“If only” is one of the saddest expressions in the English language, expressing the mind’s regret, says Angel Chernoff.  “It is the lament of a broken heart over an opportunity lost, the moaning of a soul now aware of what could have been.”  “If only.”  A priest friend used this in a recent homily and it started me thinking.  Thanks to him for inspiring me to dig deeper into “if only.”

During these pandemic times I have thought many times “If only we had believed it wasn’t a hoax sooner” so many people wouldn’t have died.  “If only we had listened more carefully to the scientists telling us that wearing masks, social distancing, and washing our hands would help” we would be farther along in decreasing the number of people getting sick.  “If only we had heeded the restrictions sooner” perhaps over 300,000+ Americans wouldn’t have died and so many families wouldn’t be grieving the loss of loved ones.

But here we are,moving toward the end of the third week of Advent, and the Scripture readings convey the “if only” message too.  Isaiah’s Scripture passages convey the sentiment that God experiences grief when his people, us, do not respond to his call, his lead, and his love.  Isaiah is sad because Israel has not listened to God’s direction and the prophet thinks of what could have been.  The vision of Isaiah was for the “peaceable kingdom.”  He speaks of a vision of a new heaven and a new earth; of life coming out of destruction; a shoot sprouts from the seemingly dead stump of the tree; the wolf and the lamb lie down together, no one shall hurt or destroy on God’s holy mountain.  All nature will sing in harmony.  Could this be possible?

Maybe our “if only” thinking might be:  if only there wasn’t racism, if only there wasn’t sexism, or if only we cared for the environment, there was equal food distribution so children in America were not going to bed hungry; if only we could settle disputes without war, aggression, or gun violence.  This list could go on but you get the picture.  Even Jesus lamented that he couldn’t break through the arrogance and narrow-mindedness of his contemporaries.  If only they would listen and respond to God’s offer of forgiveness. 

I’m sure we all have our own “if only” moments—times when we have regretted something we did or said, or maybe should have done and didn’t.  Perhaps when we stop to consider them, they become God-inspired occasions not for despair, but for hope.  Hope is such a great gift from God.  It opens us up to new possibilities; to new life.  During Advent we pray for Jesus to come more fully into our lives.  It is the season where we set aside time for us to remember that God is indeed “God-with-us.” 

“If only” we sit still long enough, listen closely enough the vision will become clear.  Our very own “if only” moments will lead us back to our Provident God whose love enables us to see so much goodness in the world and its people.  It fills us with hope; opens our heart to sing:  “Come O Long Expected Jesus”—Emmanuel. 

Barbara McMullen, CDP



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