Advent, Christmas 2014

19 December 2014

Photo by lednichenkoolga from
Sister Marguerite, a volunteer with JRS, reflects on joy and suffering at this special time of Christmas.
Today is Gaudete Sunday, a day of rejoicing, of joy as we await the birth of Jesus. So many thoughts run through my mind as I write. Pope Francis’ Apostolic Encyclical, ‘Evangelli Gaudium’, the Joyof the Gospel, the Joy of the Good News, calls me and challenges us to be people of joy. But how can there be joy when there is so much sufferingand conflict in our beautiful but broken world right now? One has only to turn on the TV or read the newspapers about Syria, Iraq, IS, Boko Haram, Taliban, ebola, etc etc etc, and cannot help but feel joyless. And yet, joy and suffering are two sides of the same coin. Buddha wisely said, ‘Life is suffering!?’ Jesus said the same, ‘One cannot be my disciple unless she/he takes up the cross daily and follow me.’
Paradox of suffering suffused with joy, of joy embracing suffering. It is just over two years now since I started volunteering with the Jesuit Refugee Service. Only yesterday the person I had been visiting at the detention center was deported, the pain of walking with him in his suffering. But I need to balance it with the wonderful surprise of a phone call last week from another who was given permission to stay, her refugee status granted and inviting her home for a meal to celebrate and share in her joy. Another courageous young man with astounding faith is still in a detention centre. Paradoxically, instead of draining my energy, visiting him gives me life. A terrific life example of one suffering intensely but with such faith and courage that brings a deep joy in embracing his cross.
They, each one, edify and challenge me and give me much, much more than what I am or try to do for them. And yet, so many are still smiling amidst their suffering, some for long years and wow! Their faith and courage are amazing. I would probably have crumbled if I were in their shoes. ‘I see better now and my eyes hurt.’ (Audre Lorde). To keep believing that God has become human, He knows, He understands and He is in everything, both our joys and our sufferings. To learn again the great paradox that the deeper the pain carved, the more radiant the joy. In today’s reading at Mass, the prophet Isaiah is also speaking to me and all of us, ‘He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken…I exult for joy in the Lord.’ Meister Eckhart said, ‘What good is it to me for our Creator to give birth to His Son, if I do not also give birth to Him in my place, my time, my culture?’

As Christians prepare to mark Christ’s birth we can find ways to be more aware of God’s presence in our world and our own lives right here and now! May God grant us the grace to learn to be more aware of Her/His incarnate presence in everyone and every experience, in joy and in suffering. Let us pray earnestly for peace which our world is in such need of today. May the Prince of Peace give me, you, all people, peace in our hearts and homes, which will flow out to our communities and the whole world. A Peace which only God can give, peace in times of joy and especially in times of suffering. Joy to the world, the Prince of Peace has come!

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Jesuit Refugee Service UK
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