Perhaps my favorite part of Augustinian life is the fact that we continuously encourage one another in the good times, the bad times, and all the times in-between.
I have never personally been a fan of winter. I have never been fond of the shorter days, the cold weather, or lack of sun. I know many people who love the season, and for some rather convincing reasons. I am just not one of them.
As we have journeyed through the Fall season over the past several weeks, I have been dreading this particular winter of 2020-2021. This is not only due to the fact that it will bring its usual windy cold weather here to Chicago, but also because of the expectation that there will be more COVID cases.
This morning as I was preparing to begin my walk to Mass (in what is shaping to be a cold day for the first Sunday of Advent), I was feeling a little worried about the fact that winter is now upon us and the number of COVID cases are increasing just as predicted. I was also feeling a little anxious about all the assignments I have coming due as the semester ends in just two weeks. On top of that I was worried about whether or not I would be able to travel home to see my family for Christmas.
In a moment when my mind would have ideally been reflecting on the Scriptures that would be proclaimed at Mass, my mind was filled instead with a series of “what ifs.”
In the midst of my thoughts, I received an unsolicited text from Fr. Michael Hughes, a fellow Augustinian who has been a great mentor on my journey into the Augustinian way of life. When I opened the text I noticed three photos of barren trees:
Accompanying the photos was a profound piece of wisdom worth reflecting on as we begin this first Sunday of Advent.
Fr. Michael said, “Most trees will carry buds through the darkest and most frigid days of winter. This photo is a sign of hope. If they make it through the toughest of winters with God’s help, we can too. Those very buds you see in the pictures will be the first blossoms next Spring.”
The Spirit was at work. Fr. Michael’s encouraging text shifted my attention from “what-if” to the many promises God made to help us through such “what-if” questions. Questions that sometimes flood our minds with fear rather than hope.
… if God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you …Matthew 6:25-34.
What my brother Augustinian reminded me on this first Sunday of my Advent journey is that we have begun a season of hopeful expectation. A season when we wait in hopeful expectation for the fulfillment of the many promises God has given us. It is a time when we are invited to quiet down and discover all the good that God is already doing in our midst while also anticipating all the good God promises more of in the future. It is a time when we are invited to reflect on ways that we can use our faith in these promises to encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thes. 5:11) – just as Fr. Michael did for me on this cold, cloudy, and dreary Advent morning in Chicago.
As Saint Augustine says, hope is what keeps us moving towards what has been promised for us:
“Hope is a necessity for us in these days of exile from heaven. It is our consolation on the journey. When a traveler gets tired of walking along the dusty road, he puts up with fatigue because he hopes to arrive home. Rob him of any hope of arriving and immediately his strength for walking is broken. So too, the hope for heaven which we have now is an important factor easing the pain of our just exile and sometimes harsh journey.”Saint Augustine (Sermon 158, 8)
Scripture contains hundreds of promises just like Matthew 6:30 where God promises to carry us through this time. As I begin my Advent journey of 2020, I find myself asking a few questions:
- Where have I placed my dependence and hope during this time of uncertainty?
- Have I created the necessary space and time to reflect on and place my trust in the many promises God has made?
- Have I taken advantage of opportunities to encourage others facing difficulties and/or doubts during this time?
This is exactly why we have begun a new ministry called Journey With Others, where people are invited to come together online to share our faith, our hope, and our experiences as we continue the journey to the God who loves and cares for us during this time of social distancing and other unprecedented challenges.
“With good friends bitter trials are lessened, heavy burdens are lightened, obstacles are met and overcome.”Saint Augustine (Letter 130, 2.4)