A few months ago in prayer, I kept hearing the words “wait for it.” I sensed that it was part of a longer passage I had heard at some point in life. I figured that it might be somewhere in scripture but I had no idea where. Thanks to modern technology and searchable Bible apps, I was quickly able to locate the source. It came from the book of Habakkuk (certainly wouldn’t have guessed that one). I was struck by the beauty of the entire verse:
For still the vision awaits its time; it hastens to the end — it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. -Habakkuk 2:3
At this point I don’t even recall what I was reflecting upon, but the verse brought me hope. I began sharing it with others whom I thought would be encouraged by it. One of my friends asked me if I might handletter it as a gift (a talent I have been trying to develop), which gave me more opportunity to reflect upon and memorize the inspired words.
When I was asked to give a talk (in Spanish) on hope at a healing retreat recently, I knew that this verse had to be part of my sharing. In the Spanish language the verb for to wait and to hope are the same—esperar. As I worked on my talk, which focused on having hope even when we wait for healing, I saw the intimate connection between these two words.
Waiting often feels like a burden. Maybe you can relate to my hate for waiting, whether it be something as trivial as standing in a long line at the grocery store or as important as awaiting the fulfillment of a deep desire of the heart.
But if we see waiting in light of its cousin hope, our perspective shifts. What seemed to be a fruitless and tiresome waiting can become a hopeful waiting. We wait in hope, in expectation, of something good to come.
Our ultimate hope is that of Heaven. We know that even if we lack fulfillment in this life (and we will, since we are not made for this world), we can hope for true fulfillment in the world that is to come. Jesus tells us that in this world we will have trouble. There will be sickness, loss, unemployment, depression, poverty, sadness, etc. But St. Paul reminds us that this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:17). The book of Revelation promises that every tear will be wiped away from our eyes (cf. Revelation 21:4).
But even in this life, we can hope for the fulfillment of God’s promises. He desires to answer our prayers, to fill us with good and holy things, to make straight our paths, to heal us, to lead back those who have wandered, to bring to completion desires that He has placed on our hearts…all in His timing. That’s the hard part. I recently prayed a novena to the Sacred Heart in which I wanted to receive a clear answer to a question on my heart. At the end of the novena I heard the word “wait.” Not the answer I was hoping for, but one which I will embrace in hope.
Returning to the words of the prophet Habakkuk, I have no reason to be discouraged. Even if the vision—the answer, the healing, the clarity, whatever it may be—awaits its time, we can trust that it will indeed come. God will not deceive or disappoint. He invites us to wait upon Him, to hope in His word, and to wait with joyful expectation, as He is faithful.
By Sean O’Neill.
So heed me now, though all my quondam whimpers rise
From darknesses and little deaths You did despise,
Or seemed to. Your tremendous volte-face preyed each year
Upon my gullibility to bend Your ear
And racked this ruined soul with frames of phantom guilt.
Your accidental turning broke the barns I built
To store unrealised the mildewed fruit I bore.
I listened and ran bleating to Your closing door.
But when you turned I never saw your fabled smile
But wept upon Your thorny brow, to lose my guile
Where rivulets of blood do still obscure Your eyes
And gather where my hopes and weathered dreaming dies.
But here I lie, and ever did I, catlike, do.
For once, I now remember, where the olives grew
With mists between the small hills and dawn on the felled
Ancient castellations of the Marches, You held
My eyes and opened them on glimpses of Your face.
And have You changed? Is this now why there is no trace?
But now I think I mind a moonlit path I walked
Where all the trees were dancing with your voice and talked
Between themselves and lifted their long-fingered praise.
And You stopped me like a traveller with your gaze
And bade me lift this old, old burden from my back.
You have not changed. But surely I must learn my lack.
Then other places where Your love drew near, precious
And strong , or weeping and long, like milestones, conscious
Of me, spread along these dusts. I pine in my sleep,
Now. Now Your mercies crowd upon me from some deep
And dead forgotten cavern of my wayward heart.
I am the lost sheep. But no sooner do we start
Back on the pasture than I stray among the rocks
Or bandy words with here a wolf or there a fox.
Brand my hide with Your blood-red love, sacred shepherd.
Teach me the strong timbre of your speech that, once heard,
Will ever be obeyed; and lead me, lead me now
To grasses greener, sweeter than the heart knows how.
This poem first appeared in First Things, June/July 2004. Poem and image © Sean O’Neill, used with permission from the author.
