•Zephaniah 3:14-18a • Philippians 4:4-7 • Luke 3:10-18 • Advent C ‘13•
According to the written gospels the role of John the Baptist was to prepare human hearts to welcome Jesus of Nazareth and his message. So in our Advent liturgy John stands among us and we listen to his voice. He directs us to the Christ Mystery, the Christ life we are privileged to live, “God’s new reality” emerging among us.
I am glad the recent political campaigns ended before Advent. They were tedious. The debates seemed devoid of any significant content. A strong current of excessive individualism placed so much emphasis on economics that very significant issues like war, climate change and immigration reform were simply ignored. In those campaigns the growing influence of the Catholic Church in our country became evident. Both vice-presidential candidates claimed to be Catholic. Sister Simone delivered an inspiring address at the Democratic convention while some high-profile bishops embarrassed many of us. Since election night I have tried to understand some of the implications all that suggests.
I remain convinced Pope John XXIII was inspired by the Holy Spirit to gather our bishops in the Second Vatican Council. The Council prepared us to deal with the complex societal change we face in this post-modern culture where globalization and technology are transforming our world.
Vatican II was fifty years ago. Today, reactions to the Council are complex. Some continue to resist the Council’s mandate to reform the Church. Others recognize that reform has been stalled and are frustrated. For various reasons some have simply walked away. Too many of us are pre-occupied with issues of structure and hierarchy, and too few are willing to embrace the responsibilities of our baptism. It is obvious that our ecclesial situation today is less than ideal.
Prior to the Council we found comfort in clear markers of our Catholic identity. Today that is no longer true. Our identity as “Catholic” and as “church” is evolving as we engage the emerging post-modern social order. So it is, that for good or bad, the Church is not what it used to be.
In retrospect I am grateful for who we are. The recent political campaigns, as tedious as they were, awakened a new hope in my soul. American Catholics are growing in our awareness and conviction that we, all the baptized, are the church! More and more of us no longer think of the church simply as an institution. We know the mystery of Christ’s Body encompasses all of us from within, engaging us in the transformation of society.
In the desert John’s message of judgment and punishment drew a crowd. The question from everybody, including tax collectors and soldiers, was the same. “What should we do?” John’s reply was neither dramatic nor extraordinary. He simply says, “open your heart to God.” “Become aware of and respond to the needs of those who suffer.” “Be compassionate.” “Be kind.” “Be just.” “Be human!” He touched their hearts and they “were filled with expectation.” He promised “one mightier than I is coming.” That “someone” was Jesus of Nazareth who may have been in the crowd that day. He was attracted to John and his message about “the reign of God,” but for Jesus “the reign of God” is not about judgment and punishment. It is about “shalom” – solidarity, compassion peace and fullness of life for all.
We are a land and a world of great diversity, many accents, cultures and religions. The recent political campaign and election revealed the deep divisions and polarizations that are the realities of our common life as a nation and a world. Diversity does not mean division. We are diverse but all of us are the beloved children of God. In Christ we, all of us with our amazing diversity share a common journey of becoming what God is creating us to be.
By now many of you have or soon will bring a tree into your home and adorn it with a variety of garlands, ornaments and lights. Each ornament and light contributes to the beauty of the tree. Diversity means we are like the lights and ornaments on your Christmas tree. Open your heart to God. Become aware of and respond to the needs of others. Be compassionate. Be kind. Be just. Be human! In doing so you – we — all of us are becoming Christ!