By Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.
People of the Covenants – Jews and Christians thought the end of the world was upon them when Rome decimated the Great Temple of Jerusalem. Yet, disappointed that Messiah did not arrive, Judaism and Christianity persevered by the grace of God. Jews were saved because of their confidence in God’s faithfulness; Christians, because they believed that through all the turmoil, their Redemption was at hand.
In every age there are signs for us to interpret that engage our faith. In the Great Religious Revivals of the 19th century, many Americans thought an eclipse of the sun would inaugurate a Messianic Age. By the “Third Great Awakening” from 1850 onward new forms of Christianity emerged: Christian Science, the Mormon Church, Pentecostal Christianity. Within the main line churches, Methodism flourished, and, within Catholicism, the Paulist Fathers were formed. All were trying their best to address the turmoil of their times: industrial revolutions, workers’ rights, and a host of other things. Through it all, the people were determined to stand tall because of their faith in Jesus. The legacies of their contributions are still with us, especially in a widely held Christian principle: that Christ will return once humanity has reformed the earth, when our surrender to God is complete and the biblical design of peace and harmony are accomplished. Indeed, Jesus made it very clear that our heavenly goals will not be reached unless we cooperate with Grace to experience a little bit of heaven on earth. The KINGDOM must be inaugurated before Messiah returns. Why else would Jesus say “build my kingdom!”
That vision is for every time and place, but it must be rooted. We must always acknowledge the reality of sin—the human proclivity to cause harm. There is an inherent selfishness in humanity. Jesus always acknowledged that. One of my favorite biblical phrases comes from the Gospel of John, chapter 2, vs 25: “Jesus did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.” Knowing this, He came to SAVE. Amazing how his grace is offered to all who choose to hold steadfast to Him.
ADVENT begins a new year, and the signs of our times are offering new opportunities for renewal, for re-commitment to Christ. Humility is key. We must humbly acknowledge we need a Savior! Keeping our sights on Jesus, let us examine some of our most recent trials and see how we can witness to others that this new Church year is a year of grace.
In September we commemorated the 20th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11. Back then, most of us thought that, after the shock, and hurt, and cries for vengeance, and, after the wars (has any war ever settled all the issues for which it was declared?), we would have settled down, and taken up the cross of peace-making. Instead, in this 21st century, our nation and much of the globe remains infected with hate mongering, scapegoating, and intolerance. Did you know that sociologists have recorded that although wars unite people against a common enemy, when wars are over, domestic violence, gangs, and scapegoating minorities and others increase at alarming rates in peace time economies? Obviously, the revenge against Al-Qaeda and Osama Ben Laden did not satisfy. That is a sign for our times worthy of our consideration.
And now, we have lived with almost two years of the Covid epidemic. People of good will prayed and hoped that international cooperation would have been exemplary; that remedies and established protocols would have assured all humanity access to vaccines — a gift of inspiration from our God to the medical community and the world. But that is not the totality of our experience. Although great progress is being made, sin still erupts; controversy ensues. Except for those who because of health issues could not and should not be vaccinated (a small percentage of the population), there were and are people in every nation boycotting wearing masks and refusing vaccines as an expression of their individuality. A very self-serving defiance rooted in a hostile ideology that cares not for neighbors, or elderly, or apparently the young and future generations. Worse, today’s news highlights new covid mutations and pockets of pandemic spread. Add denial of the human imprint on climate change, and it is clear the mess we are in.
Indeed, one of the worst sins of our age is denial of the sins of the past, which, in a sense, is like saying “We don’t need a Savior. We’re doing perfectly fine for ourselves.” HA!
To those who say “Stop telling us about the sins of our past. We’re tired of hearing of the rape of the land, violence against the natives, the terrors of slavery, the abuse of children in church and homes, and poverty and all the rest.” To those people, we must ask, “Do you or do you not value the Bible as Divine Revelation? If you do, take note: the Bible offers more examples of sin than of glory. Most of the Bible’s inspiration comes from naming and learning from sin and selfishness, from very human mistakes to outright denial of God and Covenant.
Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel—shall we expurgate their stories from the text? The Golden Calf and the rebellion of the Israelites –forget it? Jesus reprimanding James and John for wanting to get special favors; arguments among the Apostles as to which among them shall be treated the greatest – immediately following the Last Supper and the First Eucharist? Yes, better to delete all of that. Is there nothing to learn from Jesus calling Peter “Satan,” or from Peter’s threefold denial, or the lukewarm, nausea-inducing mediocre seven churches of Revelation?
WISDOM comes from Truth –not half-truths. Conversion comes from humility. Yet, for all this, the Bible’s most foundational message is how much we are loved. It takes humility to accept that God’s Covenant comes from care; God’s forgiveness reveals loving patience. Jesus’ humanity reveals we are not only fully known, but we are never alone. Jesus understands that most of our sins are rooted in desperation, fears, and ignorance. With love, patience, and understanding –the gifts of faith—Jesus says, follow me, sin no more, and assist others in accepting love.
Advent prepares us to take stock again as to where we have been and where we are going. Don’t we want to gaze upon the Infant Jesus in the manger and say, “Dear Jesus, I’m learning, I’m growing. Your love is reaching me, teaching me, transforming me.”
Today, all our readings insist that, no matter the era we live in, no matter the strife in our lives, that love is hope for sinful people. Yes, our Christian faith offers tremendous redress to all that ails us. This Eucharist, this very day, is yet another opportunity for us to surrender to LOVE. That is God’s will. To accept it, is to accept Jesus, to follow Jesus, who, as Scripture says, “shall do what is right and just in the land” and take us in that same pursuit.
Advent. Don’t wait! Surrender! Our world is waiting to be loved.