Judges 13:2-7, 24-25a; Luke 1:5-25
I remember once years ago sitting with my mother, watching TV. The shows were full of young people and I jokingly remarked, “I guess no one over 40 can be on TV.” Mom saw no humor in it; she replied, “Our society has no use for us older people, especially women. In their eyes, once we’re past childbearing age we’ve outlived our usefulness.”
That got me thinking about the Hebrew world of today’s readings. Elizabeth and the mother of Sampson could probably identify with my mother’s feelings. They lived in a culture where barrenness was seen by many as a punishment from God (Genesis 16:2, 20:18). For such women the future was bleak; nothing but loneliness and insecurity to look forward to. No wonder some of them were prompted to despair (Genesis 30:1).
Especially during seasons such as Advent and Christmas when we exalt the virtue of hope, people still fall prey to the loneliness, depression, and anxiety that lead to despair. Rather than consolation they are in desolation, the sense that God sees our hopelessness yet has abandoned us, left us in the dark, and is never coming back. We cannot see that it is only an inner sense and not the outward reality; the voice of the Prince of Lies telling us we are worthless, that God doesn’t love us and is far, far away. The truth is that God is as near as our next breath and loves us so much that we are worth dying for.
It is the wait that fools us. If God loves us so much, why do we seem to wait forever for him to answer? The women in the readings must have wondered the same thing. Day after day, week after week, year after year they waited; still no answer. It would have been easy to give up. Yet what does Scripture say? Elizabeth, like her husband, was “righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly” (Luke 1:6).
In other words Elizabeth persevered, and it was this that kept her from falling into despair. This is a lesson for us. We too must not only endure times of desolation but use them to strengthen our spiritual gifts. We cannot learn prudence when the way is always clear, justice when all is fair, fortitude when times are easy, or temperance when we get everything in just the right amount. We cannot strengthen our faith when all is seen, or charity when all is given. In the same way, the virtue of hope grows stronger as we persevere in waiting and through that perseverance appreciate ever more deeply the coming of that which we most long for: Unity with God, the object of our hope. Desolation is not the time to turn away from God but toward him; to reinvigorate our hope in the everlasting joy of heaven. The time is now, for Advent is the definitive season of waiting, when hope longs to be rekindled.
The great gift of fertility given to Samson’s mother and to Elizabeth are confirmation that perseverance is rewarded. God sees all of us who endure desolation and, in his own time and manner, provides from the storehouse of his infinite mercy the life-giving consolation of his Spirit. When we find ourselves in times of desolation remember to ask the intercession of St. Elizabeth; she understands very well not only the pain of endless waiting but also the indescribable joy of the Holy Spirit’s three priceless consolations: The new life of St. John within her womb; the love and help of Mary, the Mother of Hope; and most of all the fulfillment of Hope itself: Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
St. Elizabeth, pray for us.