This Advent, we can’t help but be aware of a collective, almost tangible sense of waiting, often expressed in the sentiment: “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over.”
Waiting… for a long-sought vaccine.
Waiting… for the kids to be back in school.
Waiting… to be able to embrace loved ones from whom we have had to be physically distant—so difficult during the holidays.
For essential workers… waiting for rest.
And for many, waiting for justice that seems to never come. We know that those communities hit hardest by the pandemic are those who were already experiencing inequality and systemic racism, with the last year having only exacerbated those disparities.
Today’s first reading reminds us that the people of God in the time of Isaiah were also waiting. It was a turbulent time in the history of Israel complete with exile and oppressive rule by foreign powers. Yet, the prophet reminds the people to maintain hope and to look toward a day when: On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples… On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples…The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces…
In a way, it could be said that at a time of scarcity and despair, they were looking toward abundance (in the form of hope, salvation, justice).
In the Gospel of Matthew too, we see this hope in God’s abundance in the midst of scarcity. The crowd of 4,000 is hungry. What are the disciples to do? Jesus does not produce loaves and fishes from thin air. He asks the disciples, “What do you have?” And Jesus multiplies their resources—in fact, he insists that they are resources for everyone--so that all can be fed.
We can reflect on these Advent readings with our national and global context in mind, as well as Pope Francis’ newest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti. The first chapter is entitled “Dark clouds over a closed world” and touches on many challenges, including, “the brutal and unforeseeable blow of this uncontrolled pandemic.”
And yet, we are people who hope. We are people of abundance—for our experience, this year has “forced us to recover our concern for human beings, for everyone, rather than for the benefit of the few.” It has caused us, Pope Francis writes, to pause, and to “rethink our lifestyles,” rethink our relationships, and rethink even how we organize our societies because we can’t and shouldn’t return to the old way ways of being, which left so many people behind.
This Advent, let’s open our hearts to ask ourselves:
How am I called to be a witness to abundance in the midst of a time of scarcity?
What actions can I take to ensure abundance is shared among all people so that everyone can live with dignity?
Where must I sacrifice, reduce my patterns of consumption so that the abundance of God’s creation can be available to all?
How can I cultivate the abundance of love through listening and dialogue and earnest efforts to understand those I ardently disagree with?
And perhaps most importantly, how can I prepare my heart in prayer to be filled with God’s abundance, that I may share it with others?
This Advent call to witness to abundance must extend beyond this season of waiting. One way to join with others to seek those new models which can assure that all can live with dignity is to attend the 2021 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. Learn more and register to join hundreds of Catholics to pray, learn, and advocate together on the disparities revealed by COVID-19 and re-imagine new models of justice and solidarity.
Jill Rauh serves as Director of Education & Outreach for the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development and is a member of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, MD.