I have always seen Advent as a beautiful season of hope and joyful expectation. I fell in love with Advent when I entered my religious community. There’s something about the quiet waiting of our Blessed Mother that has resonated so deeply with me.
For the first time in eight years, I am spending Advent at home with my family, instead of in the convent. I made the decision to leave the community six months ago, after more than seven years as a religious Sister. I chose to leave during a period of intense desolation, and looking back, I see that I acted in haste, without any true discernment. At the time, I was sure I was at peace with my choice, but my former postulant directress very wisely told me, “What you feel is relief, not peace.” I brushed her off as not understanding my situation, but after six months, I see the truth in what she said. I have yet to find the peace I thought I had. Instead, I came very quickly to deeply regret leaving the convent, and do not yet know if it would be possible for me to return.
This Advent, I find myself seeing Mary in a new way. I reflect upon her months of pregnant expectation, and for the first time, see more than just her joy. It must have been a time of great uncertainty for her, and also of learning whole-hearted trust in the God of the impossible.
How critical are hope and trust during the pregnant pauses in our own lives. In times of “limbo,” pain, or uncertainty, the temptation can be to fall into anxiety and even despair. Blessed are we to have Mary to guide us and be our example in these times.
As we enter the final days of Advent, I picture myself sitting alongside Mary in the later months of her pregnancy. The initial excitement has passed, and in the silence, perhaps Mary’s heart has begun to fill with questions of what the future will bring. I acknowledge the questions rising up in my own heart…questions of discernment, of God’s will, of doors that may or may not be closed before me. But rather than give in to the fear and uncertainty, I fix my gaze on Mary.
Very gently, she takes my hands in hers. She places my right hand over her heart, and the steady beating makes her hope, faith, and trust almost tangible to me. I cling tightly to Mary’s hope and trust, as I seem to have so little of my own right now. Then she presses my left hand to her belly, and as I feel the movement of the baby within her, I am reminded that times of uncertainty and waiting are really moments pregnant with God Himself. It is only by being faithful in the waiting that the sacred new life can be born.
If you, too, find yourself in a season of uncertainty, take heart. Hold tightly to our Blessed Mother, and know that something new and beautiful is in the waiting.
Don’t be scandalised… but it took me a while to get excited about the Luminous Mysteries when St John Paul the Great first gifted them to the Church. If even a tiny bit of me had held on to that initial lack of enthusiasm, that is now well and truly gone! The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary have been a particular comfort to me over the past few months as I’ve faced some more-intense-than-usual challenges in my own post-convent journey.
Anyone who has spent any time at all in religious formation will know how painful it can sometimes be to grow in self-knowledge… and the growing and learning doesn’t stop when we return to the world. When faced with something about myself that is difficult to accept, it is unhelpful to hide from the Lord as did our first parents in a certain primordial garden. Facing difficult truths and difficult situations is far less intimidating when done in the presence of Our Lord, lifted up to Him in the Blessed Mother’s maternal embrace.
It was in this way – taking something that I found distressing about myself to my rosary one Thursday – that I got distracted from my distress as I reflected on what it was to invite our Lord to shine His light into difficult personal discoveries. It was almost like He was telling me to stop obsessing about the problem, and simply fix my contemplative gaze upon HIM. The moment I stopped looking at the figurative soot on my hands and started gazing deep into the dancing flames I felt drawn nearer to the Fire, taking comfort in the warmth it afforded, all the while dazzled by the brilliance of the light. This is where that meditation on the Luminous Mysteries ended up that day:
The Baptism of Our Lord: In Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI explained the significance of Our Lord’s Baptism as the moment where He took on His own shoulders the sins of the whole world throughout time and space. It was a prefigurement of His shouldering the Cross, it was a prefigurement of His harrowing of hell and it was a prefigurement of His Resurrection into new life, all at once. The weakness I’ve just discovered in myself was something Jesus already knew about in His eternal now and purposefully took upon Himself those centuries ago in history when He was baptised in the River Jordan. The Lord of Heaven and Earth, who loves me personally and perfectly, has long anticipated this moment when I would lay this very weakness of mine at His feet.
The Wedding Feast at Cana: Pope Benedict XVI also talks about how St John takes great care to say that the Wedding at Cana happened “on the third day” – clearly related to the Resurrection, of course, but also related to the traditional, Old Testament understanding of the appropriate time for “Theophany”, i.e. the manifestation of Divinity. At the Wedding Feast at Cana, Our Lord shows us that He is God, but also demonstrates that He is both able and willing to provide the good that is lacking in our lives. He can turn the insipid water of my weakness into the rich, abundant new wine of Christian joy!
