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As I write this column, we are coming to the end of 2020. I suspect all of us are exhausted, but at the same time excited that this year has come to an end. We have had to deal with many changes and in some cases accept unanticipated losses. There also have been a seemingly never ending number of adaptations and adjustments we have had to make, often with little or no notice. Tempers are on a short fuse, and the ability to deal with differences and disagreements is almost non-existent. And yet, every now and again, a cause for hope emerges.
Most recently for me a cause for hope occurred in the form of a note from a friend in her Christmas card. After acknowledging that the year had not gone as planned, my friend said: “And yet, there have been several blessings.” My friend went on to say that she had learned to slow down and enjoy some of the small pleasures that came her way. She had learned to listen better, to enjoy quiet, and to communicate in new/different ways. Additionally she had learned to enjoy and appreciate times with family and friends virtually, or when wearing a facemask. She also mentioned that her prayer life had improved. She found that she wasn’t squeezing prayer in amongst other activities, but rather giving prayer its own time and place in her day.
I have to admit that my friend’s note was exactly what I needed. Prior to receiving her Christmas card, I had been lamenting everything that had gone wrong the past year. Her note, though, caused me to realize that in the midst of all the difficult and bad things that had happened, there was cause for hope. God is still with us, and is always and everywhere offering us God’s good grace. To be honest, though, recognizing and being open to God’s grace is not always easy.
Often without choosing or intending it, I can get caught feeling sorry for myself. I take on a “woe is me” attitude and in its worst expression throw myself a little “pity party.” (The upside is that I serve my favorite foods at my pity parties.) When I recognize these times in my life, I have learned that I need to take things to prayer. Prayer doesn’t change the situation, but it does change me and my attitude. And even in difficult situations, I am reminded that there is cause for hope.
Our God is a God of second chances and new beginnings. Our God is constantly inviting us to new life in those situations where we feel helpless and where things seem hopeless. The thing is, though, that God never forces God’s way into these situations. Rather God waits patiently for us to invite God in and to open ourselves to God’s grace. As we begin this New Year, let us pray that we might to open to the grace that God is offering us that even in the midst of this pandemic that we might see and choose anew, a future full of hope.
Every New Year, the Pope offers the Catholic Church a message of peace. This year, the 54th World Day of Peace Message strikes a deep chord of resonance for our Church and our world.
We live in a time of tension and division in almost all aspects of civic life. Conflict infiltrates families and faith communities, cities, states and countries. This tension seems to reflect fundamentally different views of the world: We comprehend events differently, as we interpret with different lenses, with different expectations and perspectives.
Pope Francis cuts to the heart of the division and acrimony we feel, hear, see and—even unwittingly—often participate in. He names the reality: While there are many “testimonies of love and solidarity, we have also seen a surge in various forms of nationalism, racism and xenophobia, and wars and conflicts that bring only death and destruction in their wake.”
Pope Francis calls us to align our lives with fundamental Catholic Social Doctrine. He offers these teachings as a compass to unite us, as we maneuver through these challenging days. Rooted in the deep knowledge of God’s steadfast love, we are called to remember “how important it is to care for one another and for creation.” Basic, yet challenging, Pope Francis lays out a template to restart our world ravaged by the pandemic and civic unrest.
Pope Francis invites us to use the principles of the Catholic Social Teaching as the basis for a culture of care. He refers to this as a “grammar” of care—principles and criteria that shape the way we interact and treat one another. He encourages us to unite: “A culture of care as a way to combat the culture of indifference, waste and confrontation so prevalent in our time.” This “grammar” includes:
Care as promotion of the dignity and rights or each person.
Always called toward relationship not individualism, inclusion not exclusion, all human life has inherent dignity. As such, we are called to “welcome and assist the poor, the sick, the excluded, every one of our neighbors, near or far in space and time.”
Care for the common good.
“Every aspect of social, political and economic life achieves its fullest end when placed at the service of the common good.” The question should not be, What works for me? Rather, What social conditions will allow others to reach their full potential?
Care through solidarity.
We must recognize we each have an impact on and a responsibility to one another. This impact and responsibility extends beyond our family, state and country—to reach all corners of the world, and every person.
Care and protection of creation.
All creation is interconnected. We are to look deeply into the tenderness, compassion and concern we hold back, to set us free to care for all of creation.
We are invited to embrace this compass for our lives. And we are challenged to embrace a process of growing and learning—educating ourselves and one another. Individually and collectively, Now is the acceptable time.
Being the second oldest of seven children, when I was growing up I spent a lot of time chauffeuring my younger brothers and sisters to various places for various activities. Since one of my grandmothers also did not drive, I often would have to drive her to various events and activities as well. Now I wish I could tell you my motives for being the family chauffeur were completely altruistic. The reality was, though, that it was simply the price I had to pay if I wanted to use the family car on weekends.
Now to be quite honest, chauffeuring my brothers and sisters around was no picnic. They were almost never ready to leave when they were supposed to be. There were often unplanned stops and/or detours on the way to our destination, and they were seldom ready and waiting when I arrived to pick them up. Worse, though, was that their gratitude was almost non-existent. Occasionally, I’d get a quick thank you, but those times were rare.
My grandmother, on the other hand, was different. She never failed to be ready when I stopped to pick her up and, in fact, was almost always waiting for me. This same thing was true when I returned to take her home from wherever she had been. Even in cold weather she would be standing either outside or close by the door waiting and watching for me so that I wouldn’t be kept waiting. And she never failed to express her gratitude to me.
My grandmother was truly an Advent kind of person. She knew how to be prepared and how to wait expectantly. Even when her timetable had to be adjusted, she never complained. I think she realized, perhaps better than most, that time spent waiting does not have to be wasted time. It can be used for quiet reflection or interior preparation. Waiting can be a time when anticipation grows and expectations develop. Or, as in my grandmother’s case, it could also be used for a decade or two of the rosary for some of her errant grandchildren.
Now I mention this today because in these waning days of the season of Advent, while the world around us seems to speed up and become busier than ever, this season calls us to slow down and wait—to wait in joyful hope and faith filled expectation. And even though we know what it is we are waiting and preparing for, there is (or should be) a sense of newness and excitement about it. For the great miracle of the Incarnation did not happen once long ago only to exist now as a pleasant memory. Rather, it is an ongoing event. God continues to touch the world with God’s grace and God’s love. At times, though, we can become so busy that this most basic fact of our existence can recede into the background, or worse, be forgotten altogether.
As modern day believers, we need to be reminded on a regular basis that the Incarnation—the Word becoming flesh—is a wondrous and ongoing miracle. My prayer during these last days of Advent is that we might use these days as a time of remembering, a time of quiet preparation, a time of waiting in joyful expectation, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior, that we might welcome him with love and be open to his grace.