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Praying for peace as we await the birth of the Prince of Peace

We have just begun the shortest Advent season ever possible. The fourth Sunday of Advent this year will be on Sunday Dec. 24 – allowing for only a one-day week before the great festival begins on the next day.

Advent brings some people a welcome respite from the relatively long weeks of Ordinary time. Others find Advent only another obstacle before Christmas.  Some folks engaged in the merchant world don’t pay much attention to this season at all as they market their Christmas offerings by the beginning of October – if not sooner.  So, for some a shortened Advent is a welcome gift while others may feel cheated by a one day fourth week of Advent.

This Advent with its traditional biblical readings may juxtapose unusual images as the brutal violence in the Holy Land interrupts the two millennia of scriptural illustrations that invite us to anticipate and to long for the birth of the Prince of Peace. Unfortunately, the Holy Land has a lengthy legacy of wars – dating back to even long before the Crusades. The current violence now comes into our view with the intensity of social media that brings the viciousness into our homes and onto our smartphones while it actually happens. Children being killed and maimed. Jews, Muslims and Christians being taken as hostages. Bombs exploding in homes, businesses and hospitals frighten combatants on both sides of the conflict. This is an unusual Advent not merely because of its temporal brevity, but because of the hatred that currently has erupted in the very place where Jesus was born to usher in a new age of peace.

Advent is a liturgical season that is intended to prepare our hearts to recall the comforting message of the historic birth of Christ and eagerly to anticipate His ultimate return in glory.  I invite you to remember the countless people who are suffering in a land that should engender deep gratitude for God’s gift of His Son. We pray this Advent for a lasting peace that does not simply stop the bombs and drones but a peace that brings about a new era of respect and harmony that transcends religious and political differences – an era that is not satisfied simply with disarmament of the weapons of war but offers a transformative moment for all humanity.

There are dedicated international peacemakers who are seeking to bring an end to these hostilities. May their efforts achieve not simply a truce, but a renewed spirit of hope for this region of our world. Advent is a season when we should wait in eager expectation for the triumphant return of the Prince of Peace. May  lasting peace come to our world and may it come soon and very soon!

(Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, writes his “What I Have Seen and Heard” column for the Catholic Standard and Spanish-language El Pregonero newspapers and websites of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.)