The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song. Isaiah 35
Isaiah continues in Chapter 35 by describing a world that will see the splendor of God, where hands are strong and knees are firm (ok, that part of the prophecy hits home), the frightened are now fearless and unafraid, eyes and ears seeing and hearing and the lame able to leap and move about. The prophet continues to talk about a new world order, as I shared last week. It’s a beautiful vision to hold and rejoice in during this Third Week of Advent.
Today after a parish cookie sale, I dropped off our excess cookies at the homeless shelter. The person that greeted me said that the cookies would be appreciated because there are so many children staying at the shelter at the moment. It broke my heart. You don’t have to look far to see similar stories of hardship, just watch the news. I know families grieving the loss of a loved one as we prepare for Christmas, and in two specific cases, one in my area and another in Baton Rouge, two families trying to navigate life after the suicide of 13 year sons. Weather catastrophes, homelessness, violence – how do we rejoice? Where do we see glimpses of the world to come? We have faith that when Jesus comes again, we’ll see the glory of the Lord. But what about now?
I am in a weekly prayer group that began about 4 years ago after attending a weekend parish retreat. We select different books or programs to study and discuss. We are currently reading the Advent and Christmas Reflection book by Word on Fire, The Word Became Flesh. One of the homilies included for reflection in the book was written by St. Bernard of Clairvaux. St. Bernard was a Benedictine Abbott and major leader in the reformation of the Benedictine order. He was canonized a short time after his death and named a Doctor of the Church in 1830. I was awestruck! St. Bernard writes in dramatic fashion of the brief moment that the Angel Gabriel is waiting for Mary to respond yes, her fiat. He writes that God needs Mary to respond yes, to give her consent to the angel, for the fulfillment of salvation to take place, and that the rest of humanity waits in anticipation. It is one of the most moving pieces I have read. (The homily can be found in the Office of Readings, for the Fourth Week of Advent, in the Liturgy of the Hours, the “Divine Office” or Breviary.)
I have been thinking about that homily all week. I don’t mean these next ponderings on the same level of importance as Mary’s fiat, but I wonder if God waits for our consent, the decisions we make and actions toward others, to be part of the plan of bringing love and hope in the world. Does God wait for us to help provide hope to those we encounter?
Perhaps God places desires in our heart as way to serve. Perhaps God waits with a similar anticipation for us to stand in our “yes” to those desires, our call.
One of my favorite prayers is by St. John Henry Cardinal Newman regarding our mission in life. It was shared in class when I was in the Lay Ministry program in our Diocese. I have never forgotten it and when I wonder about my purpose or have a decision to make, I often return to this prayer.
This is the beginning of the prayer:
God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.
As we try to identify and live that mission, we can live in an Advent spirit of Gaudete, Rejoice. We help our world move a step closer to that vision that Isaiah shares of the ransomed returned and where sorrow and mourning are ceased. If not ceased, maybe paused for just a moment. We enter singing, crowned with an everlasting joy that cannot be filled by the passing moments of this world. We anticipate and look to that day, as we do this Advent for Christmas, with hearts full of rejoicing and joyful song.
Peace be with you, Deena
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