Commentary on the Gospel of
This Advent season is a unique one as we find ourselves enduring the ongoing onslaught of this global pandemic. As we “fall” away from the sun and into the dark time of winter, here in the northern hemisphere, the days, weeks and months feel as if they are dragging on. Compound this with a toxic divisiveness in this country and around the world; natural disasters that show up in the form of wind, water and fire; economies stretched to their limits; and record numbers of our sisters and brothers being forced to flee their homelands due to environmental, political and/or economic tensions.
Our world is wounded.
We are wounded.
I am wounded.
In praying with today’s readings and considering this Advent time, let us consider how our waiting in woundedness might be filled with hope for healing.
I live in a county that has seen its highest numbers of positivity rates for COVID which, not surprisingly, has led to increased hospitalizations and deaths. After spending a few days around our general election on November 3rd looking at maps of the US painted in reds and blues, I now look at a COVID “heat map” of our country and see only red. Our microcosm of Creighton University has had its share of faculty, staff and students who have dealt with loss in their lives. Loss related to COVID, but also related to any number of other illnesses or tragedies. All of this loss is compounded yet again by the reality that people cannot visit loved ones as freely in hospitals or even be at their bedsides when they pass into eternal life. We are all facing the loss of not being able to gather as safely around holidays as we would typically be doing this time of year.
Waiting in woundedness...
In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus visiting the sick in various towns and villages. “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned.” (MT 9:36) The woundedness and loss we experience in our world is troubling. At times, it leads to a sense of hopelessness and paralysis. At other times it leads to spiritual and emotional agony, causing us to cry out to God. Even when we retreat to prayer or contemplation, we might find ourselves unable to escape a sense of trouble or abandonment. As Thomas Merton writes in New Seeds of Contemplation, “Let no one hope to find in contemplation an escape from conflict, anguish or from doubt. On the contrary, the deep, inexpressible certitude of the contemplative experience awakens a tragic anguish and opens many questions in the depths of the heart like wounds that cannot stop bleeding.”
...filled with hope for healing.
Into this very human place we find ourselves (in some ways, the only place where we can be), God arrives. “O people of Zion, who dwell in Jerusalem, no more will you weep; He will be gracious to you when you cry out, as soon as he hears he will answer you.” (Is. 30:19) As difficult and painful as it is, Advent is a reminder that we wait in the darkness hoping for the light to return. This is a time to explore the wounds. What, if anything, might they teach us? As Louis Armstrong croons, “I see skies of blue, and clouds of white, the bright blessed day, the dark sacred night.” What is sacred about this dark night of the soul?
One thing about which we can be certain, and from which we might draw hope, is that God is a healer. Both Isaiah and the Psalmist reiterate this. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Ps. 147:3) Jesus understands this on a deep level from his own experience of the woundedness he endured. This is why the image of the Sacred Heart, Caravaggio’s painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, and any number of depictions of the crucifixion, are so resonant. They all remind us that Jesus is the wounded healer.
Jesus, out of his compassion for the suffering he witnessed, expanded the reach of his healing touch by commissioning those closest to him to “Go to the lost sheep...cure the sick.” (Mt. 10:8) The mystical Body of Christ that is our global family is a wounded healer too. We are surrounded by health care workers who have been serving tirelessly on the front lines for months, mental health professionals who are guiding more and more people back to a place of wholeness, scientists striving to keep us safe while using modern medicine to protect us, ministers offering blessings, rituals, and accompaniment, and loved ones or friends who heal our loneliness, isolation and fear by their presence alone. Jesus comes to us in all of them and whispers (sometimes shouts), “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt.10:7)
As we wait for the Lord this Advent season while also waiting for an end to this pandemic, may we all find solace in knowing that Christ meets us in and through our woundedness. In our waiting and hoping I trust that “from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Is. 30:21)