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Comfort and Joy: Even in the Darkness


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Editor’s Note: As part of our “Comfort and Joy” Advent/Christmas blog series, newly commissioned missioner Catherine Sullivan shares her thoughts on preparing to leave for mission and how discomfort and sadness are made new through God.

I would have to say that personally, joy is my normal state of being. I am the one who sings in the kitchen as she cooks, skips as she walks to the metro, and obsesses over Christmas far too early. So when I was forced to think about ‘Comfort and Joy’ as a duo, the component I had to search for was ‘comfort.’

Comfort, for me, arrives in the form of relationship when a state of discomfort has already been present. When I would fall as a child, my father would come to comfort me. In times of heartbreak, a friend would come to sit by my side. Comfort, for me, has always been tied to accompaniment in the face of difficulty.

God accompanies us wherever we are, but I am beginning to realize more and more that it is often in our darkest times that we are finally able to see God there with us.

My parents came to visit for a weekend during our formation time in Washington, DC. And it was wonderful to share them with my new community.

I hadn’t expected it to bring sadness as well.

When I tell people that I am going on mission, they usually think of my future- about who I will meet, what I will do, how I will change. Rarely do they think of who and what I am leaving behind. I too had thought mostly of the future, until I was confronted with what it will mean to leave my parents behind.

Catherine's Parents

Catherine’s Parents

I am the youngest of five and my parents are on the older side, and there have been a few sickness scares along the way. In recent years, my siblings and I have had to deal with the stark reality of their mortality. And leaving for two years on mission brings that reality to the forefront of my mind.

At one point in their visit, I was overcome with a deep and powerful sadness. Not only at the idea of leaving their physical presences, but of leaving behind the time in my life when I could be a child and they could be my everything. I left the room where everyone was gathered and as tears streamed down my face in our cozy library, I was enveloped by a great warmth. I was surprised to feel a complete sense of comfort wash over me, an assurance that I was with God and that I was where God wanted me to be.

I must admit, I was taken aback. How was it possible to experience such comfort in the midst of such deep sadness? The words of Saint Clare of Assisi sprang to mind: “Look, look on Jesus, poor and crucified, look on this Holy One, who for your love has died, and remember as you contemplate the sacred mysteries, this Jesus whom you gaze upon, loves you most tenderly”.

Through the death and resurrection of our Lord, life and death, despair and comfort, sadness and joy, are intrinsically linked. It was in my deepest sadness that I felt God’s presence most strongly, and I was comforted.

With goodbyes to family and friends looming in the months ahead, I cannot help but be comforted by the strength of my call and the fire of God’s love. I cannot help but find comfort and joy in Christ, even in the darkness.

Question for reflection: How do you remind yourself of God’s presence even in times of struggle and uncertainty? 

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Catherine Hope Sullivan is the youngest of five children raised by a sassy Italian and a historian of world religions. Thanks to them, her younger years were filled with new and interesting people from every walk of life. Forever a Belle, Catherine graduated from the all-women’s Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN, with degrees in English writing and Italian (and an unofficial degree in female empowerment). Catherine has a serious passion for world travel because of the amazing people and traditions one encounters in every part of the world. She chose overseas mission to serve and learn from every person she meets. She has been in Cochabamba, Bolivia, since January 2016.