Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10
Matthew 11: 2-11
Pope Francis has written the Church an apostolic exhortation entitled the JOY OF THE GOSPEL. But it is obvious in reading the exhortation that the gospel, the Good News, is a just a special moment in God’s ongoing relationship to the world that has been characterized by the gift of joy. The oracle that we read in Chapter 35 of Isaiah celebrates one of those moments: the return of the exiled Jews to Jerusalem from Babylon. All nature joins in. The parched land exults and the steppe rejoices. The flowers of field break out in joyful song. The glory and splendor of the earth meet the glory of splendor of the Lord God. And we are there with our feeble hands, weak knees, and frightened hearts. Isn’t that always so true? Maybe this is why the Church returns year after year to the Christmas story and the Easter story. These are the stories that make us strong and banish our fears. Our God comes once again to save us. If we open our eyes and our ears to the mystery we will proverbially leap like stag and sing like an angel.
Our oracle ends with the assurance that sorrow and mourning will flee and the redeemed will be crowned with everlasting joy.
Last night I participated in an Advent Penance service. For the most part it was a wonderful experience as young and old came forward to be reconciled as they prepared their hearts for the celebration of Christmas. But then came a woman with a story of anger and grief that seemed to have no end. As I listened I almost froze. It was too much. I immediately knew that anything I said would be inadequate.
I did say something, but kept it very brief. Then I reached out and placed my hand on her shoulders and began the formula prayer "God the Father of mercies….I absolve you from your sins." When I finished there were a few seconds of silence. Then she said quietly "Thank you, father." I removed my hand from her shoulder. As she rose and left I could only say a silent prayer for her. For a few sacred moments we had connected in the mystery of God’s reconciling love. I only hope that her peace will grow into joy.
Fr. Michael Hoolahan, C.P. is on the staff of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.