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Advent: A Season of Surprises View Comments
By Kathy Coffey

During an Advent session at Mater Dolorosa Parish in San Francisco, one lady stoutly maintained
she hated surprises. During a raffle afterward, she won the turkey!

Such unexpected events help prepare us for Advent, the season of a surprising spirituality. God, who could have become human as a respected philosopher like Plato, a military leader like Alexander the Great or a beautiful queen like Cleopatra, comes instead as a helpless baby. All the beauty and power in the universe becomes vulnerable and dependent. Furthermore, God pitches a tent, not only among us, but in us, as some translations say. What an odd residence for the King of Kings!

As Gaudium et Spes says, God “has in a certain way united himself with each individual. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will and with a human heart he loved” (#22). Advent is meant as a time of preparation for that incarnation event, but how can we prepare for something so impossible to imagine?

One answer lies in the direct interplay between Scripture and our lived experience. It seems as if God always makes an entrance through the door behind us, the place where we weren’t looking. That pattern, also found in the Bible, sensitizes us to look beyond the tried-and-true, socially sanctioned, boring, repetitious rut. As some say, God lurks in the cracks between certainties.

Promise came to the Samaritan woman in a surprising way (John 4:7- 42). She trudged to the well as she had many other times, but there she met a stranger who snagged her attention. His request was preposterous: This guy, without a bucket, wasn’t supposed to use the vessel of a less orthodox Jew!
Nor was he supposed to talk with a woman in public. He didn’t make a demand, but suggested a possibility: If only you knew the gift of God.

It’s the kind of tantalizing potential children suspect before Christmas. If only you knew what was in that large box with the intriguing tag. How could the woman at the well resist such a mysterious invitation?

Until then, she’d probably done what she had to do to survive: endless drudgery, reliance on men since she had few rights, enduring the sneers of selfrighteous, married-only-once women. The stranger offers her another way, an inner source of vitality that will never dry up or disappoint. He presents God’s life in terms she understands. Who appreciates a fountain more than a desert dweller? She can practically taste fresh drops on her tongue!

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Kathy Coffey, the author of many books such as Women of Mercy (Orbis), gives workshops and retreats nationally. She may be reached atcafekathy@aol.com.

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Peter of Alcantara: Peter was a contemporary of well-known 16th-century Spanish saints, including Ignatius of Loyola and John of the Cross. He served as confessor to St. Teresa of Avila. Church reform was a major issue in Peter’s day, and he directed most of his energies toward that end. His death came one year before the Council of Trent ended. 
<p>Born into a noble family (his father was the governor of Alcantara in Spain), Peter studied law at Salamanca University and, at 16, joined the so-called Observant Franciscans (also known as the discalced, or barefoot, friars). While he practiced many penances, he also demonstrated abilities which were soon recognized. He was named the superior of a new house even before his ordination as a priest; at the age of 39, he was elected provincial; he was a very successful preacher. Still, he was not above washing dishes and cutting wood for the friars. He did not seek attention; indeed, he preferred solitude.</p><p>Peter’s penitential side was evident when it came to food and clothing. It is said that he slept only 90 minutes each night. While others talked about Church reform, Peter’s reform began with himself. His patience was so great that a proverb arose: "To bear such an insult one must have the patience of Peter of Alcantara."</p><p>In 1554, Peter, having received permission, formed a group of Franciscans who followed the Rule of St. Francis with even greater rigor. These friars were known as Alcantarines. Some of the Spanish friars who came to North and South America in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were members of this group. At the end of the 19th century, the Alcantarines were joined with other Observant friars to form the Order of Friars Minor.</p><p>As spiritual director to St. Teresa, Peter encouraged her in promoting the Carmelite reform. His preaching brought many people to religious life, especially to the Secular Franciscan Order, the friars and the Poor Clares.</p><p>He was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Remember the widow’s mite. She threw into the treasury of the temple only two small coins, but with them, all her great love…. It is, above all, the interior value of the gift that counts: the readiness to share everything, the readiness to give oneself. —Pope John Paul II

 
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