By Father John Szatkowski
Special to The Texas Catholic
2020 has certainly done a number on all of us. Our churches shut down in March for what was initially supposed to have been three weeks. Weeks, of course, became months. May welcomed the cautious resuming of weekday Mass, and pastors were given the green light to hold public Sunday Mass at the end of June. Still in December, though, we find ourselves in the midst of the coronavirus’ third spike. On top of this, we have experienced a particularly brutal election cycle, ongoing racism, and increased violence in our country. These things, which I have referred to in homilies a time or two as the common denominator of this year’s sufferings, do not even take into account our own personal hardships and sufferings during this time, all of which are only amplified by the depth of our communal suffering.
For myself, this year also brought the sadness of having to unexpectedly put down my older dog in April and the physical pain of breaking a bone in my left hand while on vacation in October, though these things pale in comparison to the unprecedented suffering I have witnessed by virtue of being heavily involved with providing sacraments for coronavirus patients the past nine months.
I have always enjoyed the season of Advent, as I find it to be year after year a time in which our Lord challenges and blesses me in tangible ways with great spiritual growth. My excitement as we approached Advent this year only intensified, and now my heart finds great consolation during this season of twofold preparation. We begin Advent with contemplating and preparing for our Lord’s return and then shift to focusing on His first coming as we approach the celebration of His Nativity.
Why has there been such a yearning in my heart for the season of Advent this year? Why does each of us need to go spiritually all-in with this great season? Simply put, Advent points us to hope, and we need this reminder of hope as we conclude this tumultuous year. The hope we need, though, goes beyond a coronavirus vaccine and other such temporal goods. We need hope based in truth, or, more precisely, hope that is truth. When we seek to view the woes of our time through the lens of our Christian faith, we find consolation in Jesus Christ as our true, lasting hope, the likes of which the world simply cannot offer. Yes, the present sufferings continue, but hope in Jesus Christ affords us the opportunity to not get stuck there.
We heard on the second Sunday of Advent from John the Baptist and the prophet Isaiah – two quintessential figures of Advent – the call to prepare the way for our Lord, whose greatest desire is the openness of our hearts for His dwelling therein. Certainly, we owe it to ourselves to provide Him that room. What a gift it is during hard times knowing that the hope we crave is never of our own creation but is instead right in front of us waiting for our embrace.
Father John Szatkowski is the pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Richardson.