Monday, November 30, 2015

What an Advent-ure in Divine Mercy Looks Like

How might this Advent be different from all the rest?

With the prospect of World War III smoldering in Syria, with a global crisis of political and economic refugees, with natural disasters and relentless persecution of Christians in various parts of the world, with terrorist activity and fear-mongering run amok, it does not seem too far fetched for the Son of Man to say that "People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world" (Lk 21:26).

Then there is the inner turmoil, of course: Am I just going through the same old motions as in years past?  To paraphrase St. Paul, do I keep failing to do the good I want to do, and yet continue saying and doing the evil I do not want (Rom 7:19)?  Will this year just be business as usual, or will I allow God's grace to translate the tired story lines of my life into a new script, so I can play the role he needs me to play?

Perhaps the sense of urgency this Advent comes from Pope Francis' gift to the Church and world--the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.  Maybe this is the opportunity we need personally and collectively to admit that we cannot save ourselves.  Maybe this is our chance to confess that we are powerless in the face of worldly dominions, whether they be the "technocratic paradigm" identified by Holy Father Francis, or the nihilistic machinations of religious and secular extremists.

The Good News remains unchanging yet paradoxical: Our only hope lies in God's powerless love.  In both his birth and his death, Jesus is the Vulnerable One whose self gift "gives heart to the wretched" (miseris cor dare in Latin ["misericordia"]; mercy in English).  This year's Advent-ure and Jubilee call us to a deeper experience of God's self-emptying presence, which creates our hearts anew.

The Lord stands at the door and knocks, inviting us to a fresh start, offering a new beginning, providing us with a clean slate.  Dare we pray that he make us the people of mercy which our weary and wretched world needs?  If so, consider one of the following paths for embracing the joy of the Season and the peace of the Year:

  • Embrace a New Prayer Perspective.  In Ignatian spirituality, the daily Examen asks us to reflect on the signs of God's presence in our daily life, to grow in awareness of Jesus in the goodness and love we experience each day, and to avoid the trap of seeing only the brokenness and suffering which might otherwise haunt us.
  • Select a Personal Theme Song.  Though it may sound a bit off beat (pun intended!), music touches the soul in unique ways.  A video version of a classic hymn like "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus" has great potential to inspire and edify.  Find the genre that speaks to you--Taize, Praise and Worship, Gregorian chant--and then let a favorite tune inform the rhythm of your daily life.
  • Engage in Issue-driven Almsgiving. If you want to help with the refugee crisis in the Middle East, check out the Vatican's Catholic Near East Welfare Association.  If you want to help address economic iniquities, try fair trade coffee.
  • Commit to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  Mercy looks like something, so  consider defending conscience protection, or check out Pope Francis' concerns about clean drinking water.
By opening ourselves to God's gratuitous and merciful love, we become, in turn, instruments of that same divine mercy.  This is the only reasonable solution for a world which cannot heal its own wounds, and this is what Christian vigilance looks like in the 21st century.

"Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations
that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man."

(Lk 21:36)