Conflict, Silence, and Suffering: Meeting God During Advent

During Advent, To Reconcile All Things will feature a weekly reflection on preparing for the coming of our Lord, written by a young adult in the YCDM (Young Catholics of the Diocese of Des Moines) community.  This is the second reflection.  Enjoy!


The Advent season culminates in God coming to earth in a true physical form.  For those living during His day, it would have been extremely easy to see God’s presence, but we don’t have that luxury.  That said, I’m reminded of God’s presence every day in various ways: I grew up in a large, Catholic family, my father was recently ordained a deacon, my mother is a strong, Catholic woman, and I recently got engaged to a woman whose faith makes me a better person every day.  But today I want to focus on a couple major ways I (and hopefully you) can see God’s presence in some presumably unlikely places.

First, God can be found in conflict.  You read that correctly: conflict.  We spend so much of our lives trying to avoid conflict and find comfort, but this can lead us away from truly being in God’s presence.  Often times the easier, more comfortable choice is not the right one.  Conflict is waking up at 7 am to make 8 am Mass.  Comfort is hitting snooze, and promising you’ll make 5 pm Mass, then skipping that one as well because the Chiefs are playing in the night game.  

Finding ourselves too comfortable in various aspects of our lives can ultimately lead to complacency and pull us further from God.  We become complacent in work and do not provide the full attention we could/should.  We become complacent in keeping up relationships with family and friends, and let charity between us fade.  The devil provides these comfortable, complacent choices.  Eat this fruit.  Don’t wait until marriage.  Lie to avoid a difficult situation.  But we’re often called to steer into the conflict to become our best selves and more fully in union with God.

Another unexpected place to find God is in silence.  “Now wait”, you say, “aren’t we looking for some sign, or to be spoken to more directly by God?”  Maybe, but so often we don’t allow ourselves to be in a state of silence where we can be truly receptive to those ways of how God wants to speak to us.  We constantly create noise, be it actual audio noise or digital noise as a way of distracting.  We play Netflix in the background while “conversing” with family and friends.  We look at our phone if a conversation stalls, or we’re waiting in line, or simply by force of habit.  We distract ourselves constantly and do not allow for silence.

Pope Benedict XVI said that “God’s first language is silence”.  When we introduce this noise, we don’t allow God to introduce Himself into our lives.  Silence is interesting because of what’s revealed during these moments.  During silence and intentional prayer, God is able to teach us more fully about who He is.  During moments of introspection, we are also given information about who we are.  That may very well be why we choose to distract ourselves.  We don’t want to think about our own lives or shortcomings, because then we’d have to make a plan for how to correct them.  So we introduce noise.

Full disclosure: I work from home and constantly seem to be distracting myself from the fact I’m the only person in my apartment for 8 hours a day.  While writing this, I decided to take some intentional silence to focus solely on God’s plan for this post.  My fiancé called me, and I instinctively reached for the remote to mute the TV.  But I was so used to distracting myself with noise that I had forgotten the TV was already off.  This Advent, I’ve decided to take more intentional time in silence and prayer.  Silence serves a purpose, and we must not avoid it.

One of my favorite saints, St. Ignatius of Loyola, found God in a combination of conflict and silence (two unexpected places at once?!?).  Let me tell you part of his story: St. Ignatius was a soldier and member of the local aristocracy in Northern Spain in the early 1500’s.  While defending against a French attack at the age of 30, he was struck with a cannonball, breaking one of his legs and mangling the other–I’d call that quite the conflict.  During the time of his recovery, St. Ignatius lived in a form of forced silence.  He had plenty of time on his hands and chose to make that time productive.  He read many religious texts, especially those about the lives of the saints.  His heart was greatly changed during this time and he was converted from a life of violence to one of service. He took a vow of poverty, chastity, and service.  A group of like-minded men saw how St. Ignatius was living his life and formed a loose organization that later became the Society of Jesus, which we often refer to today as the Jesuit Order.  He became a voracious writer and focused on the education of others.  St. Ignatius took his forced downtime and silence and allowed God to speak to and through him.

The final unexpected way to see and feel God daily is through redemptive suffering.  As Jesus suffered on the cross and offered up His physical pain for the redemption of all, we can offer up our pain and difficulties as a form of prayer for others–we certainly can’t save one another, but we can join our suffering to the One on the Cross that does save.  As Jesus told His followers at the Last Supper “a man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends”.  Offering up the (typically) much smaller pain and challenges we face on a daily basis can become a way to show love for those around us.  When I was younger and complained about a difficult task or situation I was lovingly told by my parents to “suck it up” (and sometimes less lovingly to “suck it up, cupcake”).  As I grew in my faith, “suck it up” turned into “offer it up”.  Offer up your pain, suffering, and difficulties of daily life to the betterment of others.  Add your pain to your prayers with Jesus’ Passion.

The Advent season is one of finding God in unexpected places.  God came down in a form that many would have never expected: that of an infant child from a lower-to-middle class family.  He didn’t come as a worldly king or other powerful figure.  He spent His first nights without even having a proper bed to sleep in.  He could have come down as a powerful Archangel like St. Michael, but that didn’t serve to spread His message correctly. He chose humility and vulnerability.  His message of love and understanding would not be received the same if He showed the true awesome power He wields.  He wanted followers, not indentured servants.  I encourage you this Advent to prepare for the coming of our Lord by avoiding comfort and complacency, embracing silence, and allowing your suffering to be redeemed, to truly make yourself open and receptive to God’s word.  Enough distractions.  Enough avoidance.  


denton

 

Denton Patrick is a Software Analyst working for a large hospital system in New York.  He lives in Des Moines, IA, and is a member of St. Pius X parish.

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