“For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.” (Romans 13:11-12)
Something or rather someone is coming. Something new is happening. Advent literally means “coming” in Latin, and we begin this Advent with something new, something unexpected, something that is affecting many of us and that we’re still trying to make sense of. Around 12:45am on Friday night/Saturday morning, I knew I had to scrap my homily for this weekend because something had changed. I felt like this massive cloud that had been hovering over my family for five decades had finally been lifted, and we were finally given room for hope.
A little background: my grandparents and parents fled Cuba during the Freedom Flights in the summer of 1968. They went through many hardships, and left many loved ones behind. I have family members from Havana to the eastern province of the island that I have never met. When I was born 7 years later, my grandparents and parents instilled in me three great loves: love of God, love of Cuba, and love of this country who took them in with open arms. With the love of Cuba came stories of what they left behind. I could see pain in my grandparents’ eyes when they talked about their homeland and the tyrant who forced them to leave the land of their birth. Hope gave way to resignation. Faith was always present, but I’ll never forget an animated conversation my two grandfathers and my father were having 30 years ago. They were talking about this man who had taken so much from them, and my father reached the conclusion that the Cuba they left behind no longer existed. That was 30 years ago. One by one, my four grandparents started dying. Each time I lamented that they never returned to see their homeland free especially my maternal grandmother who worked so hard to keep our family here and there united even with 90 miles of shark infested waters that separated us; waters that one of my cousins traversed in a raft during two weeks in which we didn’t know if she was dead or alive. And like my grandparents, I buried so many patriots who longed to see their homeland free.
So how did I feel during those early Saturday morning hours? I wept. I felt empty that my grandparents weren’t there for that moment. I didn’t celebrate that a man was dead. I kept thinking about my grandparents and all the victims of this man who have suffered so much. I had been waiting for this day my whole life thinking that I would feel unrestrained joy. What I felt was relief, I guess, that this dark cloud was gone. I felt hope. The hope that should fill every Christians but a hope that I felt was fleeting for our people for far too long.
We begin this Advent, this preparation of the coming of the Lord Jesus, with this new feeling of hope. We hear the prophet Isaiah today talking about the mountain of the Lord being established as the highest mountain. These are the things the Christian should dream about with Christ by our side. Dreaming that the impossible may soon become possible suddenly does not seem so insane. So we put the darkness behind us and walk towards Christ’s wondrous light as the wise men did two millennia ago. Salvation for us, and I firmly believe, salvation for my people “is nearer now than when we first believed” as St. Paul tells us. Night is advanced. The day is close at hand. Christ is coming to reign in our hearts. He does not come to oppress but to liberate us. He comes to show us the way to the Father. But as the gospel reminds us, we must be awake for at an unknown hour the Son of Man will come. So it is with the end of times, and so it is when our time comes. And for one man, his time has come, and as it will be for all of us, he must be judged by our Lord and not by us.
In the meantime, we embrace the dawn that is fast approaching. Night is advanced. Day is close at hand. We pray for all those who have suffered over the last half-century, for all those imprisoned, drowned, assassinated, beaten, or incarcerated souls and for all those families that have been divided. As our Archbishop reminded us in his homily last night, the Virgin of Charity, the patroness of Cuba unites us all and stays close to her people and brings them closer to the heart of her son. She is the model of hope as we dare to hope again. And finally, she is the one who teaches us that great Advent prayer which takes on new meaning this day: “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!”