The Third Sunday of Advent – already! During the first part of Advent, our Sunday and daily Scripture readings have shown us how Jesus fulfilled Israel’s longings by his compassionate ministry. He challenged us to do the same. Today on December 17, we shift into the second part of the season, as we look to the past and remember the first coming of the Lord Jesus. As we retell the story of Christmas, we are setting the stage for our celebration next Monday. While many of us can’t wait for Christmas to arrive, there are some among us who wish it would never come. In view of that, I would like to share some thoughts on “holiday grief.”

“No one is more patient than God the Father; no one understands and knows how to wait as much as he does.”

Pope Francis

For many of us, the holidays are a joyful and welcome time. Special celebrations are loaded with family traditions and cherished memories. Traditions create roots and connect us with our past, no matter where we might find ourselves this year. But for those who have experienced a significant loss, traditions can magnify the pain of the loss. Losses, such as a deceased family member, close friend or even pet, changes due to a separation or divorce, changes in our workplace or living situation, or the loss of old rituals like a time of “coming home” or being present (including those currently serving in the military), are all intensified during the holidays.

One of the most common difficulties with grief is that we often expect ourselves or others to recover quickly following a loss. The common pattern seems to be that it takes a minimum of one full year before we can even begin to return to what we might consider “normal life.” In regular, everyday circumstances, the holidays can be emotionally and physically draining. But for those who have experienced a significant loss of one kind or another, the holidays are very vulnerable times. Nothing feels the same. What used to be anticipated with much joy is now dreaded. Memories are triggered by the simplest things – a special Christmas carol, the smell of holiday foods, or a cherished Christmas ornament – just to name a few. Sometimes it might be years after we have experienced a loss when something familiar takes us back to our time of grief. It is as if a dark cloud suddenly descends upon us in the midst of a joyful celebration. We find ourselves wondering, “What is wrong with me?” The honest answer is “nothing!” Grief works that way.

If we have experienced a significant loss in the past few years, we need to be patient with ourselves and with the pace at which we grieve. Talking with someone we trust about what we are feeling can be helpful. Being flexible with past traditions is also very important. Traditions may need to be changed. In the year following my dad’s death, we put the Christmas tree in a different spot in the house. Things aren’t the same as they used to be, and feeling the need to recreate the past is often not very helpful. New traditions may actually be just what we need.

Those of us who have not experienced a significant loss in the past few years need to be attentive to those among us who have. One of the best gifts we can give to those who are grieving is permission to talk about what they are feeling. Tell them you want to hear the old stories again and to keep the memory alive rather than pretend that nothing has changed. I hope that these thoughts are helpful. Space in which to grieve can be a priceless gift.

As this is our final full week before our celebration of Christmas next Monday, final opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation are scheduled for Thursday following the 7:00 am Mass from 7:30-8:30 am; Friday following the 7:00 am Mass from 7:30-8:30 am, following the 12:05 Mass from 12:35-1:30 pm, and from 4:00-6:00 pm; and Saturday from 8:45-10:00 am.

The celebrations of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Tuesday, December 12 were very moving. The same was true with the Simbang Gabi Filipino celebration last Friday night. Both the Hispanic and Filipino communities bring much to our community. We are blessed to have both of these communities uniting us to the larger church.

Many of our college students have already made their way home for their Christmas break. Congratulations on a successful completion of your Fall semester. We are very happy to have you home with us!

These are busy days ahead of us as we continue our preparations. They can also be beautiful days, as the anticipation level rises in our young and young-at-heart people. God can be found in both the activity and in the quiet. I pray that we will be able to recognize God’s presence among us in each moment. May God continue to bless us with all that we need, and more.

– Father Jim Murphy