With the approach of winter, the days begin to shorten and whether we like it or not, darkness arrives earlier and lingers longer. For some, the persistent darkness is a breeding ground for discouragement.
It is as if the cosmic darkness symbolizes a deep and discouraging inner darkness. And it’s true. With sunlight in short supply, we may find ourselves dwelling on all those things that make us sad, perhaps a personal dilemma or a family problem. Gloom may also descend on us over the way things are going in the church and in the world.
Discouragement can have a paralyzing effect on us. When gloom takes hold of us, we find it more difficult to fulfill our daily responsibilities and to make decisions, including those which might just improve our lot. Discouragement can also stalk the church’s ministry. Since the abuse crisis gripped the church anew, many people, including priests, have shared with me their discouragement.
Daily I bring to prayer, not only my own problems and worries, but the intensions entrusted to me by those I meet along the way. I also pray about the immense challenges that the church is facing, not the least of which is finding the path forward to engage its mission wholeheartedly. One day, it hit me like a brick. I was reminded of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. It was as if a voice within said to me, “You don’t find discouragement listed anywhere in the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, do you? What you will find is courage and joy.” I didn’t need to say another word to the Lord for the remainder of that Holy Hour. The Lord had said it all.
As the days grow darker, both cosmically and metaphorically, the encouragement of the Holy Spirit shines forth with renewed clarity. Take, for example, words found in the prologue to St. John’s Gospel, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5). Or think of what St. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “Because we have this ministry through the mercy of God, we do not lose heart” (2 Cor 4:1).
When his coworker in Ephesus was in danger of losing heart because of the burdens of his ministry, St. Paul wrote these words to Timothy: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control”
(2 Tim 1:7). And just for good measure, let me add another from the Apostle Paul, this one to the Thessalonians: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” (1 Thes 1:6).
As we gather around dining room tables for Thanksgiving and welcome the season of Advent, the beginning of a new year of grace, let us open our hearts to the Spirit. We do not ask of the Spirit a magical solution to our problems, big and small, but rather that deep-seated conviction that Christ has conquered the world, that his love is stronger than our problems and sins, that the mission of his church which is driven by the Holy Spirit can and does go forward in good times and in bad, and that all things are possible for God. Let us bring this conviction to our personal lives and families, to our work and to the mission of the church!