Last week I mentioned that unlike Lent, a somber, penitential season, Advent is a season of joyful expectation – i.e., a season of hope, as expressed in today’s first reading from Isaiah: “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Regrettably the pandemic we’re dealing with, instead of giving rise to hope, has led to feelings of anger, disillusionment, frustration, and fatigue, especially those who have Covid-19, those who care for them and those who have lost someone as a result of the virus. Conditions like these can smother hope. So now more than ever, it is imperative that we go back to the well of our Catholic faith. Listen again to the words St. Paul preached to the Christian community in Rome that was being persecuted for their faith: “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 35-39). Even with this guarantee, we still need to do our part to keep the channels of grace free-flowing, and we do this through prayer.
I recently read an article titled: Preaching the Unanswered Prayer. It made reference to the fact that prayers are typically answered in one of three timeframes: immediately; over an extended period, or seemingly not at all, as was the case when in his agony Jesus prayed: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me,” which as we all know, God did not. The author goes on to explain, that regardless of how/when God responds, by praying “the situation is immediately changed” - i.e., we are no longer alone in our problem. God hears us and remains ever present to us, even when we cannot sense His presence. The key point is something you’ve heard me say time and time again: God answers every prayer in one way or another. Regardless of whether we get what want, the act of asking gets us what we need – grace! We may not feel it, or be able to quantify or qualify grace, but prayer enables streams of God’s grace to flow unobstructed into our lives. Therein lies our hope, and Advent provides us with opportunities to relish in the beautiful prayers, hymns, stories, and liturgies that celebrate hope.
Jesus (Emmanuel - God with us) came once in history and still walks with us in spirit. Know that He is here present in this very moment. Take time then to acknowledge Him right now and make a habit of doing so every day, thanking Him for His abiding presence and for loving us to the end. Jesus is and will always be our reason to hope!