Statue of St. Benedict at Saint John’s University, covered in a dusting of new snow

Advent in a time of terror

Rosy Kandathil, OSB Letters home, Living in Community 5 Comments

Statue of St. Benedict at Saint John’s University, covered in a dusting of new snow

Statue of St. Benedict at Saint John’s University, covered in a dusting of new snow

With the snow beginning to fall, I was running late to class. Skipping the stairs, I decided to take the elevator to the 4th floor. In the car with me was a young undergraduate. As we rode up together, he covered his face with his hands and groaned. Startled, I looked over at him. Shooting me a look through his fingers, he said gloomily: “I’m just not ready for this.” I smiled, suddenly understanding. I murmured something that I hoped was funny and consoling about the end being near. Exiting the elevator together, we shared a commiserating glance and headed off to our respective classes.

It is crunch time on campus. After a week of Thanksgiving break, students have returned to the messy business of attending to the end of the semester and final exams. Where has all the time gone? How could it have passed so fast? With less than three weeks to go now, the whole university seems to be hunkered down under winter’s lash of cold and snow and the dread of deadlines. Yet amidst the barely suppressed end-of-semester panic a new liturgical year has dawned and the season of Advent has begun. How to reconcile these two simultaneous, often clashing, states of being?

The Advent Wreath at Saint John's Abbey

The Advent Wreath at Saint John’s Abbey

Returning to school on Saturday, I joined Saint John’s Abbey for the first vigil of Advent. Just as at Holy Wisdom, the prayers at Saint John’s included the blessing of the wreath and lighting the first Advent candle. As we rose to listen together to the Gospel that evening, the whole gathering seemed to stand a little straighter as the Abbot read the Evangelist’s rousing words: But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand. (Luke 21:28)

The glow of the Advent candle illuminated the darkness as a gentle reminder of scriptures I had studied in both my John and Greek classes: What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)

The gate to the monastery of Saint John’s Abbey—home to our brother monks in Collegeville, MN

The gate to the monastery of Saint John’s Abbey—home to our brother monks in Collegeville, MN

Although the threat of what looms ahead may cloud the joyful reality of incarnation, the truth is that no matter how I may feel from moment to moment: Christ is coming. In the midst of a world roiling with conflict over who we should accept and who we should reject, there is hope. As if right on cue, the church celebrates once more the birth of a baby born to Jewish-Palestinian parents who made a dangerous border-crossing by night, fleeing imminent persecution, to take refugee status in Egypt.

The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.” (Matt 2:13-15). It is easy for me to forget the tenuous circumstances of Jesus’ birth and early childhood. But the Savior of the World was born into conflict and knew intimately the kinds of fears and dangers associated with living on this planet. Then and now. It feeds my faith and hope to remind myself of this often.

Walking home in the darkness after vigils, I could see the stars in bright array above me. The silence of the winter evening was whole and lovely. But as I walked further past the edge of campus beyond the streetlights, the darkness deepened. Suddenly feeling the chill of the night, I hurried toward my door—and back to my text books.


Read other blog posts from Sister Rosy in her series, Letters home.

Comments 5

  1. Dear Sr. Rosey,

    I just arrived home from work to the news of yet another violent mass murder at a facility for mentally disabled folks in Southern California. It seems that there is seldom a day that passes when something of this nature isn’t in the news. And then I read through th emails in my box, and your beautifully written (and Benedictine focused) Advent piece was there waiting to be read. It is healing balm to whoever might read it, and I am grateful for the gift of it having been present in the HWM mailing today.

    A blessed Advent to you, and encouragement for all of us whose lives are committed to a Benedictine charism … that we will never forget that we are all called to be Christ’s presence of healing to this broken and disheartened world in which we live.

    God’s peace to you and to all the Sisters at HWM.
    Will Byrd, osb

    1. Thanks, Will. It’s been hard to see the headlines go up about another violent attack in California today. I am glad that you found this piece helpful, but I must confess how often I feel at a loss in this season. The long dark helpless waiting of Advent speaks eloquently to me these days. It is all I can do to cry out in lament to God through the scriptures, alone and during community prayers. May God bless your own tears and struggle, as we go together to God.

  2. Rosy, on such a difficult day your message is most appreciated. Looking forward to you returning home to the community soon. Prayers for you as you wrap up yourprojects. Blessings. Jan s

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