Advent is my favourite season. It’s a time that calls us to embrace the quiet, winter darkness and nurture the seed of new beginnings. We watch and wait for the Light of Christ to spring forth in our world, we prepare and repent of our sloppy selfishness, we choose to rejoice and sing amidst the chaos, and, finally, we welcome Christ ever more fully into our hearts. This act of welcome, in turn, allows us to reach out and serve our broken world. This rich liturgical season offers us hope in face of despair. It gives us permission to be still, to go deep, and reconnect with Emmanuel, the One who reminds us that, in all things, God-Is-With-Us.
This year we have been given an extra gift, just in time for Advent. On the Feast of St. Francis, Pope Francis offered the world his new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti. Calling us to rediscover the power of social friendship rooted in Christ, Pope Francis leaves us with much to ponder. Therefore, this year, I invite us to reflect on Fratelli Tutti in light of the Advent readings. What can we discover? How can scripture and the living tradition of the Church enlighten our lives? And, how can these sources shape our work as Development and Peace – Caritas Canada?
Advent 1: Watch and wait (See)
In this first week of Advent, the readings reflect Mary’s late stage pregnancy. The readings are pregnant with longing, yearning for God to reveal Godself amidst the darkness of our human condition. We hear the age-old lament that God has hidden God’s face from humanity. But lament, in scripture, never walks alone. Lament is always partnered with hope. So, we are called to live in the hope of our salvation, to see fully our need for redemption, and put our trust in God’s steadfast love. Likewise, Pope Francis boldly laments the brokenness we see in the world today. Chapter One of the encyclical identifies “dark clouds over a closed world”. From a global economy that leaves too many behind, to growing extremism and polarisation; from blatant disregard of human rights to a realization that there is veritably a “’third world war’ [being] fought piecemeal” today, the Pope names the moment yet proclaims the source of our hope. To engage the world, we need to have the courage to see it clearly, as it is. In seeing it, we make a choice, a choice to hope. The work of Development and Peace follows this very model. Through the eyes of our partners in the Global South, we see firsthand the impacts of COVID-19 and we work to “Recover Together”. We see our ravaged common home and work to amplify the voices of those most directly affected by climate change. We witness the upheaval in the lives of refugees and displaced peoples and choose to “Share the Journey”. We lament and choose hope. As we watch and wait during this first week of Advent, what do we see? What do we lament? Where do we discover hope? How do we choose to bring hope to the world today?
Advent 2: Prepare and repent (Judge)
This week, John the Baptist comes onto the scene and we hear his voice crying out in the wilderness. We are called to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths. In scriptural tradition, we are called to repent, to turn around, re-calibrate our spiritual GPS so that the glory of God can be revealed. There is an element of judgement here. Not an oppressive judgement that might diminish us, but an honest scrutiny of our inner tendencies to turn away from God. To our surprise, the response to this scrutiny/judgement is never punishment but always mercy. Pope Francis, too, anchors Fratelli Tutti in mercy. Reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan, we are called to reach out in social friendship to those who are abandoned by the wayside today. Such friendship does not allow the boundaries of class or ethnicity to separate us. Such friendship does not allow us to simply walk on by. The judgement exists within the actions themselves. Pope Francis says it best: “Now there are only two kinds of people: those who care for someone who is hurting and those who pass by; those who bend down to help and those who look the other way and hurry off. Here, all our distinctions, labels and masks fall away: it is the moment of truth. Will we bend down to touch and heal the wounds of others? Will we bend down and help another get up?” (FT, 70) The gift of Development and Peace is that, together, we can bend down to touch and heal the wounds of others. As a living church, we can reach out and help others get up. We do this without discrimination, as did the Samaritan in the gospel. We also do this without paternalism, knowing that the best salve is the one that allows others to reclaim their own agency and dignity. As we prepare and repent during this second week of Advent, how will we touch and heal the wounds of others? How will we help others get up?
To be continued