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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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Hilary of Arles: It’s been said that youth is wasted on the young. In some ways, that was true for today’s saint. 
<p>Born in France in the early fifth century, Hilary came from an aristocratic family. In the course of his education he encountered his relative, Honoratus, who encouraged the young man to join him in the monastic life. Hilary did so. He continued to follow in the footsteps of Honoratus as bishop. Hilary was only 29 when he was chosen bishop of Arles. </p><p>The new, youthful bishop undertook the role with confidence. He did manual labor to earn money for the poor. He sold sacred vessels to ransom captives. He became a magnificent orator. He traveled everywhere on foot, always wearing simple clothing. </p><p>That was the bright side. Hilary encountered difficulty in his relationships with other bishops over whom he had some jurisdiction. He unilaterally deposed one bishop. He selected another bishop to replace one who was very ill–but, to complicate matters, did not die! Pope St. Leo the Great kept Hilary a bishop but stripped him of some of his powers. </p><p>Hilary died at 49. He was a man of talent and piety who, in due time, had learned how to be a bishop.</p> American Catholic Blog True freedom lies in the ability to align one’s actions freely with the truth, so as to achieve authentic human happiness both now and in the life to come. Jesus promised, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31–32).

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