MOST REV. DAVID J. BONNAR
Bishop of Youngstown
This is Bishop Bonnar’s “Walking by Faith Together” column for the December 9, 2022 edition of The Exponent.
Notice that I intentionally did not say, “Merry Christmas.” Even though many are already celebrating Christmas with parties, songs and gifts, this time is known as Advent.
Advent is derived from a word which means “coming.” During this wonderful time, we as a Church prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas and at the end of time. The posture we are called to embrace is one of eager longing and joyful expectation for the coming of Jesus. To be simple and direct, we are challenged to embody hope in our preparation.
This grace-filled time of intentional waiting is aided by the voice of the prophets, most notably, John the Baptist echoing the voice of Isaiah, “He (John) went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘A voice of one crying out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” (John 3:3-4) It is important that we heed these voices of encouragement and the challenge inviting us to prepare a highway, or as they say here in Ohio, “freeway,” to prepare a way for the Lord in our hearts, homes and communities.
But it is not just the ancient voices that beckon us onward in this wonderful time. It is also the visions. John the Baptist illustrates this vision for us as he continues, “Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.”
This vision promises justice and the ordering of relationships in which a sense of evenness and righteousness will prevail. The vision also points to comfort and peace, as “rough roads will be made smooth.” God knows we all have challenges in our relationships, not to mention rough roads to navigate. Isn’t it comforting and hopeful to hear these words of promise?
The voices of Advent not only envision justice and peace, but also unity among creatures. The prophet Isaiah says, “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall graze, together their young shall lie down; the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
What a beautiful image this is for us to apply to our families, where there can be alienation and estrangement. If a calf and a young lion can hang out together in the presence of a child, why can’t we do the same with family members where there has been hurt or disillusionment? Jesus will come to show us the way.
Amid these voices and visions, there are also the ones that providentially come into our lives every day. God did not just communicate in the time of the Old and New Testaments, for God continues to speak to us every day in a myriad of ways. Let me tell you about how God has spoken to me in this time and place.
Recently, I visited two nursing homes in the Mahoning Valley that were once affiliated with Mercy Health, namely, Humility House and Assumption Village. Even though these entities are now run by a private, for-profit entity, we can maintain Catholic traditions – the greatest of which is offering Holy Mass there.
During my visit in one of the facilities, residents gathered in the multi-purpose room, with Christmas music in the background. Each of them was either coloring or painting Christmas trees. I saw some masterpieces. I was struck by how many years ago these people may have decorated and prepared in different ways over the years. Perhaps they trimmed a tree, hung lights on their home or baked cookies.
And as they sat before me, painting their Christmas trees, they all had smiles on their faces. They were so joyful. In the spirit of the season, they were delighted to welcome guests for a visit. That encounter got me thinking not only about the voices and visions of Advent, but the visits as well.