The Proclamation of the Kingdom: As comforting as it is to know that Our Lord has taken my weakness upon Himself and is longing for me to let Him provide the good that is lacking my life, He also invites me – requires me, whilst never violating my freedom – to change. In filling me up with the new wine and revealing His goodness to me, He asks me to conform to a way of life that will help me to become more myself-as-He-created-me-to-be. We all need this reminder… and sometimes it is more helpful to focus on the virtue to which we aspire than it’s related vice with which we struggle. Meditating upon the beatitudes and His parables… what beautiful treasures He has given us to ponder in our hearts! Such pondering, after the example of Our Lady, will gradually enable Him to fashion our hearts into the new wineskins that will be able to contain that new wine He seeks to give us.
The Transfiguration: When I follow that invitation to change, and ponder His words and continue my interior dialogue with Him, He draws me still further… up a mountain, as it were, to contemplate not just the way He would have me live… but to look upon the radiance of His Face, to allow my desire for Him to be heightened as I behold His resplendence to the extent that He reveals that to me. As I’ve worked through my own recent challenges, I’ve been more drawn than ever to spend time with Him in the Eucharist and I do my best to get to make a holy hour several times a week wherever possible. I’m quite convinced that this increased desire is His doing and to be honest it’s a little exciting to wonder what changes in me He might be working away at whilst I sit and gaze upon Him, none the wiser as to the details, but growing in trust that He IS doing something!
The Institution of the Eucharist: With this increase in desire has come a reminder that the most important thing I will do on any given day is attend Mass and participate in the Eucharist. For me personally, this is gradually conforming my heart to be best able to receive the love He wants to give me, as I attend His sacrifice re-presented on the altar… but it also puts the rest of my day into perspective. The difficult meetings at my workplace and my frustrations with my own personal and daily failures pale into insignificance when considered alongside the beautiful half-hour during my lunch break where I get to witness the meeting of Heaven and Earth and receive Him in the Eucharist. This temporary union with Him, the magnitude of which I can only scratch the surface here on earth, truly is a foretaste of that eternity for which I was created…
As you can see… having followed all of the above line of thought I found myself all of a sudden marveling in His goodness to me and less and less distressed about that personal weakness that I took to prayer in the first place!! I still have my weakness… but now I’ve invited the Lord into that, and followed His invitation to dwell more on Him… my relationship with Him is strengthened in the dialogue, I’m less scandalised by my faults as I realise the truth of who I am and the truth of who He is, and my trust in Him and dependence on Him grows every time I get out of my own way, lay my troubles at His feet and ask the Blessed Mother to pray with me and for me.
Whilst it can be tempting to cast the Rosary aside, now that there’s no longer an Horarium requiring you to pray it, it’s really important to resist that temptation! I really can’t recommend the Rosary enough as one way of spending time in your inner cell, working through the challenges you face in everyday life with Him. Go to Our Lord through His Blessed Mother and let the light in!
Q: What is “From My Inner Cell” all about?
A: From My Inner Cell: Conversations with God for convent-leavers
“Do not cling to me,” (c.f. Jn 20:17
The post-Resurrection encounter between Jesus and Mary of Magdala is one of my very favourite Scriptural accounts. Yet it poses a gentle challenge that I found very helpful upon returning to the world, if a little hard to hear, at first.
I’d invite you to step into Mary’s shoes for a moment. That moment of recognition at being called by name would obviously bring an unspeakable joy, an excitement, an awe. But I think there might also perhaps have been a sense that “now that He’s back, things will be just like they used to be…” Perhaps Mary was clinging to a set notion of the pre-Resurrection Jesus? She had to let go, to allow Him to return to His Father.
The words “do not cling to me” speak to me, also, as I ponder this account. I had certain ideas about my relationship with the Lord when I was in the convent. When I returned to the world, it was tempting to cling to these ideas. They were comforting, familiar. But they were my own ideas about Jesus – they weren’t actually Jesus.
How is Jesus revealing Himself to me in the present moment? Who am I before Jesus, now? How do we relate? Is my relationship with Him stagnating, because I am clinging to those old ideas? Perhaps it’s time for me to invite Him back in, to allow Him to love me, to grow in love for Him… a different kind of love…
Q: What is “From My Inner Cell” all about?
A:Â From My Inner Cell: Conversations with God for convent-leavers