Patiently Waiting for the Desert to Bloom With Abundant Flowers

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.  The liturgical readings for the third Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; Psalm 146: 6-7, 8-9, 9-10; James 5:7-10;  Matthew 11:2-11.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

Since Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium or The Joy of the Gospel, first appeared in late November, I have been reading this book-length document in small pieces. The other day, as I sat in my easy chair and continued to soak in his words of encouragement and advice, I found myself at the section about spiritual reading, particularly reading the Word of God. “Great!” I thought. “Here’s some help for the homily I need to write!”

Pope Francis writes that, after we perform a recollected reading of the text, we ask ourselves some questions about the Scripture passage. What does this text say to me? What about my life needs to change? What do I find pleasant or attractive in this text for my life? Francis says that we need to avoid the temptation to apply the passage to other people. Now, this hits home! During the Scripture readings at Sunday worship service, I sometimes find myself thinking, “I hope so-and-so heard that!”

With Francis’ advice at hand, I read and reread the Scripture texts for the Third Sunday of Advent to figure out what God was saying to me. Isaiah speaks of a joyful time when all will be made right and good: feeble hands and weak knees will be strengthened, blind eyes will be opened, and deaf ears will hear. But until this time arrives, the epistle of James cautions us to be patient, just as the farmer waits for the rains to water the precious fruit of the earth. We are not to complain about one another, but look to the prophets as examples of the patience God asks of us.

The Gospel reading gives us an example in the prophet, John the Baptist. John preached a stirring message of repentance for sin and baptism with water to cleanse the body and soul, but John waited patiently for a Messianic figure, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. From his prison cell, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus if his waiting time is over. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” John is an example of patience.

In my own life, I find that it’s “the little things” about which I am impatient. Why is the car in front of me going so slowly? Why do I feel exasperated when others don’t do things the way I do? Why am I annoyed when I can’t find my gloves or keys? Why do these things alter my mood from one of peace and lightheartedness to sourness and grumbling?

I seem to be somewhat patient about “the big things,” like changes in the church’s teaching on homosexuality or sexuality, in general, because history attests to the evolution of thought and understanding about sexuality. As the Christian community learned about the workings of human sexuality from the various sciences, I see how we adapted our ideas about sexual morality and ethics. We already see these changes of thought in various theological positions and in the minds and hearts of the laity. I believe that one day these sexual teachings will change on the hierarchical level, so I am a bit patient, although I sometimes ask, “How long, Lord? How long?”

Or perhaps I am learning to be patient about “the big things” of Church doctrines because I am coming to see that Church teachings are rightly fading in importance. Maybe they don’t need to change right now, but just recede into the background until they can be modified. As Pope Francis has said, “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines.” The Church needs to focus “on the essentials, on…what makes the heart burn, … (on) the Gospel.”

Pope Francis is guiding us back to the essential message of Jesus that the Church needs to preach and we need to hear: God loves us just as we are, in all our sinfulness and messiness and impatience and is calling us to love God in return by showing love for others, ourselves, and all of creation.

So during this Third Sunday of Advent, I pray for patience in “the little things” and “the big things” until the time, as Isaiah says, when the desert will “bloom with abundant flowers.”

As I write these Advent words, I can look up from my desk to see a plaque on my office wall. On the plaque is one of my favorite excerpts from a letter of Blessed Theresa Gerhardinger, the foundress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, to her sisters. Her words are a fitting reminder of Advent patience: “All the works of God proceed slowly and in pain; therefore, their roots are sturdier and their flowering the lovelier.”

–Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry

9 thoughts on “Patiently Waiting for the Desert to Bloom With Abundant Flowers

  1. pjnugent December 15, 2013 / 7:13 am

    Lovely and reassuring. Thank you, Jeannine.

  2. Richard G. Roy December 15, 2013 / 1:53 pm

    Jeannine,

    I enjoyed you Advent reflection on the need for patience. Certainly, God’s patience with us has been superabundant. However, for many of us, the patience required will be that of a Job or Moses; a lifelong struggle to remain faithful to God knowing that we, personally, will never be admitted to the promised land.

    Those of us called to priesthood or religious life, and also homosexual in orientation, cannot respond to this call with the Roman Catholic Church. God knows, many of us have tried! The closet is no place for the servants of God. Our first responsibility is to respond to what we have discerned the Holy Spirit has called us to do in good conscience. Very often, that means leaving the structure of the Roman Catholic Church, but not its faith, behind. It requires us to be courageous enough to trust in God and find ways to fulfill that calling and gather together others who are alienated by a church which seems to think that individuals count for nothing; that generations of people are called to live in existential suffering and hope for that century in which the Church finally says, “Oh, yes. They were right all along”.

    Peace,

    + Richard G. Roy, OSJD

  3. Chaplain Bill December 15, 2013 / 4:25 pm

    Sister Jeannine – This was absolutely wonderful! I have long known what a treasure you are and now this wonderful spiritual sharing. Thank you so ver much. I do hope that Bondings 2.0 can adapt its model to allow for more of these spiritual shadings. Blessings to you at this wonderful time of anticipation and new beginnings.

  4. Martha sherman December 15, 2013 / 7:09 pm

    Thank you Jeannine. Blessed Theresa’s words have always been infinitely challenging and hopeful for me. I so believe in the beauty of the Gospel but would prefer an easier path, without the slowness and the pain. In my own journey I do know that the painful experiences have ultimately given my foundation a sturdiness I need for the long haul. Peace.

  5. Friends December 15, 2013 / 8:35 pm

    I am so deeply moved by the above comments, that it’s hard to know where to begin in response. Everyone: please remember that your Faith and your Love belong directly to God Himself — not to those mere mortal human beings who are no better and no worse than you, but who presume to condemn you for your mode of living deeply “In Love”, under God’s own witnessing. (CC: Bishop Paprocki — and may God have mercy upon your soul, when you come to Judgment, as do we all.)

  6. Diana December 15, 2013 / 9:14 pm

    Hey Jeannine…loved your reflection and the final words are great comfort ! thanks. “All the works of God proceed slowly and in pain; therefore, their roots are sturdier and their flowering the lovelier.”
    Diana

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