This Advent many of us are waiting with an expectation and an anxiety that we have not known for a long time. And right about now, rejoicing doesn’t come easily.
But Paul tells us in the second reading, very simply:
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks.”
In all circumstances.
…The Los Angeles Times reported on a parish that had gone through some very hard times.
It ‘s the poorest parish in southern California – in fact, one of the poorest in the entire state: Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mecca, California. Two years ago, the average income in Mecca was just $6,000. 60% of the people live below the poverty line.
The congregation is made up largely of Latino farm workers who live in trailer parks.
They own almost nothing.
But they do have something beyond price.
They have faith.
They pray passionately to Our Lady. You will see them enter church and get down on their knees and – on their knees – crawl toward the altar to bring their petitions to God. The church is their guardian, and their hope.
But a couple of years ago, the old church where they worshipped was beginning to fall apart. For a while, they went to mass in a huge tent, but people were collapsing in 120-degree heat. They needed a new church, desperately. So the pastor, Fr. Lucas, launched an ambitious fundraising campaign – trusting and praying that somehow the money would eventually arrive. He traveled to other parishes, and stories about his struggling church appeared on the Internet and were carried around the country.
The faithful responded.
People in Mecca began giving him crumpled envelopes – some with just a dollar or two. One woman arrived at church with a bag of dates. “Fr. Lucas,” she said, “I have no money. Sell these dates and use the money to build a church.” And he took them, gratefully.
Families in the trailer parks began giving whatever they could spare – five, ten, twenty dollars. The fund grew. A reporter asked one woman why they sacrificed so much. She put it so beautifully. “If you give away more,” she explained, “you receive more back.”
Those who couldn’t work donated time. They sold tacos, ran garage sales and hosted fiestas to raise money.
After two years, the parish ended up collecting $300,000. Special collections were taken up in neighboring parishes. The Diocese of San Bernardino chipped in some more. And the people of Our Lady of Guadalupe finally, incredibly, raised enough to build themselves a new church. It is temporary, made of Kevlar stretched over aluminum, but it will last a few years, until a more permanent structure can be built. It was dedicated a few weeks ago.
Reading about that, I was reminded of all the churches we see in Brooklyn and Queens that were built by poor immigrants at the turn of the last century. All those families from Ireland and Italy and Germany and Poland, who came here with nothing.
Nothing but faith.
And now it is happening again.
My friends, that alone is reason enough to rejoice on this Sunday of rejoicing. The miracle of faith is alive, and thriving. The struggles we have today are nothing compared to what the Thessalonians underwent. And to them, Paul was so hopeful.
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances, give thanks.”
The Incarnation, that blessed moment when God entered in human history, is about to be commemorated, and celebrated.
But that event lives on in those farm workers in California.
They are living the Incarnation, and witnessing to it. The Christ whose coming we celebrate in 11 days is celebrated every day, in countless hearts like those in Mecca California.
He is living in soup kitchens in Manhattan…in shelters in Miami…in hospices in Chicago. He is living in all people of faith, and hope, and love. This is what Christ’s coming was about. And he continues to come, in every outpouring of love, in every sacrifice that is made, in every Eucharist that is offered.
None of us can know what the future will bring. But we prepare to celebrate a gift from the past, God’s gift of His son. And the gift lives on.
So: for what the gift brought…rejoice always!
For what it brings to the world…pray without ceasing!
And for what we have and for what we will receive — in all circumstances — let us give thanks!