Our old priest, now retired, grew up during World War II and saw his dad march off to war. Father apparently handled this separation from his parent relatively well; Father’s brother, William, apparently did not. William began having nightmares so severe that he would wake up screaming in the night. At those times their mother would rise and come to sit beside William’s bed to comfort him, holding his hand and whispering to him, “I’m here. I’m here.” That was all she did; it was all she could do. Gradually, the boy’s nightmares subsided, and eventually his dad returned safe and sound.
That story had a profound impact on my understanding of what it means to live in this dark world, for that is of course what we Catholics contend – He is here! – every time we have Mass. This was brought home to me in a startling way one Sunday when our old priest fell ill. It was the first and only time that I as a Catholic have experienced Communion in the absence of a priest. A deacon from our neighboring parish officiated, and when it came time for the Invitation to Communion, he did something I had never seen done before. He literally cried out:
The Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world!
Yes, He is here.
The irony of this Sunday being Gaudete Sunday was lost on no Catholic, I imagine. Rejoice, O Christian! You live in a world where small children are slaughtered at school! Again I say, rejoice!
Gaudete! the Church urges me today. How can I? is the only response that comes to mind.
Believe me, I don’t want to rejoice. We have all been through a nightmare, a waking nightmare. I don’t want to live in a world where I have to explain to little ones what happened in Connecticut on December 14th.
The world is broken, our deacon reminded us this morning, and shall remain so until the Son of God returns in glory. The irony of being urged to joy on Gaudete Sunday, 2012 weighs like lead. Rejoice in a broken world where children suffer, families grieve, and tears stain the cheeks of bystanders? How can I?
He is here.
This is the Catholic answer to the world. This is the point of the Advent season. This is the meaning of Gaudete Sunday. He did not leave us orphans in this broken world. He shall come again in glory, and all will be then set right, but until that Day, He is here, really here, physically present at every Mass. He comes to us, He abides with us, God with us in the Holy Eucharist. He does not only come to sit with us through the terrors of our long, dark night – He becomes our Food, our Drink, entering into our bodies so that we might hear His “I am here” within us. We are not alone, and the “joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ” are not ours to bear alone. He literally bears them with us, through us, and in us.
He is here, and through tears this Sunday our hearts rejoice.
On the memorial of St. Adelaide
Deo omnis gloria!
Postscript: Please join in the Novena for the Sandy Hook Families.