With terrorist attacks in Paris, downed jets in Egypt, secessionist talk in Catalonia, political strife in Venezuela, increasing tension between Russia and Turkey, and a myriad other troubles around the world, . . . we begin Advent. It is a time that we often use to look forward to Christmas and the celebrations that traditionally accompany the season.
Perhaps this year, however, instead of beginning a symbolic journey forward, we can take the time to journey backwards. Perhaps this year we can reflect on the suffering in our world generally, as well as those closer to home, the sufferings that are ours specifically, now and in the past, to our youth and before; those sufferings that were ours and of our parents in our childhood, of our mothers at our birth and before we were born. Perhaps we can reflect on the sufferings of the young couple that became our parents, and of their parents before them, of their world then, of their grandparents and great grandparents, and the toil they went through in times, like ours, worse than ours, that frightened them, that broke their hearts, that made them cry at sunrise and fear the night.
Perhaps we can think of the sufferings of generations before them, the hunger they went through, the loneliness, their migrations to strange lands and strange languages, their sorrows that never failed to return despite times of calm and solace. Perhaps this year, we can reflect on those who suffered before them, a suffering that was not an abstraction, likes ours is not an abstraction, but a suffering that was intensely personal and real, as our suffering is personal and real: the fear of a disease no one understands, but whose pain increases and bends a tired body, the long nights lit by candlelight sitting by a bed awaiting the death of a loved one, the prospect, now long forgotten but then intensely experienced, of an orphaned childhood lived in destitution. Perhaps this year we can continue a journey backwards in time and meditate on the suffering of so many people before those previous generations, people likes us, whose attempt to find love disappointed them, who wished for joy but did not find it, whose crops failed and storms destroyed their homes. Fathers gone to war who never returned . . .
Perhaps this year we can journey even further in the past, to a moment in time, a moment like ours here, like yours and mine here and now, a moment in history, like this moment in history, a real moment, but a moment long ago, when a young girl like any girl throughout history, and yet unlike any girl in history, a moment when a young girl gave birth to a boy. A boy. A boy destined to suffer. Perhaps then we can begin to see that in the eyes of that Child there was a Hope, a Light that began to shine in a very dark world. Perhaps we can see in the eyes of that Child what the young girl saw, what the shepherds saw, what fishermen saw and tax collectors saw. Perhaps we can see that which made them speak to the townsfolk and to outsiders, compelled them to share about what they saw: A Man of suffering, destined to carry on his shoulders the weight of the world. Perhaps then we will begin to see what generations later saw, and communicated, whispered in the midst of their suffering: dying mother to young daughter, heartbroken father to scared son, one to another, generation after generation, sharing what they saw in the eyes of that Man: a Hope that gave meaning to their suffering, a Light in their darkness. Then we may realize, I may realize, just how that witness arrived to me, in a conviction of what they saw at that moment in history that reached me today, that reaches you and me now, in this moment. A moment that was not an abstraction, like this moment is not an abstraction, brought with it a Presence that was then not an abstraction, because the Child was not an abstraction, so the Presence that is shared with me today, through endless generations of people that suffered and toiled in time becomes present now, really present in the troubled times we are living, in the history that is our history, in the life that is my life.
“In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Lk 1:78-79)
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