“I’m at peace…and I’ve become very quiet.” It’s stunning to realize that a 17-year-old boy who was being held prisoner by the Nazis during WWII, wrote these words in a letter home to his parents, one day before his execution. Our pastor shared this story in his weekend homily, causing me to think deeply about the state of our hearts and minds today.
We learned that the phrase “I’ve become very quiet” simply meant that this young soul had reached a point of complete freedom of spirit. The boy had learned how to surrender everything to God therefore he had no worries at all. How many of us have no earthly worries thus could write a letter like that today? Yet on the eve of his extermination by the Nazis, this young Jewish boy wrote with total abandonment to God…incredible. His life and faith are an inspiration for all of us.
Over the past two weeks, Christians have been celebrating the season of Advent. As we wait in joyful hope for the coming of the Savior, we are called to prepare our hearts for God who brings peace to ALL people. I’ve often wondered what it really means to prepare one’s heart for God. After hearing the short story of the boy above, I think I have a better understanding. I believe we are being invited to clear away the clutter in our hearts and minds which prevents us from experiencing the peace and joy of God. This clutter can take many forms but for most folks it looks like frivolous worries about work, family, finances, loss and illness. The clutter steals our peace and ultimate joy and leaves us feeling empty, lost and without purpose. When this happens, there is a total absence of God in our midst, despite our many blessings.
Finding our way back to God is not complicated, but it takes a conscience effort and total commitment to put God at the center of our lives. Over the past few years of my life, the unwelcome, intrusive pain from my back has stolen my peace leaving me feeling empty and alone on many occasions. I am quite aware of what I am doing wrong, yet I still continue the bad habits that find me in this predicament. Despite my best efforts to clear my mind of the clutter and open my heart to God, the clutter still wins…at times. I try not to attack myself for failing, rather to remind myself that I can begin again tomorrow. Each day offers a new opportunity to deepen my relationship with God, who meets me exactly where I am on life’s journey.
As I think about the heroic boy from the homily last night, I wonder what he would offer to me as advice? From the little that I know of him, I imagine that he would counsel me to give my pain to God. After all, he was about to offer his total life to God in the most excruciating circumstances. I wonder if the boy struggled (as I do) to understand his difficult quandary, or did he just “give all to God” as a matter of spiritual growth and maturity? I do believe that the boy knew that nothing, not even the hatred and bullets of the Nazis, could ever separate him from the love of God, which would be his for eternity. In the end, his faith catapulted him to new heights in the spiritual realm where he was welcomed home by our loving and merciful God.
Perhaps God wants us to take these next few weeks of Advent and instead of talking non stop and worrying, we need to listen more. Maybe that is what the boy did before he wrote his letter and then God gave him the grace to find such beautiful and comforting words for his parents to read. When my mom was facing her mortality in the face of stage 4 cancer, she was very much like the boy. Mom would sit quietly in front of our Lord in Adoration and let his rays of light be her radiation of healing. She was always so peaceful then…and quiet. Just today my sister and I talked on the phone about how courageous she was, never complaining about her pain or disease. This is the sign of someone who opened her heart to God and thus found lasting peace and joy.
So perhaps God is reaching out to you and to me this season, through the love, example and stories of those around us. Are we listening hard enough to clear away some clutter? If we make more of an effort to do so this Advent, I think we will find that joy will be our gift under the tree on Christmas morning.