December 15, 2017

Worship and Evangelization Outreach / Erin Jeffries

‘An Advent Dialogue with the Sick’

Recently, I had the joy of beginning Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) short book The Blessing of Christmas. The first part of this book is “An Advent Dialogue with the Sick.”

Though Benedict is speaking primarily to people who are sick, and therefore isolated, I found myself thinking of all the ways we can be isolated during this time of year. Those who, like my husband and myself, are far from family, those who are new to the area or who are in group homes or care facilities, those who work long or odd hours or perform solitary work, or those who struggle with seasonal depression, to name a few.

All of these circumstances can prevent people from being able to share in the joy others feel at this time. In fact, I would imagine this is something we can all relate to in one way or another.

Benedict presents Advent as “a medicine for the soul that makes it easier to bear the enforced inaction and the pain of [one’s] illness. Advent can help us discover the unobtrusive grace that can lie in the very fact of being sick,” or isolated for that matter.

The word “Advent” (adventus in Latin) can actually be translated as “presence” or “arrival.” Typically that is not the first thing that comes to mind. We think first of the waiting, or anticipation of the arrival. This translation lends to a different focus—on God’s presence and closeness, his love—and the blessing he brings in his presence.

When we are sick, isolated or lonely, we are taken out of the rush of typical daily life, where there is little time and little encouragement to reflect and make intentional choices about our external activity or inner life. Benedict tells us “When I am sick, I am obliged to be still. I am obliged to wait. I am obliged to reflect on myself; I am obliged to bear being alone. I am obliged to bear pain, and I am obliged to accept the burden of my own self. All this is hard.”

Yet, this is where the time of Advent can be especially full of blessing and meaning.

This time, as difficult as it may be, can be seen as an opportunity, and Benedict challenges us to see it this way. “The Lord has interrupted my activity for a time in order to let me be still.” He proposes that it is in the stillness that God is waiting for us, adding, “We rebel against it, this is not only because it is painful or because it is hard to be still and alone. We rebel against it because there are so many important things we ought to be doing and because illness seems meaningless. But it is not in the least meaningless! … It can be a moment in our life that belongs to God, a time when we are open to him and thus learn to rediscover our own selves.”

Often when a person is chronically ill or feeling lonely and isolated, small progress, days when he or she feels better, little gestures of genuine friendship, become a beacon of light and a moment to celebrate. Memories of those good moments also remain, and they have the ability to sustain us in the hard days when we are not feeling consolation. To focus on these things can be, as Benedict puts it, beautiful and healing. They remind us of the truth that we are loved, that we are not really alone, that there is good, and above all that the Lord is present.

(Erin Jeffries is the coordinator of Ministry to Persons with Special Needs in the archdiocesan Office of Catechesis. She can be reached at 317-236-1448 or .)

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