Advent: Getting Under Our Skin

Author: Fr. Ronald Patrick Raab, C.S.C.

I suffered from severe acne for years. I went to a skin doctor every week for over eight years, from junior high school through the beginning of college. No available treatment at the time worked for me. I had many sleepless nights from the pain of my back, chest and face. My dermatologist even told me that I was the worst case he had ever seen.

I remember in those sleepless nights being in pain and believing that Jesus would give me good skin when I finally get to heaven. I never felt comfortable in my skin as a youth. In fact, it has taken me years of being an adult to feel that my body belongs here on earth. From my outward appearance as a youth to my emotional scars under my skin, it has taken me years to believe that I belong among others who seem to take their skin for granted.

I still carry the scars on my face even now that I am nearly sixty years old. I am not so sure however, that the scars under my skin will ever go away. I wait with so many people on earth for these days of Advent so I may reflect again on our God who became one of us, with real skin on his body. Jesus even felt at home here on earth, among us with skin scars.

Jesus said, “Be watchful and alert.” I am not worried about sleeping through Jesus’ command. I am often still awake in the night worrying not about my own pain any longer, but the pain of other people who feel they do not belong in this world. I store up worry about our homeless youth that seems to catch me in the nighttime.

I worry because they wander our rural communities looking for a place to call home because they have been physically and sexually abused by their blood relatives. Foster families have shuffled them from place to place. So many of these kids have never felt at home in their skin, so they cut themselves or pierce their skin or tattoo their bodies. Their bodies also bear the bruises of abuse, of severe beatings and long-term emotional neglect.

Read more reflections by Holy Cross religious

So many of our next generation also wander the streets of our cities looking to belong. Some sell their bodies hoping to belong to someone even for a night. However, so many youth are very conservative; they want a job, a career, a family and a place to worship. They are homeless not to make a radical political statement, but because they have been abused or shunned by parents because of their sexual identities or because their parents are just too drunk or stoned or distracted to take care of them.

Fr Ronald Raab, CSC, washing feet at the liturgy

In Advent we affirm again our humanity because Jesus became one of us. In our Advent prayer, we all must be vigilant. We must even stay awake at night worrying about other people’s children. We must worry about the bruised skin or broken bones of our youth. We must be alert that we do not continue the abuse by looking the other way. Jesus says to us, “Watch.” We must be watchful even when our eyes hurt from the sights of neglect, abuse and poverty.

John the Baptist wore camel’s hair on his skin with a belt around his waist. Even John was considered a radical because he threatened people’s comfort. He heralded the Kingdom of God in people’s drowsy ways. He shouted his unworthiness to even untie the sandal straps from Jesus’ feet. He declared that people’s skin would be washed in baptism. John promised, however, that the Holy Spirit through Jesus’ baptism would wash even their souls. The Holy Spirit would get under the skin of those who truly believe.

In Advent, we listen to John the Baptist, the preacher’s preacher. We listen holding our breath because we know he is speaking truth about Jesus. He tells us as an adult that we are not waiting for the child Jesus to set us free, but we must realize Jesus, the adult suffered for us. The living Christ is here in Advent because his skin was broken open; his raw flesh was bruised from carrying a cross and being whipped. The Paschal Mystery sets us free.

John is calling us to open our mouths for justice when we look around our world. John is telling us that our waiting for the Messiah in Advent is about putting our lives on the line for people who are broken, shunned, imprisoned, abused and addicted. People who bear suffering need to hear our voices of belief. We need to cry out in the night.

We all wait with Mary to hear an angel, “Hail, full of grace. The Lord is with you.” In our Advent days, we wait for Christ to be born in our situations that are often full of pain, worry and neglect. We ache for the peace of the Messiah. We ache for a quiet and silent night, a holy night where our sleeping is uninterrupted by aches and pains living in our own skins.

This reflection for the Season of Advent was written by Fr. Ronald Patrick Raab, C.S.C., who is the Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the United States. We thank Fr. Raab for sharing this reflection with us, as it first appeared in Ministry and Liturgy Magazine in its September 2014 edition. You can read more of Fr. Raab's reflections on his website.