise our heads, to find our hope. What was supposed to swallow us up can finally lift us up.
Does this passage echo events you have been through?
C. B. : At the age of 40, I experienced an earthquake on a personal level, with the experience of a divorce. Everything I had built my family life on was falling apart. Everything seemed to be going so well. I felt like I had built a beautiful, strong, lasting couple and a fulfilling family life with our three children. We were passionate about what we did and we had great social success. In short, I believed it.
Didn’t you understand what was happening to you?
C. B. : No, I didn’t see it coming. This “us” was not as strong as I had imagined. At the beginning, I experienced this separation as an extreme violence, of which I was the pure and innocent victim. But in a marital failure, there are always two. As I rebuilt myself, I discovered that I had my part in this collapse. I like to be a force for proposals, it’s in my nature. I handled a lot of things on my own at home (organization, shopping, activities, vacations, etc.), while often complaining about not being supported enough. But the more I occupied the place, the less I left to the other …
How did you react to the news of the separation …
C. B. : It was as if the floor gave way under my feet. It was panic: in front of me was a reality that I could not deny. I was faced with two options: either I collapsed in my turn, or I raised my head and repositioned myself in God.
What do you mean ?
C. B. : Faced with this earthquake, was I going to watch the abyss engulf me or look up to the sky? I remember moments of prayer when, as in the psalms, I cried out to God: “Do not abandon me, I know you are there, everything depends on you now”. A key moment was the reading of this verse of Psalm 117,17: “No, I will not die, I will live to announce the actions of the Lord”. I realized that what had built me until then was more solid than what I had built myself; and that I had the strength to escape whatever was to happen: depression, despair …
Is that “raising your head”?
C. B. : Yes, I knew that Christ would always be there, by my side. What I am, what I live, matters to him. To speak in more theological terms, I understand, at this time, that “my deliverance is at hand”. Whatever happens, by faith, I am saved: my life is in the hand of God, it will never dissolve, nor will it ever be totally lost. I also understand that this reality is not just for me personally, but it is also the fulfillment of the promise of salvation that is in Jesus Christ. Through my individual case, I realize that “the world” matters to God (“God so loved the world…” John 3,16). I knew it in theory, of course, I was shocked to experience it in my flesh.
What consequences has this awareness had in your daily life?
C. B. : I feel more ready to face the difficulties of life because I know that the floor holds thanks to God. Having been accompanied myself, I have also learned to spiritually accompany people in difficulty and to fight a good fight: I firmly believe that God does not abandon those he loves, nor those who love him.
What does the Advent period which begins this Sunday mean to you?
C. B. : It is a period when the night becomes longer, thicker. It is undoubtedly for this reason that we decorate our streets and our houses with light garlands. As we sink deeper into the night, we ask ourselves: will the night win? Will joy and hope disappear? In this fight between light and darkness, God places a sign: an infant in a manger. A sign that speaks to us: “Remember, I am always with you”. No, God does not abandon the world, just as he did not abandon his Son in the grave.
The Gospel of this Sunday exhorts to become watchmen and prayers. How do you receive this “Stay awake and pray at all times”?
C. B. : Watching and praying are the means that God puts within our reach when we are confronted with what is deadly, with evil, with temptation. To stay awake is to refuse to be in denial of reality, nor in absolute pessimism. It is to give up looking away by dint of “drunkenness” and “drinking”. There are plenty of ways to get drunk in order to refuse to face difficulties … We must also avoid letting ourselves be swallowed up by the worries of everyday life. Resist the temptation to miss the point. Because, we sometimes forget: our life, our world belong to God. How do I choose to position myself in relation to this truth? To what responsibility towards God am I called?
How do you respond to them?
C. B. : I try to remain vigilant so as not to take anything away from God’s righteous and loving gaze. I am not a great contemplative, I do not go to spiritual retreats, but I still feel the need within me to have a permanent conversation with God. It might seem trivial to you, but when I come to the temple on my bike, I take this time to praise God along the way. During the day, I make myself present to him through mini-prayers that punctuate my interactions with each other. But every now and then I also need to get into a big conversation with him, a more in-depth conversation. So I bring him what hurts me, questions me, rejoices me. Then come up in me a praise, a forgiveness, a thank you. With him, I see my life from a different perspective.
Is this also the case for your separation?
C. B. : It took me a long time … At first, I had the impression that all my memories were stuck in an oil spill. I could no longer see the beauty of what we had been through. Now I can recognize that we have built some great things together and that I have experienced some real moments of happiness. Today, everything has calmed down. Life goes on. And the goodness of God never ceases to amaze me.