Robbed of wonder
When anticipation and expectation are taken from us
Have you ever been robbed? I don’t mean money or material things. I am speaking more of an attitude or sense of spirit. In his post-apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis uses this imagery of being robbed in speaking about missionary discipleship. He makes an impassioned plea for us not to be robbed of “missionary enthusiasm,” “the joy of evangelization,” “hope,” “community,” “the Gospel,” “the ideal of fraternal love” or “missionary vigor” as we continue the work of evangelization.
It is not a secret that we are entering a time of year when robbery appears to be more prevalent. With the coming of Christmas, I am sure we all have heard stories of people and institutions being robbed at this time. But the robberies that take place are not just about monetary or material things. Moreover, these robberies can happen before Christmas, especially in the Advent season. Any robbery is a violation that brings a loss. I am sure you agree that no one likes to be robbed at any time.
Sometimes these “Advent” and “Christmas” robberies can happen so blatantly. For example, when we enter a mall and see Christmas trees and lights, not to mention Santa Claus, and hear the Christmas music in the background even though Christmas is weeks away, we are robbed of that joyful and anticipatory wonder of waiting. The same robbery takes place when we attend Christmas parties in the Advent season. In addition, when we discover Jesus being placed already in the manger scene before Dec. 25, we are robbed of anticipation and expectation.
While our present-day society historically has had a practice of accelerating the calendar when it comes to the celebration of holidays, we as Catholics need to always live in the moment. When we get caught up in the ways of society that tend to push the envelope, we are robbed of time. Every day of Advent is part of the anticipation for the coming of Jesus. Every moment of waiting matters. This waiting is not just about us, but God waiting for us.
The prophet speaks about this shared waiting when he says, “Truly, the LORD is waiting to be gracious to you, / truly, he shall rise to show you mercy; / For the LORD is a God of justice: / happy are all who wait for him” (Is 30:18).
The painful realities of the world seem so much bigger at this time. Perhaps it is because our hearts are awakened and more sensitive. As we feel the joy of anticipation, the harsh reality of suffering can rob us of joy. I once heard someone define this “joy” as Jesus, others and you. Sometimes these days, we, along with so many others, can feel so alone because our sufferings rob us of that sense of Jesus and others. Andy Williams may tell us, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” In reality, however, for many, it can be the most lonely and sad time of year due to the spiritual robberies that take place.
And there can often be a snowball effect, because when we are robbed of joy, we can be robbed of hope. The beauty of the Advent season is in the story of hope. The prophecies we hear, the prayers we pray, most especially the collects, point to a promising future of hope.
The collect for the First Sunday of Advent says it all: “Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly Kingdom.”
There is typically a lot of running that takes place during the Advent season, but unless the running is to meet Christ, it is all in vain. Let us not allow our secular and materialistic culture to rob us of our faith these days. Let us “resolve to run forth to meet” Christ with patient waiting and growing expectation. In other words, as we used to pray in the old translation of the Mass, “Let us wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” I pray you have a blessed Advent so that your Christmas may be full and last through the entire season.
BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.