Dear Sisters and Brothers –
No one needs to be convinced we are fast approaching the end of a most difficult year. The pandemic has defined it, of course, with its consequences of fear and isolation, economic and health threats, and too much time on Zoom. We have lived through a deeply divisive presidential campaign, the beginning of a soul-wrenching reckoning on racial injustice, and, for those in many parts of the country, severe climate change-related disasters. Add to the mix our “normal” personal struggles with heath, relationships, responsibilities at school and work, and more, and it’s all too easy to be tempted to despair. In ordinary times, we could count on the comfort and consolation that comes from a familiar meal around a table with people we love most, those we seek out in tough times. Yet even this warming solace will, for most of us, need to be deferred.
When I despaired the cancelation of our Thanksgiving dinner during a phone call with Mom and Dad last week, they helped me, each in their own way, to see it differently. Mom’s take is that we are foregoing dinner together this week so that we can be together next year. And Dad noted that we’ll see each other on Thursday for a few minutes (when I pick up from them my turkey dinner, delivered in plastic containers to eat later) and that we have food on the table. “We still have a lot to be grateful for,” he reminded me.
Indeed. We might we need to work a little harder, and ask God a bit more intentionally, for the grace to see our world and our experience as God does, to “find God in all things,” but that’s okay. Our desire to notice the blessings and be thankful for them itself is being grateful.
A parishioner emailed me just last week, and he gives a lovely example of this. He wrote:
“I spent yesterday, which was my birthday, taking stock of all the small moments in life that I have to be grateful for. I literally wrote it down, from dawn to dusk, and it filled 5 pages. The beautiful sunrise, the clear air, a clean and cool cup of water, [my son] sleeping peacefully, a haiku [my wife] wrote for a birthday gift, a book of poems from [my daughter], a neighbor who always says hello, were just a few of the many moments I took note of, that can so easily pass us by every day. I have to confess there have been many times this past year when I wished I could 'opt out' somehow - fast forward past all this or some other way to escape it. But taking the time for purposeful gratitude is reminding me that I want to live through this time. I want to be here, because maybe I can do some good.”
I hope each of us, with our limited activities this week, might find even five minutes (“The best is the enemy of the good.”) these days to engage such an inventory, what St. Ignatius called an examen.
Advent, the four weeks the Church gives us to prepare for Christmas, begins Sunday. I’ll write more on Advent (which is derived from the Latin word advenire, or “to come”) in the weeks ahead, but for now, I’ll leave you with two resources. First, here is a link to Sacred Space, a website published by the Irish Jesuits. It has new content every day for your personal reflection and prayer, lasting about 10 minutes. The second is a poem by Dutch priest and spiritual writer Henri Nouwen. It to captures for me the themes of the times we live in, Thanksgiving, and Advent.
master of both the light and the darkness,
send your Holy Spirit upon
our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do
seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things
look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways
long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy
seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people,
Walking in darkness, et seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”
Know that I will remember you and your intentions at Mass on Thanksgiving. God bless you.
Oremus pro invicem.