We are pleased to offer you a recorded version of our Ignatian Advent Meditation as well as a transcript of Fr. Conroy’s reflection. Thank you for joining us in prayer!
Journeying In A Storm
A reflection by Rev. Jim Conroy, SJ, Cofounder of IVC
Thank you for joining this Ignatian Volunteer Corps Advent Meditation. Liturgically, Advent is a season of greater than usual prayer, reflection, and devotion. For Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus devotion has special meaning; Devotion is seeking and finding the presence of God. So, this Advent, we look back and rejoice at the Birth of Christ, God Incarnate, the Word Made Flesh dwelling among us, and look forward in hope to the joyful second coming of Christ.
This Advent season comes at a most difficult time, a time when darkness and fear grip us. Far too many mornings in recent months I, like many of you, have awakened with a sense of foreboding or dread of things that I do not fully grasp or understand.
Add to the mix vulnerability and uncertainty fueled by isolation and restlessness. Separation from family and friends and dire warnings and restrictions placed upon, us wears us down. A deadly worldwide pandemic, on-going political turmoil in this country, economic uncertainty, racial unrest, a muddled church, contentiousness so bizarre that is like babble, people can’t talk with one another. Everything and everyone is on edge. It’s like we’re trapped in a maelstrom. For me, this a journey through chaos. The words of the prophet Isiah from nearly 3,000 years ago take on new meaning. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light”. We are a people walking in dark times searching for great light.
Desolation. Desolation is not the Last word. For Christians and especially for those of us who have made the Spiritual Exercises we come to greater knowledge and gratitude to God who enters into human chaos with compassionate and redeeming love. God’s mercy restores order and peace. The peace of Christ. We seek the peace of Christ.
The image on the program of Mary and Joseph conveys struggle. “Journeying through a Storm” is an ageless metaphor for human life. The earliest sacred stories of our faith community describe the journey of people throughout time and travail. From Ur of the Chaldeans, the sojourn of Abraham and Sara our father and mother in faith, to the most recent refugee family arriving at a board crossing, struggle is a fundamental part of human existence. (I remember my Grandmother’s journey. She came to America in 1897 poor and illiterate. 15 years later she was a widow with 4 children. We all have ancestors of faith.) For me, the perduring image of Mary and Joseph and the yet to be born Jesus journeying from Nazareth to Bethlehem offers hope, meaning, and inspiration. We discover that faith and spirituality do not exempt us from the darkness and harshness of what it is to be human. Instead, they bolster us in a time of storm and anxiety.
The story of Mary and Joseph has captured the hearts of Christians and become a core part of our faith, because it is so impossible and yet so real. Unimaginable, God enters into our messy world as an infant, vulnerable, and totally dependent on a very young woman and an uncertain man. Mary and then Joseph trusted God. In turn, God entrusted them with Jesus, son of God, son of Mary. Mary and Joseph learned to trust one another.
Remember the story of the Annunciation? Gabriel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid. You have won God’s favor. You are to conceive and bear a son and you must name him Jesus.” He will great and will be called Son of the most high. He will rule over the house of Jacob and his reign shall have no end.” Fearlessly, Mary and Joseph with her, carry new light for the world with confidence that God’s promises of old will be fulfilled. It is light that darkness cannot overwhelm. It’s in us. Light is in us. The light of Christ is in us. I carry it, we carry. Do we perceive that light? Do we trust that light? Mary and Joseph believed. Do we trust God in this storm?
Exhausted, they proceed through fear and danger; Vulnerable yet resilient. They are guided by Inner light; Inner strength.
Again, Desolation is not the Last Word.
This image of Mary and Joseph in its simplicity strengthens our spirits. It reminds us that in times of struggle we are not alone and that we may draw upon the core tenants of our faith to persevere.
Once again from Isaiah, “Comfort, oh comfort your people Oh Lord”. The stories that we tell one another in times of suffering and darkness are the stories that have endured the passage of time. These are the stories that bring us comfort. Our God hears the voice crying in the wilderness. “Generation after generation praises your works. They proclaim your mighty deeds and speak of the splendor of your glorious majesty”. (Ps. 145) For thousands of years, across the broadness of human existence, we have shared the stories of people of faith.
Today, more than ever, we need faith witnesses, in our generation, in our time of struggle. We need people who trust in the presence of God and who are willing to trust one another.
Richard Rohr in his book, Falling Upward speaks of “radiant people” who have come to their human fullness, often against all odds, and usually by suffering personally or vicariously. He observes that “many of the happiest, most generous and focused people I know are young mothers”.
Most of us have been inspired by people of courage and faith. These are the radiant people whose light shines bright. Their example strengthens us in a time of weakness and to seek and find the courage to not be afraid. Even though the struggle of evil and darkness surrounds us, the light of faith guides our way. Faith tells us to persevere like Mary and Joseph. Light triumphs over darkness. Fear abates in the presence of love.
The light of faith is radiant and resilient.
Pope Francis in a recent OP-ED reflected on his near-death experience as a young man. Neither he nor his doctors knew if he would live or die. He remembers being on a ventilator after most of one lung was removed.
He describes 2 nurses Cornelia and Micaela. “They taught me what it is to use science but also to know when to go beyond it to meet particular needs. And the serious illness I lived through taught me to depend on the goodness and wisdom of others.”
He goes on, “Saints next door are like the doctors and medical workers who continue to take care of the sick during the pandemic. Their example speaks to our hearts making credible once more the strength of faith and example of love”. Radiant people are women and men who journey on in the storms.
It is hard to see the faces of the nurses, doctors, and health care workers who are hidden behind masks and wrapped in gowans as they labor to save and comfort. We have trusted them with our lives. They are radiant people.
Young mothers and fathers who have figured out ways to care for and educate children during quarantine even while wrestling with job insecurity are radiant people. Men and women who counted and, in some cases, recounted votes in the election even when intimidated are radiant people. Peacemakers, truth-tellers, teachers are all radiant people. They carry the light of faith.
Remember the 19th-century hymn, “Ye watchers and Ye holy ones”? Raise a glad strain, Alleluia. We are a people who believe that light triumphs over darkness. As we seek and find the presence of God. “No personal illness, no isolation, no discord can harm us. As St. Paul says, I am certain of this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, nor created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus the Lord.”
Finally, to close this advent meditation we fervently pray in our time, amid our journey, with great hope and expectation the ancient anthems:
- Marana Tha, Come Lord Jesus.
- Come, oh Come, Emmanuel.
Our God, Emmanuel, is with us in this time as in times gone by.
For just a few minutes of quiet prayer consider:
- What stories and memories strengthen the Christ light within you?
- Who are the “radiant people” people for you in this stormy journey?
- With whom and how do you wish to share the strength of your faith?