Dear Sisters and Brothers –
Thanksgiving week I had a few more conversations than usual with one of my dear Jesuit friends. Likely in the first phone call he mentioned that he had a homily to prepare and his working theme was “Advent: Waiting in Joyful Hope.” In subsequent calls, his homily ideas came up, as did his title. In one of our last conversations that week I asked, “Are you sure you want to say ‘joyful hope?’ Do you think that people are feeling joy these days? People are hoping a lot, to be sure, but I’m not so sure about the joy part.” And yet here we are, the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, a Latin word which means “You Rejoice!” Really?!
As many know, one of the quotes that grounds me is from French paleontologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Tielhard de Chardin: “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” And our faith reminds us, in the words of Saint Ignatius, that God is unfailingly present, unceasingly at work in our hearts and in our world – even in the long shadow of a pandemic – and we have but to stop and notice.
Fr. Jack Peterson of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia articulated three sources of joy during Advent—experiencing God’s tender mercy, receiving a special gift, and serving others.
In my homily last week (which you can link to here), I spoke about going to and placing our cares and even our very selves in the merciful lap of God, feeling God’s tender, often healing touch, and experiencing God’s unconditional love. And on Tuesday, December 22, we will celebrate the gift of God’s tender mercy through a livestream Advent Reconciliation Service at 7:30 p.m. What we do in these services is celebrate that God’s love is greater than any human failure or sin on our part. We celebrate the truth that St. Paul proclaimed in the 8th chapter of his letter to the Romans that “Nothing can separate us from the love of God manifested in Jesus Christ.” Now, this is reason to rejoice.
Another joy of Advent is the blessing of receiving a special gift. That special gift can come in any size and shape. It can be a gift of time, of presence, of listening, of affirming, of expressing gratitude, of being patient, of encouraging those around us who struggle with a hundred different things. On God’s part, God looked at the plight and predicament of our ancestors and sent his only Son – Emmanuel (God-with-us) – to pitch his tent with us forever. Advent prepares us to remember this special gift and rejoice in it once more.
A third source of Advent joy comes from serving others in love. As Ronald Rolheiser reminds us, “If I go about my life demanding, however unconsciously, that others carry me rather than seeking to carry them; feeding off of others rather than trying to feed them; creating disorder rather than being a principle of peace; demanding to be admired rather than admiring; and demanding that others meet my needs rather than trying to meet theirs, joy will never find me.” Advent provides us with many opportunities to serve our families, our community, and especially those most in need – and opportunities for joy to find us.
Our Advent Giving Tree offers the opportunity to tick off two of Fr. Peterson’s sources of Advent joy – in providing gift cards to children, teens and adults especially in need served by local nonprofits, schools and senior care programs, we give a bit of joy to those in need (#2 above), and in such acts of kindness and mercy, joy will find us (#3 above). If you are local and can drop off a $25 Safeway or Target gift card at the office, let us know which organization you are giving to here. If you are not so local, you can make a financial donation here, and we’ll get the card for you. Thank you!
May God’s tender mercies, special gifts received, and serving others lead us all to the experience of Advent joy.
Oremus pro invicem,