Second Sunday of Advent

Second Sunday of Advent

Dear Friends,

All of us have experienced pessimistic moments.  Sometimes we experience pessimism because no matter what we do we can’t seem to avoid suffering; painful things just keep happening to us and those we love.  Sometimes we experience discouragement because we can’t seem to avoid sin; we just keep falling into the same patterns of greed, lust, impatience, and laziness.  Sometimes we experience cynicism when we look at society and see so much that is wrong, so much injustice, degradation, and violence.  Maybe even sometimes thinking, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” 

Today, as we start the Second week of Advent, God has something to say about this pessimism, discouragement, and cynicism.  He is saying to us: pessimism, discouragement, cynicism will all come knocking at your door, but don’t let them in!  Do not let yourself be afraid, because I am your Lord and Savior.   I have not forgotten you!

This is the message of the Gospel, where we hear St John the Baptist’s voice ring out with hope in the wilderness of pessimism: the Lord is coming!

This is the message of Isaiah, who preaches comfort to God’s sinful people, reminding them that he is like a shepherd who gathers the lambs of his flock (us) in his arms.

This is the message of the Second Reading: even if it seems that God is absent, and has forgotten us, we know that he is simply waiting for the right moment to send in his grace.  St Peter reminds us, that for God, a thousand years are like a day, and a day is like a thousand years; what seems like a long wait for us is just the blink of an eye.  Advent is our yearly reminder that God has not forgotten us, no matter how we may feel.  He has not forgotten us.  In fact, he never stops thinking of us, and he is leading us with great care to our everlasting reward.  This is something we can trust.  Now sometimes we lack trust in God.  It’s what pains him the most, our lack of trust.  In the spiritual life this is something we can pray for.   We can always pray for an increase in trust;  because there’s always room for us to grow in trust.  And we look to Jesus as our example of one who prays with trust. 

The Gospels tell us that Jesus prayed the Psalms as he hung upon the Cross.  St. Matthew and St. Mark record the opening verse

of Psalm 22, “My God My god why have you forsaken me?”  And St. Luke records that Jesus also prayed, “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit” (Luke 23:46).  This was his last statement before he breathed his last.  This too is from a Psalm, Psalm 31.  This is a prayer of trust in God’s protection.  This psalm speaks of the suffering of one striving to be faithful to God and about the confidence with which he entrust himself to God’s protection.  Jesus placed his trust in the Father’s care. 

Every night before bed those who pray the breviary pray this same prayer of trust, “Into your hands Lord I commend my spirit!”  “Into your hands Lord I commend my spirit!”  This is our prayer of trust.  Borrowing our Lord’s own words we can also make this our prayer when things get hard. 

St. Francis Xavier Cabrini lived this prayer.  She is the first Canonized U.S. citizen.  There were many roadblocks and setbacks in her life, a lot of stress, yet Mother Cabrini trusted.   Born in 1850, she was the 13th child born into a farming family.  She was born 2 months pre-mature, and she was small and weak as a child.   Her health remained fragile for the rest of her life. 

From an early age Frances felt called to religious life particularly that of a missionary.  She wanted to bring the Catholic faith to China.  As a child she would make boats out of paper and fill them with flowers.  The flowers were her missionary priests and sisters.  She would set the boats free into a river, sending her missionaries off to China.  She once fell into the water at the age of 7, almost drowning.  From then on, she was deathly afraid of open water.  Yet throughout her life she crossed the ocean over 2 dozen times.  So, she prayed, “Into your hands Lord I commend my spirit!” 

Frances was educated at a school run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart.  She graduated with a teaching certificate and received the highest honors.  She wanted to join their order, but they turned her away because of her poor health.  So, she prayed, “Into your hands Lord I commend my spirit!”

Knowing of her credentials a priest asked her to come and teach at an orphanage for girls.  She and the other teachers formed their own religious community.  After a few years of working and praying together they made vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and they began to wear a habit.  They became The Missionary sisters of the Sacred Heart.  They cared for children in schools and hospitals.  In 5 years, they had 7 homes, a school, and a nursery.  She went to Pope Leo XIII to see if he would allow her to go to China.  It was her lifelong dream. 

But the Pope told her no, you go to the USA instead.  Not to the East but to the West!  So again, she prayed, “Into your hands Lord I commend my spirit!”  On March 31, 1889, Frances arrived in New York City with 6 other sisters.  They were there to serve the growing number of Italian immigrants.  However, the house promised her was not available and the Bishop told her to go back to Italy.  We don’t need you.  So, she prayed, “Into your hands Lord I commend my spirit!”  She soon found housing and they were able to start running their first orphanage.  Over the years Mother Cabrini was faced with great difficulties and impossibilities.  But she had a deep trust in God’s providence.  And God continually sent her many resources and he worked through her deep prayer life and her natural gifts to bring about much good. 

After 35 years of caring for the poor, Mother Cabrini had founded 67 institutions.  These were orphanages, schools, and hospitals.  She died at the age of 67 in Chicago on December 22, 1917.  Mother Cabrini is a powerful example of trust.  Pope Pius XII said this at her canonization, “In the face of endless cares and anxieties of life, she never let anything turn her aside from striving and aiming to please God and to work for His glory for which nothing, aided by God’s grace, seemed too laborious, or difficult, or beyond human strength.”

One aspect of this season of Advent is to remind us that God has not forgotten us. So, when a cross or a roadblock comes our way and we are tempted to say “My God my God why have you forsaken me?”  Let us remember our Lord and his saint St. Francis Xavier Cabrini and pray with the same trust, “Into your hands Lord I commend my spirit.”  “Into your hands Lord I commend my spirit.” 

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley