AN ADVENT REFLECTION
God’s desire that we flourish in freedom sometimes is expressed in rebukes. The readings for Friday of the second week of Advent are an example. We have Isaiah 48 17-19 including “If you would hearken to my commandments, your prosperity would overflow like a river”. Jesus says in Matthew 11. 16-19 “We piped you a tune but you did not dance! We sang you a dirge but you did not wail!” These two sorrowful rebukes reminded me of these line of John Greenleaf Whittier:
For all sad words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these,
It might have been.
Behind the rebukes is exasperation over perverse human contrariness that prevents the fullness of life from erupting. Sometimes whatever it is, we are against it. Jesus goes on to speak of John the Baptist’s call to repentance and his own call to a feast are both rejected. We justify our paralysis to keep the spurious security of the status quo, to keep privilege, and because we are such control freaks. We prefer intellectual jousting to creating and increasing love.
One of the finest minds of his time, St. John Henry Newman, was unable to convert his brother. He could attract standing room only crowds to his sermons. He had more than information to give, he had vision to which many of his time and since have responded. He concluded that nothing can get through if we are closed to it. Heart speaks to heart. Some hearts are simply not open.
A more current example of this deadening paralysis is what is happening between Pope Francis and a certain kind of mindset. The pope wants us to take risks to spread life and love. He wants the church to form consciences, not dictate to them. Reality is more important than ideas, love has primacy over ideas. He did some rebuking on December 22, 2014, referring to a Curia that is outdated, sclerotic, or indifferent to others.
I looked up “sclerotic”. It means unresponsively rigid. It can refer to unresponsive limbs of our bodies, he meant an intellectual and spiritual malaise. The gospel does not support an obsession with laws, infractions, and punishments. Jesus lamented that the religious professionals rejected John the Baptist on the grounds that he was crazy, and Jesus on the grounds that he was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. It is hard to win sclerotic souls.
Rules are not made to be broken, they are meant to be internalized and make us crazy lovers that break through the barriers of sin and bring life to those around us, like John and Jesus.
Contrast sclerotic souls with the desert mothers and fathers. In Backpacking With the Saints, Belden Lane comments:
…adapting themselves to the desert’s unpredictability, they weren’t bound by rigid regulations. They readily made exceptions, urging young monks to attend carefully to the leading of the heart. In story after story, says one observer, we see ‘the abbas and ammas of the desert invoke rules only to break them in the name of discernment and love’.
We share God’s sorrow over those who refuse to be reached by the invitation to repent or to feast. To avoid sclerosis, we need to let go. Letting go is perhaps THE advent discipline. Our Lady let go and conceived God Incarnate. She had no privileges or self-image to protect. She is a great teacher of control freaks. She is the only one of us that God never had to say of “if only she had”. In the words of William Wordsworth, she is “ Our tainted nature’s solitary boast”. May she teach us now and always to let go and rest from the machinations of our egos and let Christ do wonderful things in us. Let’s take some time this Advent and Christmas season to repent of our fault-finding and absolutizing of flaws in others over the past year, and resolve to affirm those to try to bring life and light and healing to others whether we understand their methods or not. That will make the world and us open to the grace that is always being offered.
Thomas Crucher CCAH