Reflection at OLPH: Advent a time of longing for promise, leading to hope
By Steve Euvino
Northwest Indiana Catholic
HAMMOND – In this holiday season of constant motion and stress, what brings you peace?
“When I am alone and there’s no noise,” said Nancy Machnikowski. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen too often.”
“In prayer – in dialogue with the Lord,” said Tom Taylor.
“I think of water,” said Barb Hargrove. “It’s soothing.”
Those three persons were participants in the Advent reflection given by Sister Michele Dvorak at Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Dec.10. A Poor Handmaid of Jesus Christ and former staff member at Calumet College of St. Joseph, Sister Michele is a councilor on her religious order’s leadership team, dividing her time between East Chicago and the motherhouse in Donaldson.
Noting the traditional stress associated with the Christmas season, Sister Michele urged her audience, at least for that evening, to relax. “This is time between you and the Lord and each other,” she said.
Advent, Sister Michele said, is a time of “longing for that sense of promise, and that leads to hope.”
After Sister Michele asked each participant to write down their deepest longing, she provided a small container for that slip of paper. Then, she said, each person should make a commitment to take 10 minutes a day for the next 14 days (leading to Christmas Eve) to talk to God about that deepest longing. On Christmas Day, the sister said, participants should open the container as a gift to themselves.
“See how God has moved you in relation to your longings,” Sister Michele said.
Speaking about the imagery and symbolism attached to Advent, Sister Michele cited the significance of darkness and light. The people of Jesus’ time, she said, were fearful of the darkness, because they could be attacked by wild animals or human enemies unable to be seen.
With light, however, everything changes, Sister Michele said, as light brings warmth in the darkness. However, she noted, even in today’s technology, people can encounter darkness in their lives.
As the word Advent literally means “coming,” Sister Michele said this season offers an invitation to “come away, listen to, listen different … to grow, to go deeper in our relationship with God.”
Returning to the theme of darkness, Sister Michele recalled the shepherds of Jesus’ time who conditioned their flocks with a whistle or some sound to identify themselves. Pope Francis, the sister said, has called upon priests to smell like sheep so they, too, can recognize their human flocks.
“Take that imagery,” Sister Michele said, “and apply it to our lives. When is it that we recognize God’s voice?”
Advent, the former college instructor and teacher in the 1980s at OLPH School, has a two-fold purpose: celebrating the gift of life in Jesus and preparing for Jesus’ second coming.
“We’re preparing for life now,” Sister Michele said. “We come closer to God during the season of Advent.”
Advent is also about longing, Sister Michele said, recalling the time when the Israelites were captives in a foreign land. Having grown up on a farm in Minnesota, Sister Michele said the earth takes on a special meaning, that of growth and giving life.
“The Israelites could not smell their own land,” Sister Michele said. “They longed to get back to their own country.”
Just as ancient people longed, we, too, have longings, the sister said, and “Advent is about going inside and pulling some of that out. … We ache sometimes in our lives, and Advent is an opportunity to share that longing, that struggle, with God.”
That sense of longing in Jesus’ time was an emotional experience for those people, and Advent, Sister Michele said, is about “recognizing what we long for in our lives. It’s about promise and hope.”
Reflecting on the writings of the prophet Isaiah, Sister Michele noted promise in the air. Isaiah wrote about the lion lying down with the lamb, the small child playing by the cobra’s den, and swords turned into plowshares.
Women are also prominent as givers of life during Advent, Sister Michele said, exemplified through Mary, Elizabeth, and the feasts of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec. 12), patroness of the unborn, and St. Lucy (Dec. 13), patroness of those afflicted with diseases of the eyes.
“There is this promise that something will happen,” Sister Michele said. “The Savior will come.”