Just as a Catholic who takes his faith seriously approaches Lent with an attitude of penance in anticipation of Easter, so too must we remember that Advent should likewise be regarded with a penitential perspective, lest we neglect to prepare our hearts adequately to recognize the Incarnation. Many dioceses have programs to help Catholics – both those in the pews and those who have been estranged or alienated from the Church for any variety of reasons – to strengthen their faith through reconciliation with the Lord.
The year 2018 has been difficult for Catholics, and the Church continues to reel from its effects. The faith of many – including, in a particular way, the abuse victims themselves – has been shaken. Meanwhile, faithful priests, bishops, and members of the laity have been ostracized for attempting to invite much-needed renewal into the Church. The Church has confronted any number of dilemmas in its history, yet that is admittedly both a blessing (not the event itself, but the admission of its occurrence) and a curse: a blessing because this indicates that the Church is resilient, and has a method of purifying herself of those attitudes that would seek her destruction, whether from the inside or the outside; and a curse, because of the stark reality that many in the Church have severely wronged others in incomprehensible ways, and their sins must be atoned for.
Yet, with Advent comes newness, as the Church embarks on a new liturgical year. The Gospel is not called the “Good News” for nothing: because Christ’s two-thousand-year-old teachings, far from being “old-fashioned,” are just as vital and valid today as they were in the first century Holy Land. Reflecting on this reality should spur us to renewal, interiorly and institutionally.
Division and incivility in Western society are at an all-time high, and this acrimony has crept into numerous prominent forums of the Church. Those of us with social media (I use Facebook and Twitter) have witnessed the onslaught of public behavior that is far from Christian, even on the part of those who claim to champion the Lord’s will. It is both possible and necessary to proclaim the truth and to evangelize with both clarity and charity. Yet, how many souls troll the comment sections of statuses, websites and other avenues of the web with fingers dripping with malice and discontent! They are not at peace, and we must pray for them. Really, who you are online is who you are offline, and if your intent is rivalry and schism instead of the goodwill and unity that we find in Jesus Christ, then you may want to rethink your ultimate intentions.
This Advent, let us take the time to look for innovative and creative ways to use social media to bring others to Christ, and thus inspire their holiness and ongoing conversion of heart. There is a brief, curious passage nestled within the conclusion of 2 John, one of the shortest books of the Bible: “Although I have much to write to you, I do not intend to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and speak face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 1:12). The same resolve is echoed in the first chapter of the next [likewise short] book, 3 John 1:13-15, “I have much to write to you, but I do not wish to write with pen and ink. Instead, I hope to see you soon, when we can talk face to face. Peace be with you. The friends greet you; greet the friends there each by name.” Speaking to another human being in person, or at least by telephone, off the record, in real time, and with the piety and reverence that stem from recognizing the imprint of God in the other. What an abiding Christmas gift!
Modeling the Apostle-author of 1, 2 and 3 John, let us use the weeks of Advent to celebrate our numerous opportunities to foster accord among our brethren. Make no mistake, there is plenty of fodder for disagreement, and those points must be raised in the appropriate way. After all, the Evil One is all too prepared to stoke the tolerance of heresy and other inroads of sin. Yet, let us encourage each other to look forward to the arrival of the Word Made Flesh, who came to counteract that sin to begin with.
When we look for others “face to face,” we should see them primarily as reflections of God’s image, instead of proponents of whatever adversarial falsehoods the world posits. When we participate in respectful dialogue with others, perhaps especially those with whom we disagree on key matters, whether online or offline, let us thus keep in mind the iconic, humbling, and dignity-inducing words of the first chapter of John’s Gospel, taking care to heed the grace and truth that is denoted in actual discipleship: “And the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). May God bless you and yours this Advent!
This piece is dedicated to my oldest son, John-Paul, who is preparing for his First Penance on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. My wife Bernadette and I could not be prouder of our dear son. His lovingly supportive three younger sisters could not either — although they are probably willing to remind him of some of the torment-laden content of his first confession beforehand.