Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Advent: Hopeful expectation"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Dec. 15, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Expectations can be our undoing.

All of us have had significant expectations in life at various times that weren’t fulfilled. When I was first ordained a priest in 1960, I vividly remember how excited I was when I visited Bishop Bernard Topel about my first assign-ment. He had told me a couple of days before, as we arranged the appointment, that he had exciting news for me. I wondered what parish it might be to which I would be assigned. I considered a few possibilities as I fantasized.

When the day arrived, the exciting news was: I would be going back to school at Washington State University. I would be associate pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Pullman.

That assignment wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but of course I went. Yes, an expectation dashed, but the experience turned out to be a most enjoyable and helpful.

People who get married often have high expectations, but things just don’t turn out as hoped. Perhaps an illness, a strained relationship, losing employment, or children drifting away from the Church can be sources of disappointment – dreams unfulfilled. How often it happens that a couple is ready to begin enjoying their retirement, but then a spouse becomes ill – perhaps even terminally ill.

Farming also has a way of keeping you humble. You can have a great cherry crop, perhaps, but then, on the last day before picking, a rain storm comes and the crop is damaged, or even totally destroyed.

Sometimes parishioners have very high expectations of the quality of their parish community and life. Like every other family, parishes are made up of very human beings. Pastors and bishops are human, too.

That’s the human journey! It unfolds in a thousand-and-one different ways.

Now we are in the season of Advent, preparing for the Solemnity of Christmas.

Expectations were high amongst the Chosen People, as they awaited the coming of the Messiah. An infant born in Bethlehem was not exactly what people envisioned. Yet, the Savior was born and came into the world in a manner that still leaves us in awe and in joyful celebration.

Jesus’ own journey as he experienced his passion and death was not what his disciples expected. On the contrary, they were pretty devastated. As events turned out, the day of Resurrection became the great day of hope and celebration, as the Church celebrates every Sunday as a day of Resurrection.  

As we approach Christmas, we remember Jesus’ coming into the world on that Christmas night – the Light of the World. There may be a lot of dashed expectations in life, but when things really count, he does and will come. The promise of God will be fulfilled. We should have no doubt about that.

We have just completed the Year of the Eucharist. The Synod of the Eucharist in Rome in October is a good reminder to the Church of the importance of this sacrament which facilitates and makes possible a continuing, intimate encounter with the Lord. Our journey of life is on a continuum, with no going back. Each day is one day closer to encountering the Lord, face to face for all eternity. Now that is really something to have a hopeful expectation about! It’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.” In the meantime, the Advent season and the Solemnity of Christmas remind us of a gracious and loving God who constantly loves, touches us and accompanies us on the journey.

Eucharist also should remind us that this presence of Jesus in our lives is not always manifest in the most pleasant of circumstances. Eucharist is about the sacrifice of the Lord and the table of the Word and Bread of Life. Here, too, expectations can try to lead us to only the most happy and pleasant of circumstances. Yet, the Lord of surprises also comes to us in very trying and painful moments. And the truth is, so often, those moments, those painful moments, are the very circumstances in which we grow the most. We become more spiritually mature as we pass through them. Those experiences become part of spiritual growth and conversion of heart so necessary for us as disciples of the Lord.

The coming of the Lord is a hopeful expectation, always to be realized. No matter the many expectations in life that might be dashed, the expectation of what really matters is a forgone conclusion. Again and again, I have visited people who were terminally ill, perhaps deeply suffering, experiencing excruciating, constant pain. Yet, their deeply rooted faith was evident and even joy-filled. Clearly they were waiting in hopeful expectation.

The mystery of God continues to unfold as it did on that first Christmas. The season of Advent affirms us in our time of preparation and assists us in looking at every event in life as grace-filled. As St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, everything is grace. In that realization we rejoice and thank God. Jesus comes.

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