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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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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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