The meaning of Advent in a time of pandemic

Throughout Advent we are called to the same spirit of anticipatory delight expressed by John the Baptist in the weeks leading up to Jesus’ arrival. What often makes this challenging is the ever-expanding season of sales – the pressure to make the Christmas season more about consumer goods than the Good News. But this year has been different. The COVID-19 pandemic – in particular, the necessity of physical distancing – has made us consider and recognize what aspects of our lives are most valuable. For many, that has been the appreciation of and longing for human connection.

In 2015, Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si’, which has a particular focus on issues relating to climate change. It posed necessary questions about and offered potential solutions to global problems, just as conversations surrounding our planet’s future were heating up. This year, Pope Francis has released Fratelli Tutti – an encyclical focusing on the importance of global solidarity and human friendship. With the potential for alienation and division stemming from the pandemic this new encyclical, once again, is as timely as it is necessary.

Francis expresses his desire, particularly during the pandemic, for the renewed connection of our global family. He asks us to “…dream as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.”

This expression of solidarity helped inspire Development and Peace’s Recovering Together campaign. By highlighting the economic, social, and medical challenges facing communities in the Global South we are recognizing God’s call for us to uphold the common good and care for those most affected by this crisis. In times like these, wherein there is tremendous loss of life, we are reminded of the sanctity of each human person.

For Francis, one of the great joys of life is dialogue: the opportunity to engage in conversation with loved ones and strangers alike. The chance to explore, understand and appreciate different perspectives enriches our lives and provides opportunities to grow and help others do the same. In this light, His Holiness is inviting us to reflect on the most basic of human needs: connection.

God recognized the importance of human connection so much that he entered the world as one of us. From His birth through to His resurrection people were drawn to Jesus’ majesty, love, and grace. Whether it was the Three Kings making the journey to Bethlehem, the marriage celebration at Cana, or the crowds in Galilee hearing the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ earthly ministry was enhanced by the shared experiences of those gathered with him. In this same spirit we continue to gather each Christmas season to await and celebrate our Savior’s birth.

Although many of us are spending this season physically isolated from our loved ones and church communities, we are still called to maintain our joyous anticipation of Christ’s birth wherever we may be. Whether in person or through a live-streamed Mass, Advent is a unique moment of global celebration and mutual expectation. Just as this year has forced us to reflect on the most precious aspects of our life and relationships, let it be an opportunity to remind ourselves of the fundamental truth of our faith: that Jesus entered our world so that he may conquer death.

This Advent, we ask the Lord to help us recognize the profound spiritual connection and fraternal bond we share with our brothers and sisters around the world – particularly the poor, the elderly and the sick. And we pray that, despite the uncertainty we are experiencing, we will keep our hearts focused on the certainty that is God’s love for us, and the incredible gift offered to humanity on Christmas Day.