The Sundays of Advent
We believe in the promises of God.
December 11, 2017 - Haiti
|St. Damien Chapel|
Dear friends and family,
Just the other day, as we started the morning Advent mass,
an unfamiliar and very young woman was standing in front of the St. Damien Hospital chapel.
She seemed uncertain.
Go in the chapel, or not?
Speak to me, or not?
Stay, or not?
She had a small tattered hand bag.
She opened it occasionally and took out the only thing in it – small tattered handkerchief.
She used it to dry her eyes quickly, so that no one would notice she was crying.
This was very tender to see. A deep sorrow, struggling to remain private. Not to be cheapened by the public eye.
I thought at once of Pope Francis when he recently visited the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Their suffering and their words strongly affected him. He said this afterwards, responding to a reporter's question:
"Then, having heard them one by one with an interpreter who spoke their language, I began to feel things inside, but (I said to myself) “I cannot let them go without saying a word.” I asked for the microphone. And I began to speak. I don’t remember what I said. I know that at a certain point I asked forgiveness, twice. I don’t remember. Your question is what did I feel. In that moment I cried. I tried not to let it be seen."
She finally asked if she could talk to me. We stepped apart for a moment. The tears flowed.
Her name is Lisa. She is from Cite Soleil, and has 4 children.
But one of them, Anne, has been missing for seven years. Anne would be 20 years old today.
Lisa has not seen Anne, nor has she had word of her, since she was 13 years old.
Lisa had a dream. The dream was about me.
She has seen me many times in Cite Soleil, she knows of me,
and the dream was about me.
She dreamed that I prayed with her in St. Damien Chapel,
that I said a special prayer with her for Anne to come home,
and that after this prayer, she finally saw her little girl again.
This is why she was in front of the chapel, as mass began. To ask if i would make the dream real.
I started the mass.
"In the name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen."
It was one of the rare mornings that we did not have a number of dead on the chapel floor, for prayers and blessings.
I watched Lisa out of the corner of my eye, from her humble place in the back left corner of the chapel.
Her head was bowed. She was silent and still, except for the frequent opening of the tattered handbag, in order to hold the tattered handkerchief to her tattered eyes.
"Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy."
After the gospel, I spoke of the holiness of hope.
The sorrow that is a deep part of hope.
All the emptiness, the deep chasm because of who or what is lost, the painful regrets,
of the graves in our hearts and lives that give birth to our hope, as we pray for things to be different, to be restored, to be raised up.
I walked Lisa to the altar,
and we all prayed for her, our hands on her shoulders, begging for her strength and begging the return of Anne.
Lisa cried uncontrollably.
My eyes welled with tears, and I also hid them, rather hoping to impart a deep confidence, and the strength of the blessing.
As I said the words of consecration, "Lord, you are Holy indeed! The fountain of all Holiness," my thoughts went to my mother.
I remember how she had spoken to me a number of times over the years about her friend Jane.
Jane had a 13 year old daughter named Donna, kidnapped from the A & P grocery store we all frequented, when I was a boy.
Mom told me often of what a nightmare it was for Jane, for her whole life long.
My mother's friendship with Jane deepened, and lasted almost 60 years (until my mother died),
and mom lived this life long sorrow with Jane.
They would be shopping. They would see a 13 year old girl just ahead, the same color hair as Donna.
Jane would bolt ahead of my mother, heart racing, to get in position to discretely see her face. Was it Donna?
It never was.
My mother also had a daughter Donna. The same age.
The fact that mom's Donna never disappeared, (but could),
was the glue that bound my mother to Jane, whose daughter was, in fact, gone.
These hearts understood each other. Compassion was the bond.
Jane was always hyper alert to Donna's would-be age, to her would-be hair color, to her would-be shape, to her would-be walk.
Jane and my mother walked down the decades of years together.
Together they looked and looked for her, but It never was Donna.
Not when they were walking on a city street, and Donna would have been 20. (Jane bolts ahead, in great hope, heart pounding, to see her face)
Not when they were walking on the beach, and Donna would have been 30.
Not when they were gambling at Mohegan Sun, and Donna would have been 40.
It was never Donna.
They always hoped. But it was never Donna.
They ran out of time when Donna would have been 54, and Jane and my mom both died at 80.
For Jane, from the day Donna disappeared until she died,
2132 Sundays came and went.
For Jane, they were all prolonged Sundays of Advent.
These memories came before me as I celebrated the mass with Lisa, for Anne's return,
the whole time watching this valiant woman out of the corner of my eye.
Luckily, I know the prayers of the mass by heart.
I would never have been able to read the Missal, through my watered eyes.
"Through Him, with Him, in Him,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honor are Yours,
forever and ever, Amen."
Advent starts with a dream.
A dream like the dream of Lisa.
A dream like the dream of Jane.
It is the dream of prophet Isaiah.
A deep and powerful dream:
That paradise lost is regained,
that what was taken violently from us, is returned unharmed,
that our estrangement from ourselves ends,
and with it the death-wish driving our behavior ends,
that our alienation from each other is healed,
that together we use iron for garden shovels instead of spears,
and we study war no more.
It is the dream that the world will reverse itself from its death course,
that the lowly will be exalted,
the hungry will be fed to delight,
that the lion will lie down with the lamb.
Even though it never seems to happen, we dream.
Not because we are fools,
but because we have known,
and we have loved,
and we will not let go.
We believe in the promises of God.
We Christians put our hope is Jesus
who came to us, who abides with us, and will come again in glory.
He speaks to us personally, in the words he addressed to the messenger sent to him by John the Baptist (who was being persecuted in prison), asking if he was the Messiah, or should we hope in another.
"Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard--the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor." (Luke 7:22)
Let us cultivate the great, deep, human and spiritual virtue of hope,
during the Sundays of Advent, and always.
The holiness of hope springs eternal, and will bring us home.
Fr. Rick Frechette CP, DO
President, NPH Haiti