Thanks to my graduate work in French literature, words have grown in importance to me. Though I was unable to reach my original goal – to teach the language and literature at the college level – I’ve never for a moment regretted all the effort, stress and time spent in this study. We had special classes in studying how words were like treasure chests, containing their power and beauty within. I’ve been able to apply this skill to lectio divina, to meditations on Scripture which is usually not merely factual but rich in transcendent spiritual meaning.
On my first trip to France, I remember the glee I felt to see and hear the language all around me. Arrivée! While this was the first word I saw as I came from the plane, it also marked the last part of my air trip. I had arrived!
That word! It meant both the end and a beginning. At that point in my life, I had no idea that in only another two years I would have exited my marriage, launched upon another and, consequently left the Church for almost exactly 21 years. Did I know that Christ would come again – to me, that is?
Arrived. Arrivée. Arrival.
During the early years following my return to the Church (another arrivée) I spent many a moment weeping over 21 years I had judged lost. Another French phrase kept repeating itself to me, a phrase guaranteed to deepen rather than cure regrets: j’ai raté ma vie; or, I’ve wasted my life. The same French word (raté) is used in an expression such as: j’ai raté le train, I missed the train! Something passed me by. Something important.
So I used that phrase as a form of self-flagellation. At that time, all I could see was that I had “wasted” – missed – a great part of my life, that is, 21 years separated from the Sacraments.
I groaned all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength withered as in dry summer heat.
Then I declared my sin to you;
my guilt I did not hide.
I said, “I confess my transgression to the LORD,”
and you took away the guilt of my sin.
It took several more years, plus encouragement from the Holy Spirit by way of a gifted spiritual director, plus the Ignatian exercises, plus the untiring love of God, to help me realize that such a major “mistake” had been an essential part of my life, especially in learning and accepting that God’s love covers all “mistakes.”
Therefore every loyal person should pray to you
in time of distress.
Though flood waters threaten,
they will never reach him.
You are my shelter; you guard me from distress;
with joyful shouts of deliverance you surround me. (Psalm 39)
Looking at the altar before the start of Mass, I see the statue of Christ with arms outstretched – first on the cross, and later at his Resurrection and Ascension. And I realize: We no longer have to wait for him. Jesus Christ, whose coming we celebrate, has already arrived! He physically, divinely, historically has come to teach us the Gospel, the good news of eternal life. He has already come, is here now, and will remain with us forever.
How is it that, since his arrival, it seems nothing in our world has changed? Two thousand years have come and gone since his appearance and since the Gospel was first introduced. How is it that even his “holy” church has so often betrayed his teachings? How is it that we (God help us) have also failed in following the Gospel? How is it that we often feel we’ve raté our lives?
So now, after a lengthy period when my muse has been silent, here I am on Gaudete Sunday, once again being taught how to rejoice from within what seems to be a world of incurable greed, anger, helplessness, godlessness. Taught to rejoice, even as I admit my flaws and how I’ve wronged others. People like me don’t need to pine away, waiting for Christ, counting the days till his arrival, for truly he has already come – and best yet, remains. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
It is not God who is absent, but ourselves. It may seem that we still need to wait for his coming, but instead we need to wake up and rejoice in the reality that he has already arrived. We need to relive and constantly repeat the original lesson: Emmanuel; God is with us!