I spent the eve of Gaudete Sunday with a curiously joyful Christian community – my Kairos brothers at the Medium Security Unit in Chester.
It was, in fact, a joyful reunion: We spent our time together first by sharing the scripture stories recounting the birth of Jesus…and then by singing Christmas carols. Things seemed a bit out of joint for me initially: I was conscious of my desire not to rush past Advent into Christmas…how I wanted everyone in the room to slow down and adhere to the schedule I’d set for the season in my mind and heart.
Perhaps that’s not a bad instinct on my part, in my circumstances. But as the reunion continued, I also came to realize that it was perfectly appropriate for our Kairos brothers to be in a celebratory mood.
Sure, the calendar may have read December 14…not December 25. But the MSU residents understood very clearly that this WAS their Christmas celebration. Our gathering on Saturday afternoon was the only chance they were going to have to connect with the Christian community at large – to share their holiday joy with the Body of Christ.
Looking back on the couple of hours I spent with the residents, I realize that they were giving me a pretty valuable present – the chance to really BE present. To be in the Now.
Indeed, in our small-group discussion, a couple of the guys shared how ‘doing time’ had changed their outlook on life: How it had given them a whole new appreciation of time; how God is working – through their time in prison – to reorder their personal priorities and to deepen their appreciation of the connections we all share with each other.
Would they have preferred to learn that wisdom outside of the penitentiary walls? Of course. And it’s hard for them to keep the flame of faith burning in their hearts, especially while they’re ‘doing time.’
Which makes our Kairos brothers a lot like us, ‘on the outside,’ I think. We don’t always understand why God asks us to endure painful circumstances in our lives. We want to keep our schedules intact. We want to successfully complete our agendas. And if something happens to upset the apple cart, we want to know: ‘Why?’
So it was a curious (and welcome) God-incidence for me when I got home from the prison reunion on Saturday…and had a chance to read the daily Advent reflection from America magazine:
…trying to “figure things out” in the spiritual life is often a fool’s errand. For most of the time things become clear only in time. It probably took the disciples years to understand Jesus—even after they encountered him risen from the dead. So this year why not give yourself an early Christmas gift—patience. Be patient with yourself. No need to know everything now. Just trust that God’s plan for you will make sense—in time.
– James Martin S.J.
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