Rejoicing in the Waiting

This Advent, I’ve discovered a newfound love for the hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” There is such a richness and beauty to these words of yearning and aching for our Savior. Even just the word “O” at the beginning of each verse is filled with longing. In the chorus, the song instructs us to rejoice because God will come to save His people. This is important—songs like “Joy to the World” are about rejoicing because the Lord has come, but “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is about rejoicing in the waiting—waiting for Jesus’ second coming, waiting for an answered prayer, waiting for healing, waiting for God to show us where He is calling us to next—whatever it may be.

This third week of Advent, we are called to rejoice because we are *almost* to Christmas, not because we’ve already made it. We’re called to rejoice in the uncomfortability of waiting, of that in-between place. For some people, myself included sometimes, being close to the end of a season of waiting can bring more anxiety than joy because of the lingering voices of doubts and what ifs.

But God’s promises are true. The Lord is near, and when we trust that He will complete the good work He has begun in us (Philippians 1:6), how can we not rejoice?

In today’s Gospel from Matthew, we hear the genealogy of Jesus, from Abraham all the way to St. Joseph. Fourteen generations of hopeful expectation, of messiness and imperfection, of striving to seek the Lord and listen to His will. When we look at the lives of the people in Jesus’ family tree in Scripture, we can see God’s hand at work bringing about His divine plan of salvation, though they may not have seen it at the time. But yet they trusted, and they rejoiced, even when things were hard. Infertility, betrayal, broken marriages, and war are just some of the trials that are found within Jesus’ ancestors. They were not immune to suffering, yet they rejoiced and trusted in God. Fourteen generations of the small and great surrenders of ordinary people to God’s will every day, all to fulfill His greatest work of our salvation.

There is the distinct difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is fleeting; joy is everlasting. Joy comes from being rooted in the truth that we are infinitely loved by God as His sons and daughters, that we are created in His image for a purpose, and that He will never forsake us, no matter what suffering we face. St. John Paul II said, “True joy is a victory, something which cannot be obtained without a long and difficult struggle. Christ holds the secret of this victory.” Joy comes from a place of steadfast trust in God, that no matter what, He is with us and is working for our good.

Brothers and sisters, I don’t know if this has been a difficult Advent season for you, or if things have been going well. I know for many this time of year is painful. But we can rejoice in the One who was, and is, and is to come—Christ our Savior.

Saturday night, I went to Adoration, and the church was dark except for candles that were lit and a spotlight on the monstrance. In the middle of the Holy Hour, the spotlight suddenly went out. But that did not mean that Jesus wasn’t there. He was still there, in the dark, even though it was hard to see Him. He was still there, loving us, calling us to seek Him, calling us to draw even closer. May we rejoice in the waiting and darkness of our own lives, confident that He is with us!

O Emmanuel, in our unsure journeys, we rejoice, secure in You. In whatever waiting we’re going through, we rejoice. We rejoice because You call us Yours. We rejoice in the gift of Your Incarnation. We rejoice in Your dying and rising for us. We rejoice that You are always sustaining us and never leave us. O come, O come, Emmanuel! Amen.

Advent and the Dark Night of the Soul

Today’s saint, St. John of the Cross, is known for his writings on the “dark night of the soul.” He was a man of prayer who was intimately close to God; however, he suffered a great deal throughout his life as he attempted to reform the Carmelite order. St. John, along with St. Teresa of Avila, sought to cultivate a way of life that fostered a greater closeness with God through prayer and sacrifice. They faced strong opposition, however, from those who did not want the Carmelites to change their ways. John was immersed in the experience of the Cross, facing imprisonment, unjust accusations, persecution, and abuse. For seeking to grow in holiness, he was treated like a criminal.

