Advent Waiting, Christmas Joy

Posted: 11/28/2010

Father Dan Dorsey
Father Dan Dorsey

Advent is a time of waiting. The season invites us to cultivate the virtue of patience and to ponder the mystery that unfolds in our midst. The incarnation of God in the person of Jesus not only defies human logic but also contradicts much of our personal experience. How can Jesus, the Word-made-flesh (John 1:14), "pitch his tent" in the midst and mess of our human nature?

As we wait once again for the coming of the Christ, many of our fellow citizens patiently wait for the Catholic Church to come to their counties—for us as a Church to "pitch our tent" in their midst.

Did you know that today there remain large areas of our country where the Catholic Church is not present and, in fact, has never been present? One might wonder how this is possible in the most advanced and prosperous country in the world.

Some 70 years ago Glenmary's founder, Father William Howard Bishop, observed, "Hearts are torn between the call of God to lives of virtue and the call of pleasure made more clamorous and persuasive by unusually large paychecks and the pressure of lowered moral standards and weakened moral restraints.... The world needs the Catholic Church as never before in our memory and especially here in our beloved United States...."

The need described by Father Bishop is experienced firsthand today by those who reside in the mission areas of the United States. Theirs is an Advent posture of expectant waiting.

Over the past two years Glenmary has discerned and constructed a mission plan for the next five to 10 years. We did so with a special eye on those counties where the Catholic Church is marginally present or not present at all.

Our missioners have been visiting and assessing a number of these areas throughout the South and Appalachia. During their visits, many poignant and moving stories have emerged. I'd like to share two such stories because I think they illustrate well the patience and promise of the Advent season.

Two of our missioners visited the local chamber of commerce in one county and were greeted by a woman who was very helpful and gracious. During their conversation they learned she was from Massachusetts. When they asked if she was Catholic she avoided answering, continuing on with the discussion about the county and its needs.

As the two missioners left the office, she followed them outside and told them that she was, indeed, Catholic. She didn't want to confirm the fact while inside, fearing someone would overhear her. She was afraid of losing her job. She regularly attends church in a nearby county but has to travel quite a distance to get there. A Catholic Church presence in this county could help residents become more familiar with Catholicism and hopefully decrease the prejudice towards Catholics.

In another county the missioners met a man who runs an antique shop. A former volunteer at the Glenmary Farm, he was aware of Glenmary's missionary work. He came to the area from Chicago to care for his mother, who is also Catholic but attends the Methodist church because there is no Catholic church in their county. He spoke of the widespread illiteracy in the county and hoped a Glenmary missioner or coworker could address this problem and other pressing social issues.

How much longer will these individuals and millions of other Americans have to wait for the Catholic Church to come to their counties? Will their Advent patience give way someday to Christmas joy?

As our partner in mission you are a vital part of our future—and the future of those who are waiting—as we look to implement our mission plan in areas of our country where the Church has never been present.

I pray that the light, joy and hope of the Word-made-flesh may dwell in your hearts and in your homes today and in the new year to come.

This column originally appeared in the December 2010 Glenmary Challenge.