Advent Retreat Week Three: Where is the joy?
Can you believe it’s already week THREE of Advent? On Saturday I was looking at my calendar and was floored to realize that we were exactly two weeks away from Christmas. In the midst of finals and job applications and a fun little cold, I completely forgot that we’re actually really close to my favorite day of the year. I pray that these weekly reflections serve to anchor you in the season, as they do for me!
This retreat is all about finding Christ in the midst of our busy lives, as we await His coming at Christmas. We’ve reflected on the value of silence, and on allowing the fruits of the Spirit to flow through our words and actions. This week, I want to focus on joy.
Yesterday’s readings were all about joy. In the first reading, we hear the Prophet Zephaniah exclaim “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!/ Sing joyfully, O Israel!/ Be glad and exult with all your heart,/ O daughter Jerusalem!” We hear this again in the second reading, when St. Paul proclaims “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”
Joy is the mark of the Christian life. We know that no matter what happens to us on this earth, no matter the struggles or sorrows or adversity we face, we are loved by the God of the Universe, we’ve been saved by His beloved Son, and we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to increase in virtue – and in joy and hope. When we truly believe that we matter – that our God has numbered the hairs on our heads, that He will never forsake us, that His plan is our ultimate good – how could we be anything but joyful?
There is so much darkness and so much despair in our world. There are things that don’t go my way. There are people who are hurtful and wounds that we experience that can overwhelm and break us. But our God is good. And so we can be joyful.
One of my favorite saints, St. Josephine Bakhita, speaks to this well. Born in Sudan in 1869, she grew up in the happy family of the village Chief with five brothers and sisters. But in 1877, at seven years old, she was kidnapped by Arab slave traders. Over the next twelve years, she was bought and sold three times, until she was purchased by Augusto Micheli’s family in Italy. In 1888, Josephine and Micheli’s daughter were sent to stay with the Canossian sisters in Venice. They shared the Gospel with Josephine, who exclaimed “Those holy mothers instructed me with heroic patience and introduced me to that God who from childhood I had felt in my heart without knowing who He was.”
When the Micheli Family returned to Italy to bring their daughter and Josephine to their new home, Josephine refused to leave. The matter was raised to Italian officials, who stated that since slavery had never been legal in Italy and since Sudan had made slavery illegal before Josephine’s birth, she was free. With her new freedom, Josephine stayed with the Canossians and entered the novitiate to become a sister. During her time with the Canossians, she traveled Italy preparing sisters to go and work in Africa, and lived on fire with a missionary zeal.
One could read the story of her life and marvel at the sorrow and suffering. To be torn from her family at seven years old, to be made to walk hundreds of miles, barefoot, across the hot African sand. To be bought and sold like property. But when asked about what she’d say to her abductors, St. Bakhita offered these words:
“If I was to meet those slave raiders that abducted me and those who tortured me, I’d kneel down to them to kiss their hands, because, if it had not have been for them, I would not have become a Christian and religious woman.”
Oof. What joy, what charity, and what trust in God. As we enter these final weeks of Advent, may her story and her witness lead us to trust in God’s providence, His will, and His love for us. St. Josephine Bakhita, pray for us!
Oh and one more favorite quote from her…
“I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.“
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Jane was born in Australia, raised in California, and is overjoyed to now call NYC home. She graduated from UCSB with degrees in Political Science and Communication and spent the past two years working in criminal justice reform. She is currently an MBA student at NYU Stern, focusing on entrepreneurship and strategy.