Third Sunday of Advent Reflection
December 13, 2010
Prepare our hearts and remove the
sadness that hinders us from feeling
which his presence will bestow.
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
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
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
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
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