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 (December 17th) we 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 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.
Advent is one of those ideal times to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As this is our final full week before our Celebration of Christmas next Monday, our parish Advent Reconciliation Service will take place on Monday at 7:00pm. Additional priests will be available as confessors at this service. Additional times for the Sacrament have been scheduled for Wednesday following our Masses from 7:30-8:30am, 12:35-1:30pm and 3:00-5:00pm and Thursday following our Masses from 7:30-8:30am and 12:35-1:30pm. Please note that no Reconciliation times are scheduled on Saturday, December 23rd.
We are in the midst of another busy weekend. We held another of our parish Becoming One Workshops for the Engaged on Saturday. This workshop is a day-long workshop offered four times over the course of a year. Engaged couples preparing to celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage participate in this workshop as a part of their Marriage Preparation. They join with the larger community at the 5:00pm Mass and receive a blessing on their engagement at the end of the Mass.
Friday, December 22nd marks the second anniversary of the death of Bishop Joseph L. Imesch, the third Bishop of Joliet. We prayerfully remember Bishop Imesch on his anniversary as well as each of the priests and deacons who have died this past year.
The celebrations of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th were very moving celebrations. 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 reminding us of 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