3rd Sunday of Advent
A cat dies and goes to heaven. God meets him at the gate and says, “You’ve been a good cat all of these years. Anything you desire is yours. All you have to do is ask.”
The cat replies, “Well, I’ve lived all my life with a poor family on a farm and had to sleep on hard wood floors.”
“Say no more,” responds God. And a fluffy pillow appears instantly for the cat.
A few days later, six mice were killed in an accident and they also appear before the pearly gates. God meets them there with the same offer he gave the cat.
The mice reply, “All our lives, we’ve had to run from cats, dogs, and even people with brooms. If we could only each have two pairs of roller skates, we wouldn’t have to run anymore!”
God says, “Say no more.” And instantly, each mouse is fitted with two beautiful pairs of tiny roller skates.
A week later, God decides to see how the cat is doing. He finds him sound asleep on his new fluffy pillow. God gently wakes him up and asks, “How are you doing? Are you happy here?”
The cat lets out a big yawn, stretches his legs and replies, “Oh, I’ve never been happier, God! And those meals on wheels you’ve been sending over are the best!”
Yes, that cat was full of joy that he was in Heaven! We too, look forward to the day when we’ll have our joy made complete in the Kingdom of Heaven as well! But until that day arrives, we’re given little oases by God —little moments of connection and joy— to help encourage us on our pilgrimage to our final destination. The third Sunday of Advent is one such oasis. It’s meant to restore our joyful hope in the miracles God can do in us and all around us! It’s meant to give us confidence in the Lord’s triumphant return in glory at the end of time. It’s meant to remind us of the great love which prompted the Father to send his Son into the world to save us from our sinfulness and to restore us to life.
But what robs us of our joy? What prevents us from expecting the miraculous to happen in our lives, in our church and in our world? By and large, the greatest obstacle to our joy, to our resistance to the miraculous, is a lack of prayer, a lack of listening to and responding to the voice of God. —A lack of confidence that our pleadings are important to God and are heard by God and that God cares about us all of the time.
Ironically, it’s when we need to pray the most that we sometimes forget or hesitate to pray at all. Such a lack of prayer can often spiral into a deep depression, anxiety, or despondency. Maybe it’s when we’re going through a painful separation or divorce. Maybe it’s when we’re having problems raising our children or dealing with the physical limitations of aging parents. Maybe our joy is robbed from us when we abuse alcohol or drugs or can’t get over an addiction to some other thing. Maybe our joy is taken from us after the unexpected loss of a loved one this year.
Whatever our particular circumstances may be, if we want to experience a miraculous transformation of our troubles, we must first come to God with an empty heart in prayer, ready to be filled with God’s counsel, love, tenderness, mercy, and joy. We must first come to the Lord and ask him to guide us by the hand through our difficulty and perhaps, to lead us to the people who can assist us in recovering the joy that God wants to pour into every human heart. Bodmin the Hermit counsels us, “Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you’re busy. Then a full hour is needed.”
One vital way of praying then is by using the scriptures and meditating on its saving message. Indeed, in today’s second reading from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians, we’re counselled, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice…..Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God.” (Phil 4: 4,6) The Word of God, when prayed over, can indeed give us comfort when we’re not feeling joyful or when events in our lives seem to get out of control.
By prayerfully meditating on the Word of God, we can find strength to endure these moments and to trust in God’s providential care, even when it seems, at times, that God is nowhere to be found.
To accomplish this task, we need to become familiar with the persons and predicaments presented to us in the scriptures, so that their witness can help to sustain us when the going gets rough. —People like Zechariah and Elizabeth who had, so often, prayed to God for a child and time and time again, felt as if their prayers were falling on deaf ears, until one day, the Angel Gabriel announces that they will be the parents of John the Baptist. John himself had the joy of leaping in the womb of Elizabeth as Mary approached with the baby Jesus in her womb. And later in life, John was given the privilege of seeing the Christ come to be baptized by him as a sign of God’s impending reign. The prophetess Anna who was widowed for seven years and spent her nights and days in the temple praying, was also privileged to recognize Jesus as the Messiah when he was presented in the Temple. Simeon, too, in his old age was overjoyed to be able to see with his own eyes, the Messiah enter into human history. By celebrating and recalling these and many other persons in our family tree of faith, we begin to be convinced that with prayer, God has done the miraculous in human history and God can do the miraculous in our present day and that God can turn every sorrow into joy, and every lament into jubilation, if we but take the time to pray and allow God to enter into every situation and circumstance and to see them through the lens of God.
Praying, though, sometimes leads us to seek help from others. We can’t nor should we attempt to solve all of our problems by ourselves or to give the appearance that we’re a bastion of strength and resolve when, on the inside, we may be crumbling because of the weight of our dilemma. Sometimes professional help is needed and should be eagerly sought. At other times, spiritual counsel from a person of faith may help. At other times, praying together with a person in distress can be quite a transformative experience.
In whatever situation in which we may find ourselves, we must strive to be persons who are ready to listen to the hurts and struggles of others and to help them, if asked, to discern the best course of action that may restore the joy that the Lord intends for their lives.
That’s one of the reasons Pope Francis has called for a Synod on Synodality! Today is the kick-off day in our diocese to introduce the concept of a synod to all of you! What we hope to accomplish by coming together in a synod is to learn to listen to one another! It’s about the church’s leadership, in a particular manner, respectfully listening to the needs, hopes and dreams, and struggles of the faithful! When the church comes together as a synod, it acknowledges that the Holy Spirit speaks through all the People of God, not just those who are in the clergy, but to young and old, rich and poor, the marginalized and those at the center, those who feel welcomed as well as those who feel alienated and outside of the church’s embrace. It’s about acknowledging that all people have the right to speak about their faith experiences and the struggles that they face in living the Gospel in our contemporary world.
It’s not about developing a parliamentary system of decision making in the church, whereby the majority opinion overrides all others. Far from it. It’s more about cultivating a culture of dialogue and discussion in the church; it’s about learning to grapple and to wrestle with the demands of God on our daily living. It’s about being willing to tolerate a certain amount of confusion at times too, and to be confident in the Spirit’s leadership throughout the entire process.
I hope you’re all excited about this new adventure into synodality that we’re embarking upon today, as together, we’ll strive to listen to and to accompany one another on our pilgrim journey of faith and to discern the best ways to express and enflesh the Gospel to our contemporary world.
We’ll begin the synodal process in our parish this coming January. Stay tuned for more news and information in the coming month!
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