Dedicated to Research and Reflection in Formative Spirituality




About Us Programs Staff Links Contact Us


Third Sunday of Advent Reflection

SADNESS AND Repentance

December 13,  2010

Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us from feeling 

the joy and hope which his presence will bestow.

(Alternative Opening Prayer)

sadnessIn today’s reading from Isaiah35 we read the promise to those who are suffering in exile:   “Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return/ and enter Zion singing,/ crowned with everlasting joy;/ they will meet with joy and gladness,/ sorrow and mourning will flee.”  How do these words, addressed to a people in mourning for their land and homes, apply to us?  What is the sadness that keeps us from feeling the joy and hope of the Lord’s presence?

     We live in a time and in a culture for which sadness has come to be seen and treated as pathology.  It is seen as the result of psychological or emotional illness.  As a result, we tend to frenetically avoid anything, including silence and solitude, which might give rise to any feelings of sorrow and mourning.  Yet, these experiences are inherent components of human experience.  The overcoming of sorrow and mourning requires first of all that we become aware of them.   The reason that those who mourn are blessed is because the human soul is formed by the pathos of human life and the suffering it evokes in us.   The only way to avoid sorrow and mourning is to repress what is most distinctively human in us.

     If we believe we must avoid all suffering, then this experience of spirit is displaced by the vital and functional affects of resentment and anger.  If we are entitled to feel good and be happy, then we shall respond in frustration and rage whenever life thwarts our expectations.  Human relationships that have lost their foundation in the transcendent dimension of human life with its capacity to suffer limit and contingency will become more and more permeated with feelings of resentment and anger.

     The reading from James 5 is a summons to “be patient” until the coming of the Lord.  But patience requires a capacity to bear with and to suffer through those things that we cannot control and about which we can do nothing.  It requires faith and hope in One whose ways are so far beyond our own that our judgments and expectations pale before them.   Life forms us through sadness and disappointment.  We are converted from our ways, our demands, and our expectations to the wisdom of recognizing the Way of the Mystery through the refusal of life and the world to meet our expectations.   It is through the sadness we experience as we recognize our smallness of mind and heart that we grow in communion with God.

     In the Gospel reading from Matthew 11, Jesus speaks to the crowds about John the Baptist and directs a question to them.  “What did you go out to the desert to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  . . . Someone dressed in fine clothing?”  In his question to the crowds, Jesus addresses what it is that hinders us from seeing what is.  It is our expectations.  We don’t just look; we look with the filter of our own expectations.  For those who went to see someone dressed in fine clothing or one who modulated his speech in such a way as to please whoever came to hear him, John was a great disappointment.   What the encounter with John offered was missed by many because his reality did not measure up to their expectations. 

    What hinders us from the joy and hope that the Presence bestows is our inability to be present.  We think we know what we want and need, what will make us happy.  And so, we keep searching here and there for what will meet our needs and fulfill our wants.  At the level of spirit, however, what we want is always wanting.  No one and nothing ever fully meets our deepest desire.  It is the willingness to know the disappointment and sadness that our search for fulfillment on our own terms engenders which enables us to hear the call of John to repentance.  We can cling to our demand that the world and others exist to satisfy us, raging at them when they fail to do so, or we can recognize that our disappointment reflects the self-centeredness of our vision and the constriction of our hearts.  When we suffer the sadness that recognition brings, we begin to prepare our hearts to receive the Word’s birth in us and so to know the joy and hope which only the Lord’s presence will bestow.

Copyright © 2007 [Resources in Spiritual Formation].

All rights reserved.

Last updated: 11/24/10.