I remember in grade school doing a science project at home where we put a bean or seed of some kind in a glass jar, pressed against the glass by wet paper towels. You just had to keep the paper towels wet and wait. And before long, a green sprout would break out of the bean or seed and start growing between the glass and the paper towel. The first time, you really didn’t know what was going to happen—it was kind of unexpected. But, having done this once, you had hope that it would work when you did it a second time, based on your experience.
This kind of hope is being reflected upon in the second reading (Letter of Saint James) when the text says, “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You, too, must be patient.” We heard a similar statement of hope and expectation in the first reading, but in this case, it is really expecting the unexpected. Isaiah’s vivid prophecy promises an extraordinary renewal of land and people. In the future, not only will the desert and the parched land bloom with abundant flowers– but the blind will see, the deaf hear, and the mute sing!
If you think about it, hope is made of memories. The farmer has planted before—and the people of Israel knew the abundant growth associated with the northern fruitfulness of Lebanon, Carmel, and Sharon. They also knew the experience of being healed. These memories can remind us that there is nothing in life we have faced that we did not survive– through God’s gifts and graces, however unrecognized at the time. Therefore, hope is the recall of good in the past, on which we base our expectation of good in the future, however bad the present.
When we have hope, we can even expect the unexpected, because (as Sr. Joan Chittister wrote in a recent article) hope digs in the rubble of the heart for memory of God’s promise to bring good out of evil and joy out of sadness. On the basis of those memories of the past, we are able to have new hope for the future… even in the face of death… even in the face of loss… even when our own private little worlds turn to dust, as sooner or later they always do. Advent calls us to hope in the promise that God is calling us to greater things, and will be with us as we experience them. And now a parishioner will continue this reflection.
Good Evening (Morning), my name is Katie Vandenburg. I joined St. Katharine Drexel last year when I began RCIA and was fully welcomed into the Church during last Easter Vigil. As I was contemplating today’s reflection, I couldn’t help but observe how much things have changed in the last year. When I approached Theresa Anderson over a year ago about starting RCIA and joining the St. Katharine Drexel Community, I could never foresee myself standing before you today. It is certainly – unexpected.
Although I grew up going to St. John Regional Catholic School, my connection to the Catholic community in Frederick weakened after high school – as did my faith. As I entered adulthood, it was easy to lose faith in the face of the challenges I faced. I stopped listening for God’s message in these instances. Instead, I spent years doing my best to be a good person and relying on my own stubborn independent nature. I thought that if everything was in my control, I could avoid the painful, unexpected parts of life. I avoided the unexpected with every fiber of my being, and I certainly did not welcome it. Without faith in my life, the unexpected was something to be feared. No good could ever come from it. Despite my own stubbornness – my own insistence that I rely on myself and no one else – the unexpected continued to happen.
For a long time, I believed that I had lost the faith with which I had grown up. But when yet again something unexpected happened four years ago, the first place I sought comfort was a Catholic Mass. Then an unexpected source observed that I was religious – despite not feeling so myself. Another unexpected source taught me to see God’s hand when looking at the mountains, and all of the unexpected twists of nature they have endured. Gradually, I began to start seeing the signs and listening again.
When I started RCIA, I had already started opening my mind and my heart to these unexpected signs. But I was still trying to find my way out of the wilderness that I had wandered in alone for so long. Ironically, the hardest part was not knowing what to expect. Would this community accept me? Was I “Catholic” enough? What in the world does Jesus want from me?
However, the most unexpected thing happened. From my first moment sitting here in Mass, I knew this was where I was meant to be. A sense of calm came over me. I was still struggling for control, of course – I continue working on it. But I knew if I listened to that sense of calm that it would be okay. I shouldn’t have been surprised that this community welcomed me with open arms. I still have no idea what being “Catholic” enough means – but I do my best to live my life according to the teachings of Jesus, and I know that God loves my perfectly imperfect self more than I could ever imagine.
As for what Jesus wants from me, that seems to be the most unexpected part of all because I am up here speaking in front of all of you. The more I listen for the message of Jesus in my life, the more his path for me keeps opening up. I used to think that trying to control my path was the only way to guarantee that it would work out the way I wanted it to. But now I see just how much I missed by not listening. When I feel overwhelmed – I just take a deep breath and remember to expect the unexpected. The unexpected is no longer something to be feared. I believe that what Jesus has in mind is greater than anything I could ever imagine – and I don’t want to miss it.
Prayer of Assembly
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” –Fr. Thomas Merton