But John’s greatest legacy is not his initial zeal to reform the Carmelite order; rather, it is how he responded when his holy passion was met with censure and condemnation. He turned to poetry and prayer as a means of expressing the great sorrow he felt, and he began to reflect on how he could grow ever closer to Jesus through this experience of suffering. Faced with the bitter reality that even our purest, most faithful actions can be met with cruelty and indifference, and that bad things do, in fact, happen to good people, John refused to believe that God was not present in that darkness. He wrote of his experiences undergoing this dark night of the soul and how the light that dawned on the other end was brighter than anything he had experienced. By passing through the darkness, he came to know a more brilliant Light; by “dying to self,” he rose to new life. John assures us that while the spiritual life will bring suffering and pain, the dark night is not the end. It is preparing us for a greater glory to come.

How do we cultivate a real, lasting joy instead of the fleeting happiness that comes and goes with our ever-changing circumstances? Even when God is hidden to us—even, in fact, when we pass through a dark night of the soul—joy is ours for the taking. We struggle, of course, to have joy in times when we do not feel happy; but true joy is deeper than mere happiness. So what is this mysterious, profound joy that can transcend our outward emotions? It comes from God alone.

The saints exuded joy in every moment of their lives—even amidst intense suffering and grief. God wants us to have this unshakeable joy, too, to be sustained by His promises at every moment, come what may. When we are taken with the joy only God can provide, we know beyond any question that we are known and loved and deeply cherished by a Love that knows no bounds. He wants to sustain our flagging spirits with that boundless joy.

We cannot control our circumstances, but if we are deeply rooted in God’s Word and continue to remind ourselves of His promises, we will have a hope that endures beyond our earthly trials. The joy that remains will cause us to remain convinced of God’s presence and goodness, even as we walk through the deserts of life.

This weekend, we will light the rose-colored candle on our Advent wreaths as we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. Most of Advent is a time of quiet preparation, putting everything in order as Christmas draws near, making our hearts ready to receive the Christ child. But this coming week we will focus on joyful anticipation of the birth of Christ. The child has not yet arrived, but we are joyful and confident in His coming; even though we are yet in darkness, we celebrate the promise of the Light. We walk in the midst of darkest night, yet we cannot contain our joy—for the light has already dawned in our hearts.

Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy.
—1 Peter 1:8

Counting the Cost, Reaping what He Sows

A brief one for you today:

 

Today’s readings provide some pretty sobering material for reflection. Phrases like “counting the cost” and “poured out like a libation” rarely make for light reading, no matter the context.

Yet it’s important to read past the easy interpretation of St. Paul and Jesus’ words as grim resolve or cynical fatalism. Look for the positive language; phrases like “children of God without blemish,” “rejoice and share my joy,” and “successfully oppose”.

During a recent small group session, one of the other men their talked about the challenges of having children who could, at some point in their life, stray from the faith. Our conversations moved from their to sharing our faith in general. How can we, imperfect men (and women of course, but you all weren’t at the small group!), make a compelling case for the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

One of the key themes we settled upon is sharing our excitement. What about our pursuit of the Kingdom of God excites us? How does the Lord bring us joy? What value do we see that makes “counting the cost” and “pour[ing ourselves] out” worthwhile?

Take some time over the rest of the week to reflect on the gifts from God that bring you joy. Try to share those things that make you happy. They may be simple hobbies or pleasures in your day-to-day life, or you might think of how Jesus has delivered you from significant sin or suffering. Take time to think of how the Lord makes your life better, and can do so every day

Then don’t hesitate to share it.

 

Memento Mori

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
—Wisdom 3:1–3

In my catechism class this week, I was teaching about the saints, and my students all wanted to find out which saint’s feast day fell on their birthday. One girl said, “My birthday’s November 2. What feast day is that?”

“Oh, that’s All Souls Day! It’s when we pray for the souls in purgatory,” I answered.

Disappointed, she replied, “That’s…kind of morbid.”

I can understand her reaction—it’s hard to get excited about reflecting on death, especially as a kid on your birthday. It’s a topic that most of us avoid thinking about, because it makes us feel uncomfortable. But there has long been a Catholic tradition of meditating on death, not as some kind of penance or self-imposed misery, but rather as a way to transform our fear of death into hope in the Resurrection.

