You don’t need me to remind you just how unbelievably depressing current affairs is these days. The ‘drip drip’ effect of endless newsfeeds to say nothing of the appalling acts of terror and violence, and elements of the ‘piecemeal’ third world war (as Pope Francis calls it) playing out between so called ‘superpowers’ on our screens daily if not hourly, doesn’t help. It’s crucial for us to recall that behind every tragedy, behind every victim and even the perpetrators of the barbarity or injustices, there is a family, a whole series of ties and bonds of natural affection, that in another walk of life is the very antithesis of the violence and hatred we see and hear reported. Yet in these last few days of the Church’s year, Christ reminds us not to be people of despair when there are ‘wars and rumours of wars, plagues and famines’ etc.
Advent then calls us to hope – that supernatural virtue of looking forward in faith and trust to a God present now who will come again to judge the living and the dead – but also a realistic hope that is rooted in the present moment of the everyday. This doesn’t mean we walk round like Pollyannas pretending all is well in the world and there’s nothing to worry, nor does it mean we give in to that dreadful temptation, despair, which leads to despondency which in turn leads to inaction. And there’s little or no point moaning and groaning about the state of the Church either (however justified we might feel in doing so) for the revolution of love, beauty, truth and goodness so desperately needed in the world through the divine mission of the Church has to begin with me, with my spiritual state and my step by step journey to sanctity, even if I have one foot pointing to heaven and another on a banana skin.
And as always, it must start with prayer, for that is where we truly re-charge the batteries. Karl Barth once said; “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” Wise words from an honest disciple.
“Whoever despairs of the Church, risks – by curious paradox – despairing sooner or later of Man” wrote Bernanos. “It is a fact of experience that nothing can be reformed in the Church by ordinary means”, he continues. “One can only reform the Church by suffering for her; one can only reform the visible Church by suffering for the invisible Church (especially the Holy Souls who are our very special and much forgotten friends in the Mystical Body of Christ). One cannot reform the Church’s vices except by pouring out the example of the most heroic virtue.”
And in these seemingly bleak days of depressing news, we must look for the glimmers of goodness and truth, and beauty, nobility and dignity which are, in truth, all around us every day – they just don’t grab the headlines! But they are there and as we enter this great penitential season of Advent, we should all be a big headline-grabber in heaven amongst the angels. As Jesus says, the angels in heaven rejoice over one repentant sinner!
I am very blessed to work where I do with the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation almost literally ‘on tap’, as it were, daily in Westminster Cathedral. I praise God for its frequent regularity of availability. Lord knows I need the grace as much as the next man. Last week I was hugely edified by the sight of a mother and father and all of their children, queuing up outside the confessional to be absolved and to become at one again with God and each other. It deeply saddens me when I hear fellow Catholics, even priests, describe such families as “squeaky clean” types. I thank God for their witness to hope and personification of humility. I couldn’t help thinking that if the angels do rejoice at every act of true repentance, then that family, gathered at their next meal, must also have had each of their guardian angels beside them at the table. What a state of beatitude in all its doMESStic cacophony!
So when we are tempted to feel somewhat worn down by, or overwhelmed in our spirit, by the ‘piecemeal’ third world war going on all around us, let us seize upon this holy season of Advent to embrace the Lord’s continuous offer of Divine Mercy by making a good confession (here’s an examination of conscience) so that this ‘piecemeal’ war is turned in to our next family ‘meal at peace.’