Finding hope in the midst of disappointment

Advent, the beginning of liturgical year presents scripture readings that encourage us to think about the possibility of finding new life unexpectedly. A beginning brings about an ending; the place of horrific apocalyptic imagery can be a place for hope; wisdom is heard in desert; an old woman and a virgin become pregnant; and salvation is promised in a helpless infant.

These impossibilities and dichotomies are brought up as we approach the end of the year. No matter what our New Year’s resolutions were eleven months ago, they are no longer relevant. What’s left of the year has been planned and booked and there is little room for any last-minute adjustments. All around us, we are reminded of endings. Sometimes we feel satisfied with our choices, accomplishments, and experiences. In other cases, however, we feel the pain of disappointment. A disappointment can be a lasting feeling; it feels like an unfinished project. Your expectations were different and you are still searching for the right path to reach your desired ending. Advent helps us see unexpected endings as sacred ground, where God’s grace can propel us to new strength and resolve.

Jesus isn’t saying not to worry. He’s telling us to not let ourselves become depressed.

This year has many disappointing aspects. It is disappointing that so many American bishops have chosen political rhetoric that deeply hurts faith-filled social justice leaders and all Catholics who support these institutions and movements. It took Pope Francis’s Synod on Synodality not long to show that the U.S. Church was structurally inept to listen to the hopes and needs of the people. I am disappointed that President Biden has failed to address the immediate needs of refugees and immigrants at our borders. The Kyle Rittenhouse verdict is disappointing. It basically gives civil vigilantes the right to police civil rights protests and gives the gun culture greater influence in American public life. It’s disappointing that almost two years have passed since the global pandemic began and that we still debate the science behind vaccinations and masks. These disappointments and others, as well as many others, can cause us to despair, make us question how we got here, or even doubt our ability to get out.

Jesus tells his disciples to “stand erect, and raise your heads, because your redemption is at your hand” in today’s Gospel reading (Luke 21.28). Jesus warns us not to let our hearts become weighed down by the worries of everyday life (Luke 21.34). For me, and many Catholics who I work with, the disappointments I mentioned above have been a source of anxiety. Important to remember that Jesus doesn’t tell us to not be anxious. It is important to remember that Jesus is not telling us to be anxious. These apocalyptic readings are viewed through the prism of the Advent season as well as the Incarnation and affirm the human experience. Both anxiety and disappointment are valid. It is in this human experience, in one life, that our faith is enacted. We are called to be mindful of our Gospel values in all of our daily decisions, including how we respond to disappointments.

When I list all my failures, the greatest temptation is to give in. Chronic anxiety can paralyze us. Many of the things we’ve experienced or continue to experience can be demoralizing. Jesus’s encouragement to “stand up and lift [our] heads” in an age when the problems facing the institution Church and nation seem overwhelming and out of our reach is encouraging. This Sunday’s last verse is an invitation for us to pray for strength. This Advent grace is necessary to keep faith and keep going.

This is the first of a series 2021 Advent reflections. Every Sunday in Advent, a new reflection will be posted.