Advent invitation of Pope Francis
Yesterday those of us who went to Mass listened to the story of the start of a pilgrimage. We heard Isaiah inviting people to join in the pilgrimage. “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob that he may teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths; since the Law will go out from Zion, and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
It will not be a fruitless trip because there on the mountain of the Lord they will be instructed in the ways of the Lord. In response they will “hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war.”
These days it is a different kind of mass movements that we see. It is hard to describe what we see as a pilgrimage. Hundreds of people are lined up hoping for a ride on a bus, or boat or plane from Tacloban to places many of them know not where. And whatever destination the transportation brings them to, they are unloaded and brought to crowded and primitively equipped evacuation centers to await an uncertain future. The more fortunate among them are rescued by relatives. The rest stay on not knowing how they can start a new life.
As we enter the season of Advent this year we hear an invitation coming from Pope Francis. It is contained in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel. It is an invitation to live the gospel with joy. But is this invitation appropriate for the masses huddled in crowded evacuation centers?
Pope Francis is aware of the condition of people in evacuation centers and other relief centers. But he does not see physical suffering as the obstacle to joy. He sees the obstacle elsewhere. Thus he introduces his invitation by describing how he sees people today: “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.”
Having said that, he delivers his invitation: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.’ How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another ‘seventy times seven’ (Mt 18:22), has given us his example: He has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!”
I do not believe that the people currently living in the primitive and difficult situations of the evacuation centers will reject his invitation. I believe rather that what Pope Francis also says in Evangelii Gaudium applies to them: “I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress: ‘My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is…. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness…. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord’.” (Lam 3:17, 21-23, 26)
For us who are not suffering, this is easier said than lived. Nevertheless, let us continue to extend to those confined in evacuation centers not only material support but also our spiritual support.
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