November 24, 2020 // Bishop's Column: In Truth and Charity

Advent hope during the pandemic

Advent is a time of waiting, of expectation and of hope. This year, we are all waiting, expecting and hoping for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. We wait for and expect a safe and effective vaccine. We look forward with hope to a return to normal life, to not have to worry about getting too close to people, to be able to gather again with family and friends, to travel, and to worship and praise God in song at our liturgies.

We wait in joyful expectation for the coming of a vaccine. We hope that soon it will be widely distributed. We look forward to going out to eat and shopping without worry of contracting the virus. We look forward to attending sports events and enjoying full stadiums. We look forward to continual in-person classes in our schools, without worrying about having to resort to virtual classes.

We wait with hope to being able to visit our loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes and those who have had to stay home during this pandemic. We look forward to visiting them without the worry that we may be carrying the deadly virus.

We wait to go to church and gathering closely again as we worship the Lord. We hope to see our churches full without necessary empty pews to keep people apart. We look forward to singing without worrying about spreading the virus. We look forward to exchanging the sign of peace with our neighbors.

We wait and we hope. Yet even when life returns to normal, there will not be an end to sickness and suffering. There will not be an end to all loneliness and isolation. The sorrows of life will not disappear. The production of a vaccine, a wonderful accomplishment of science, which we have hoped and prayed for, will not bring peace to the world. As wonderful as it is, a vaccine will not eradicate the diseases of the spirit that are part of our life in this valley of tears. It will not eradicate sin and injustice. A vaccine will not bring eternal life. It will not inoculate us against sin and death.

We hope for a vaccine and an end to the pandemic, but this is not our greatest hope. Deep down, we will still feel a longing for something greater, a longing for unending happiness, a longing for joy, peace and love. In a word, we long for salvation. We long for a Savior. We long for God. Without Him, we have no ultimate hope and will not find joy and peace. Without Him, we go through life as a journey toward death. With Him, we go through life as a journey toward the fullness of life.

The season of Advent focuses on this great hope. It is a time of waiting for and expecting the coming of God among us. Our God is the God-who-comes. He is not a God far away in the distant cosmos, a God unconcerned about us and our life. He is the God who became one of us, who sent His Son that we might have life, life in abundance. He is Love and, therefore, He comes to save us.

The angel told Joseph to name the child to be born of Mary “Jesus.” He said: “You are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) This message gives us hope. The name of the Messiah is Jesus, which means “Savior.”  The purpose of His coming was to save us from our sins. In His infinite love, God sent His Son to rescue us from sin and death. And so we pray to Him: “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.”

During these weeks of Advent, we prepare for Christmas, the celebration of God’s entrance into human history 2,000 years ago in the little town of Bethlehem. We prepare to celebrate the Birth of our Savior. He is our hope. Without Him, we fall into despair. St. Augustine prayed the following: “How much you have loved us, kind Father! If your Word had not become flesh and had not dwelt among us, we would have had to believe that there was no connection between God and humanity and we would have been in despair.”

Advent not only focuses on God’s coming in history 2,000 years ago, but also on His future coming at the end of time when He will be seen in glory and majesty. In this second coming in glory, Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead, as we profess in the Nicene Creed. In Advent, the Church invites us to think about this second coming of Christ, His glorious return, which is the final destination of our pilgrimage through life. We don’t know when this will take place, but the Scriptures teach us to be vigilant and prepared for the Master’s return. The expectation of the second coming should spur us on, motivate us to be vigilant in prayer and active in good works, to be ready for the judgment.

As we prepare to commemorate Christ’s coming at Christmas and as we await His glorious return, we also recognize that He comes now. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He did not leave us here alone. He comes to us in the grace of the sacraments. He comes into our souls and in the community of the Church. We need only open our hearts to Him and His love. In Advent, we are called to intensify our prayer so as to welcome the Lord more fully into our lives. We are to be watchful in prayer for the coming of the Lord, preparing to receive the Lord who comes to show us His mercy and give us His salvation.

Jesus, who came among us at Christmas and will return in glory at the end of time, constantly comes to us in the events of our lives. He is always near us. He accompanies us in every situation, in joys and in sorrows, in health and in sickness. He is always close to us. And He has given us His Mother to accompany us as well. In Advent, we will celebrate her Immaculate Conception and also her appearance in America as Our Lady of Guadalupe. In this season of hope, we turn to her, Our Mother of Hope, to guide us. In her heart and in her womb, she bore the Incarnate Son of God. She directs us to Him. Mary our Mother encourages us and supports us with her love and her prayers as we await the coming of her Son.

As we await and hope for the end of the coronavirus pandemic, let us even more importantly await the coming of the Lord and place our hope in Him. In this season of Advent, let us turn our gaze and our heart to Him who is our Savior, in spiritual union with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Advent! May God bless you with a blessed and fruitful Advent!

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