Memento mori—“Remember your death”—is a refrain to keep us grounded amid the distractions of this world. Thinking about death does not seem appealing to us, but ignoring it will not make it go away. Death is an inevitable reality, and it’s not something we can control. But if we approach it from a perspective of Christian hope, deeply rooted in the promises Christ has made to us, we will begin to see that we don’t have to be so fearful of death. It is more of a beginning than an ending, an obscure mystery that only begins to make any sense to us when we see it through the lens of the Gospel. Meditating on death is itself an act of hope: that as we look more deeply into this mystery, there will be more to discover than bleak, existential materialism. There will be redemption and rebirth.

Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, a young sister with the Daughters of Saint Paul, has been keeping a ceramic skull on her desk for the past year as a reminder of death and tweeting about Memento Mori each day. She says:

Death, I think, is a very, very unpleasant topic, especially if you don’t believe in God. When I was an atheist, it was something I definitely did not want to think about because it’s the annihilation of the self. But for people of faith, it has a totally different dimension. We’re able to think about the reality of death and how it’s been transformed by Jesus.

Meditating on death not only lessens our fear; it also increases our sense of urgency to answer the callings God has given us. We are called to become saints, and we have no time to waste. We can go forward to carry out this calling filled with joy, not with fear, confident that if we are united with Christ in death, we will also be united with Him in resurrection.

For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.
—Romans 6:5

“In Bitterness Is My Joy”

Today’s readings may seem a little harsh: God putting Job in his place, Jesus proclaiming woe to those who reject Him. Why would God point out Job’s insignificance and insufficiencies when he is already experiencing so much suffering?

Becoming aware of our own weaknesses is, in fact, a grace. It can be a struggle, too, for it requires us to learn humility, but it also brings freedom. Being aware of our weaknesses frees us from any pretense of perfection, from feeling as though we have to carry the world on our shoulders, and from a false perception of reality, of the world and our place in it.

It is through these weak points that the enemy will try to break in, through our bad habits and less noble inclinations. As the Church Militant, we are continually fighting the good fight, storming the forces of evil and protecting what is sacred—including, first and foremost, our own souls—from being corrupted. If we are aware of the weaknesses within ourselves, we can mount a defense to enemy attacks. In order to do so, we must put aside our pride and call in reinforcements. The battle is bigger than any fantasies we may have for ourselves of glory and heroics. If we want to win the fight, we have to be willing to take orders from our Master, who is infinitely stronger and wiser than we are.

When we understand this greater reality, we will be able to proclaim our weaknesses without shame. We are mere soldiers in a spiritual battle that is far beyond our depth, but we will receive unyielding support to bolster every weakness, if only we ask it of God.

Today is the feast of St. Faustina Kowalska, the Apostle of Divine Mercy. She beautifully illustrates this idea of confident humility, and her receptiveness to God’s message of Divine Mercy was cultivated by her great dependence on God and the knowledge of her own weaknesses.

We cannot receive God’s mercy if we are not aware of our need for it. St. Faustina shows us though the example of her own life that accepting humiliations leads not to despair but to great joy. When St. Faustina faced trials and injustices, she did not view them through the lens of her own ego but through God’s mysterious economy of grace. She knew she was playing a part in a larger story. When her things did not proceed according to her plans—when she was turned down from several convents, faced serious illnesses, or was misunderstood and ridiculed—she did not cease to trust in God, because her faith was not in her own wisdom but in God’s alone. When she was mistreated, she did not become indignant but instead thought of how Jesus was mistreated at Calvary, drawing close to Him. She was not ashamed of her shortcomings but humbly accepted them, knowing that God created her with those weaknesses for a reason. She used every struggle as a chance to learn to depend upon God all the more and to increase in joyful gratitude for His overflowing mercy.


