Happy New Year! If you’re Catholic and you’re reading this, my greeting makes sense as we find one another on the eve of the first day of a new liturgical year and celebrating the dawn of a new Advent.
I love Advent. That wasn’t always the case… In my younger years, Advent’s seemingly penitential nature felt like a “downer” when everyone else was scurrying around celebrating the Christmas season on the day after Halloween. Fast forward into my fifties, and I now find myself craving the solace of this lovely season. And this year, to celebrate in style, we have a gift from our Holy Father Pope Francis: his very first Apostolic Exhortation — Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel”.
In communion with several other friends, and spearheaded by the ever-joyful evangelist Kelly Wahlquist, I’ve committed myself to “unpacking” this Advent present during the days leading up to Christmas. At Kelly’s website, you will find an overview of this project as well as a beautiful video by our friend Thomas Smith answering the question “What is an Apostolic Exhortation?” And today, you’ll also find Kelly kicking us off with her first reflection on the opening paragraphs of Evangelii Gaudium.
My goal for Advent is to visit with you here each day, sharing a few impressions of the paragraphs we are jointly studying in the document and linking to the group reflections at Kelly’s site as well. Some days, my impressions will be longer than others. This is one of those “Can I really do this, Lord?” projects that sometimes stress me out. But I’m hoping that I will see this commitment less as an item on my holiday “to do” list and more as a time of retreat, prayer and conversation with spiritual friends. I invite you to join us in whatever way most joyfully leads you to Jesus Christ this Advent season. If you are blogging reflections on your own, please include links to your thoughts on the days’ section in the comments below. I would love to read what you have to say.
December 1: “A Joy Ever New, A Joy Which Is Shared” (Paragraphs 2-8)
As I was reading today’s portion of EG (as I will call it here), I pondered to myself whether Pope Francis timed this missive to us purposely to be broken open around the time of the Christmas season. Indeed his opening salvo seems like a commentary on the Black Friday madness that initiates what has become of “Christmas” in the US:
The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covertous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.
But before you get too down in the dumps, I encourage you to read ahead. When you meditate on this opening section of EG, I challenge you to read it with your best Pope Francis accent and that charming smile of his that has a way of lighting up a room. This opening section is filled with incredible hope and the reminder that the joy we have in Christ Jesus is too awesome a gift to be kept to ourselves.
Some of us may be receiving this message in a place of spiritual brokenness, feeling far from Christ and his love. To keep today’s reflection relatively short, I simply want to dwell on the part of this section that most struck me. You’ll find that in paragraph 3, where Pope Francis shares:
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.
As a mom of young adults, I read this section with the mental picture of my sons ringing in my heart. If you’ve ever lived with teens, you know the sensation of being with a surly young one, filled with attitude, who really doesn’t have the time of day for mom or dad. You know the patience of unconditional love for them, and the joy of that “I love you, Mom!” that comes for no reason in the middle of the day when they’ve had enough food and rest and the stars are perfectly aligned to find them in the best of moods.
I wonder to myself if this is how God feels in those moments when I rush about, too busy to pause and even say, “Thanks God! I love you.” Yet there he is, waiting for me with open arms.
What greater source of joy could there be?
What more awesome example of “good news” to be shared will we find?
Lord, on this opening day of Advent, help me to find total contentment in the embrace of your bountiful love for me. May this Advent journey be a trek ever deeper into your will for my life and a more perfect sharing of your grace with all of those around me. Amen
Copyright 2013 Lisa M. Hendey