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. On Thursday we will shift into the second part of the season as we look to the past and remember the first coming of the Lord Jesus. We will begin to retell the story of the events leading up to Jesus’ birth as one of us. We are setting the stage for our celebration of Christmas. 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, it is time to share with some thoughts on “holiday grief.”
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, or the loss of old rituals like everyone “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. Space in which to grieve can be a priceless gift.
I hope that these thoughts are helpful. Whether we have experienced a loss, or are with someone who has, it is important to be attentive to our own needs and those among us.
Last Tuesday, Pope Francis inaugurated the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, a Holy Year running from December 8th to November 20, 2016. He began the year by opening the “Holy Door” of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In his announcement of the Holy Year of Mercy, he said that the year will be a time for animating “a new stage in the journey of the Church on its mission to bring to every person the Gospel of mercy.” Last night (Saturday), Bishop Conlon celebrated a Mass at St. Raymond’s Cathedral in Joliet during which he opened the “Holy Door” of our Cathedral. Representing our parish at that Mass were two members of our Parish Pastoral Council – Nick Ventrella and Alma De La Torre. The Holy Year promises to be a special year of grace!
And on the subject of God’s incredible gift of mercy, Advent is one of those ideal times to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Regular times for the Sacrament of Reconciliation are on Saturday mornings from 8:45am to 10:00am (or everyone has been served). Our parish Advent Reconciliation Service will take place this Monday, December 14th at 7:00pm. Additional priests will be available as confessors. Please join us tomorrow evening as we gather as a community to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation in preparation for Christmas.
This Friday, December 18th, our Filipino Community will gather for their Simbang Gabi 2015 celebration. Originally an early morning Mass celebrated on each of the nine days before Christmas, it has become an evening celebration on each of the nine days before Christmas. The celebration moves to a different parish each night of the novena and the Mass is followed by a feast of native foods. Our local celebration will take place on Friday night, beginning with a choir prelude at 6:45pm and Mass at 7:00pm. I have the honor of celebrating the Mass this year and Father Matt will preach the homily. The entire parish is invited to join with our Filipino Community for the Simbang Gabi celebration. It is a wonderful way to experience another culture’s preparations for the great feast of Christmas.
This weekend we have the opportunity to respond to the annual Retirement Fund for Religious appeal. There are over 60,000 religious men and women living in our country. Since Religious Sisters and Brothers were not permitted into the Social Security system until 1972, their average Social Security benefit is about 60% less than the average American citizen. Our donations to the Retirement Fund for Religious help with the costs of their living and health care. Envelopes for this collection were included in the Sunday envelope packets mailed to each home. Thank you for your generosity in responding to this annual appeal.
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