Advent is the season when we are taught to look forward both to the first coming of our Lord into our world at Christmas time to seek and to save that which was lost, and also to look forward to his glorious second coming at the end of Earth time, to gather all before Him, to separate the loving faithful from the others. We are also taught to invite His coming to us in our own time, in order to increase our faith in the power and promise of His abiding presence — to increase our hope of all that lies ahead — and to confirm our love by deeper knowledge of and intimacy with His reality. Blessed John Paul II teaches that “Advent is a time of vigilance, prayer, and conversion.” The Scriptures chosen for us today reinforce his words by intriguing images, encouragement and challenge.
Promises –Promises!! — so easy for us to make; so very easy to find excuses to break them, when it might have given someone a needed confidence to feel they could at least count on us. Not so our God!
Although the promises made to our first parents did not give any assurance of immediate fulfillment, the promise of a Redeemer gave them hope, which lived on in their offspring. So also, there has always been a tradition of expectation: “He will come as a thief…; therefore watch and pray.”
St. Paul in his letter to the Hebrews reminded them that, “They (our ancestors) did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth.”
The Israelites throughout their times of slavery and exodus, of captivity and exile, at last returning to their own land, believed in the promises, even as they cried out: “You have promised us a new heaven and a new earth… a mighty One who will come to save us from our enemies… Why do you keep us waiting? We long for you, 0 Lord. Why do you delay? DELAY! I DO NOT DELAY. I PATIENTLY WAIT OUT YOUR TIME OF READINESS!
And so the Prophets scolded, pleaded, encouraged, keeping the voice of God in their ears, and faithfully fulfilling their role in God’s plan forIsrael. Didn’t Isaiah (of the many voices) paint the picture well? Even kings in those days travelled by some sort of carriage, sometimes borne on the backs of slaves, so for the royal comfort; some efforts were made to smooth the roads over which their bearers had to carry them. We know, of course, by speaking in this symbolism of raising valleys and leveling hills, straightening rugged and rough ways, Isaiah wants us to take the message to heart — literally — heart being the seat of our loves. We are called to enter into reflection on what the terrain of our lives looks like at this time in our life. Perhaps in these Isaiahan images we might see as well, our inconsistencies, crumbling of relationships and neglect in repairing the damages, the rocky nature of our emotional highs and lows. The second Reading suggests that we should be eager to be found without blemish ; eager to be found ready, Now is the time to ask ourselves: What sort of persons ought we to be?
Like me, my Sisters can remember when we entered religious life as a Sister of the Holy Family. We clearly understood it as an invitation, but with no specific promises — and hardly a clue what the future would hold for us. But, we were the ones making promises, so sure of God’ grace that we even promised “forever.” By God’s grace we continue to renew our promises as we live them each new day.
As Sisters of the Holy Family, we have in our Mother Dolores a most beautiful example of a faithful religious woman, Woman of the Gospel as she has been called. Our Father John Prendergast said at her death, “Sister’s was no passive character; it was positive, strong and firm, one on which you could depend. Above all, she was so oblivious of self… live as she would have you live; keep her spirit alive within you, be loyal as she was to Christ.” Mother Dolores became a student of the Scriptures… for she knew her Beloved to be present there speaking to her through them.
Mother Dolores spoke simply, but with sincere feeling to her Sisters, as here she speaks of our calling to Holy Family:.. “You cannot appreciate too much being…members of so noble a work of God’s honor and glory. The work will be what your individual and several sanctities make it, neither more nor less.” “Pure and transparent as crystal should be your hearts, active as fire, unselfish as the ministering spirits, sweet and tender as grace, strong, generous, and enduring as the hearts over which Jesus has attained perfect mastery.” Sister Dolores’ secret, then, was to center herself in the Lord at the core of her existence, nourish herself with the Scriptures, and model herself constantly on her beloved Jesus. We heard Father Prendergast tell us: “Live as she would have you live, keep her spirit alive in you, be loyal as she was to Christ.”
One final Old Testament Prophet stands at the threshold of the New Covenant. The messenger of the Good News, foretold in the firstReading, becomes John the Baptist in our Gospel. Saint Luke begins his account of events fulfilled in Jesus with the story of Zachary, Priest of the Old Testament, and his wife Elizabeth. Faith-filled Elizabeth does not question the promise of the Angel Gabriel that she will bear a son. Her words: “This is what the Lord has done forme.” evidences her deep trust in God’s personal concern for her. She accepts the promise that her John “will be filled with the Holy Spirit (from his mother’s womb”) all the days of his life … and … that in some way he will have a work to do for the Lord.” And then later in welcoming her cousin Mary of Nazareth,Elizabethresponds to the excitement of the child in her womb with recognition of the presence of her Lord in young Mary.
But John was more than a herald. He had to prepare a way for the Lord… which is the very task that has been entrusted to all of us in our present sphere of influence. The fruit of our prayer during this Advent time may well be a heightened recognition of the Lord in others, or in helping others see Jesus in our midst in every act of compassionate love. Our loving Savior will come as close as our desire invites Him.
Recalling the messages in ourReadingsand Gospel we learn that God will expiate our guilt but repentance for sin is expected. Welcoming the Lord into our life requires serious preparation. Vigilance (being awake, attentive, watching, listening) — prayerful reflection on how we stand before God — conversion to the virtues and attitudes we most want our Lord to find in us at His coming. God is patient, God loves us, God wants to be received so is willing to give us time to prepare: to increase the longing of our desire, our confidence that only in the love and abiding presence of our promise-keeping God is our deepest joy.
By Sister Patricia Whitman, SHF