And you, Faustina, a gift of God to our time, a gift from the land of Poland to the whole Church, obtain for us an awareness of the depth of Divine Mercy; help us to have a living experience of it and to bear witness to it among our brothers and sisters. May your message of light and hope spread throughout the world, spurring sinners to conversion, calming rivalries and hatred, and opening individuals and nations to the practice of brotherhood. Today, fixing our gaze with you on the Face of the Risen Christ, let us make our own your prayer of trusting abandonment and say with firm hope: “Jesus, I trust in You!”
(Prayer of St. John Paul II)

Suffering is the greatest treasure on earth; it purifies the soul. In suffering we learn who is our true friend.

True love is measured by the thermometer of suffering. Jesus, I thank you for the little daily crosses, for opposition to my endeavors, for the hardships of communal life, for the misinterpretation of my intentions, for humiliations at the hands of others, for the harsh way in which we are treated, for false suspicions, for poor health and loss of strength, for self-denial, for dying to myself, for lack of recognition in everything, for the upsetting of all my plans.

Thank you, Jesus, for interior sufferings, for dryness of spirit, for terrors, fears, and uncertainties, for the darkness and the deep interior night, for temptations and various ordeals, for torments too difficult to describe, especially for those which no one will understand, for the hour of death with its fierce struggle and all its bitterness.

I thank you, Jesus, who first drank the cup of bitterness before you gave it to me, in a much milder form. I put my lips to this cup of your holy will. Let all be done according to your good pleasure; let that which your wisdom ordained before the ages be done to me. I want to drink the cup to its last drop, and not seek to know the reason why. In bitterness is my joy, in hopelessness is my trust. In you, O Lord, all is good, all is a gift of your paternal Heart. I do not prefer consolations over bitterness or bitterness over consolations, but thank you, O Jesus, for everything! It is my delight to fix my gaze upon you, O incomprehensible God!

—St. Faustina Kowalska

Grief into Joy

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn,
while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.
When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived;
but when she has given birth to a child,
she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy
that a child has been born into the world.
So you also are now in anguish.
But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you.
On that day you will not question me about anything.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”
—John 16:20–23

Often we have a tendency to assume—even, sometimes, when we know better—that if we follow Jesus perfectly, we will live a charmed life free of suffering. Thus, when we experience suffering that seems “undeserved,” we become frustrated with God and think that there’s no way we can handle what He’s asking of us.

Christ_in_Gethsemane

But Jesus doesn’t negate the suffering of the Christian life. He acknowledges it fully, saying that if they persecuted Him they will surely persecute us. He tells us we will weep and mourn and grieve while the world rejoices. Yet our pain and suffering are not wasted in His plan of salvation. When we meet Jesus in Heaven, when we see the destination to which He has led us on such a long, winding journey, our hearts will rejoice. We will receive a lasting joy, greater than anything of this world.

We will experience suffering in this life, but through Christ, this suffering becomes a holy calling. We don’t need to put on a happy face and pretend everything is fine—no, this trial is a gift, meant to break and re-form our hearts, making them more like His own. We can embrace our suffering and lean in to it. And we don’t need to spiral into despair, either, for this trial is not the end. A greater joy awaits us, a joy that will eclipse any memory of pain.

piergiorgioOur patron, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, was a joyful, exuberant young man who radiated hope. He loved to have a good time with his friends, sharing inside jokes and enjoying outdoor activities. But at the same time, he did not shy away from suffering. Although he easily could have stayed within the comfortable bubble of wealth provided by his family, he ventured into the poorest parts of his city, undeterred by the noise and smells, to seek those who needed company and support. He saw the beauty in each person he encountered and considered them friends. His passion for the Lord propelled him to serve, and even when he contracted a fatal disease through this service, he embraced this, too, as a gift. His love for Christ emboldened him to face every trial without fear.

Fear not. As Christians, we always have reason for hope. Inspired by the example of Pier Giorgio, may we face our sufferings with boldness and joy, knowing that all our earthly pain will pass away and that the joy to come is worth it all.

We are an Easter people, and hallelujah is our song.
—Pope Saint John Paul II


1. Heinrich Hofmann, Christ in Gethsemane / PD-US
2. Photograph of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and friends