On the first Sunday of Advent, I attended Mass with my family at my home parish back in northern Illinois. I was visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday, and there was much to be thankful for. The first reading was read, and the responsorial psalm was sung. Then two people approached the sanctuary: one was the lector and the other her guide.
The lector’s name, I believe, is Cecilia, and she is blind. For as long as I can remember, she has been a frequent lector at my home parish for the 9 a.m. Mass. And every time she reads the word of God from her braille manuscript, her fingers gliding across the page and her voice only pausing every so often, I sit in awe of the woman’s faith.
One of the priests who used to serve at our parish often would recognize her during his homilies. While we all may endure our own struggles — some tragic, for sure, others more trivial — our priest always reminded us of Cecilia’s witness: a woman who had reason to doubt God’s goodness because she could not see; yet she saw clearer than most of us the truths of our faith.
Clearly this woman has a deep, abiding relationship with Christ. While she often makes it to Sunday Mass, she also frequently is visited by ministers to the homebound. From what I can tell, she lives a joyful life.
It was beautiful hearing Cecilia read from the Book of Romans on the First Sunday of Advent, the reading that urges us to discard our acts of darkness and “put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:12). While she may not see darkness and light in the same way the rest of us do, she clearly knows how to walk and live in the light of Christ.
At the same Mass, we usually have a sign language interpreter signing the readings, responses, homily and songs for the deaf from our parish — namely, a girl who must now be of high school age who is either deaf or severely hearing imparied. She and her family also sit in the pew directly in front of the ambo where the interpreter sits. Like Cecilia, I can’t remember a time where this family did not sit in their pew or when the interpreter did not sign from the lower sanctuary.
During the Alleluia, you can see them signing the response, hands and arms waving in the precise circular motion of Alleluia. It is a sign of rejoicing. And often you will see others throughout the church signing this song with them, joining in their joy, breaking down boundaries, praising together.
Now, we celebrate Gaudete Sunday — the third Sunday of Advent during which we rejoice in the Lord’s imminent coming. His birth is near, and we can’t help but be joyful during this anticipation.
The second reading for this Sunday reads from the Book of Isaiah: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing” (Is 35:5-6).
I will not be visiting my home parish for this Sunday Mass, but I would love to hear Cecilia read this second reading. And I would love to see the girl and her family sign the Alleluia afterward.
Most of us do not live with life-altering physical disabilities such as blindness or deafness. But we often can be so blind and deaf to the will of God. We say we can’t hear him, but we don’t make time to be silent and listen. We say we don’t see him working in our lives, yet we ignore his clear presence in the Eucharist, preferring to find refuge in our phones.
Gaudete Sunday marks the halfway point of Advent. Maybe we had great expectations for what we wanted to do this season but have become overwhelmed by the noise and busyness of the season’s demands. Or maybe we didn’t really think of Advent at all, turning a blind eye to this time of preparation for the Messiah’s birth and for his eventual second coming. In either case, rejoice! There is time left to prepare our hearts for Christ this Christmas and every day after. Let’s have faith by opening our eyes and ears to God’s gentle presence this season.
Ava Lalor is assistant editor for Our Sunday Visitor.