Sunday, December 14, 2008
Franciscans in Advent: Weeks 3 & 4
We continue with our series of Advent reflections prepared by Friars Larry Gosselin and Tommy King. As mentioned in our previous blog, Fr. Larry is presently in residence at Ascension Parish in Portland, Oregon. Prior to this assignment, he spent many years working with Native American peoples in Arizona and New Mexico. Fr. Tommy King ministers along with our Brother Gerard Saunders in the Amazon region of Peru. Fr. Tommy has also worked as a missionary in Guatemala. I hope you will find these reflections helpful in your own Advent journey.—ct.
Third Sunday of Advent: “To Listen With Justice.”
Fr. Larry: Rejoicing awaits us here in this place where there is justice, for this joy is near in the hearts that long for Christ to be born in the womb of the world. “Rejoicing heartily, that the joy of my soul is in my God.” The prophet again heralds a voice in the desert, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” “Shake all the nations,” proclaims the prophet Haggai. The hope of justice, shows us One who hears our cry and whose gentle strength changes hearts. This Servant is sent to proclaim liberty and release for those bound in oppression. “’Rejoice in the Lord always’, again I say it, ‘rejoice’.” Open our hearts to rejoice so that we may listen with justice.
Fr. Tommy: Even among very sincere people of good will you often hear, “I saw a lot of very poor people when I was in Guatemala (or any other Third World country), but they were very happy.” Liberation theologian Leondardo Boff reminds us that those types of observations should never be any kind of justification of the horrible poverty that so much of the world’s population suffers (including in the North America and Europe) but a testimony to the profound integrity of so many poor people who can maintain a spirit of joy in spite of their daily struggles with poverty and oppression. I have only been in Peru five years, but nevertheless I have already seen too many children and young people who, to borrow Gustavo Gutierrez’s expression, “died before their time” because of inadequate health care.
I assure you that if the well-meaning but naïve tourist was with the parents of those children and young people in those moments, they would not see smiles but hear only weeping and the eternal question, “Why did God allow my child to die before me?” With that being said, I have often discussed with Gerard, my Franciscan brother who has worked in the Peruvian Amazon for fifteen years, the incredible resilience that poor people have in the face of terrible tragedies. We both know many parents in Peru who have tragically lost their children to curable diseases who do not harbor anger against God or other people for their loss. Their faith does not seem to weaken but only grows stronger as they are grateful to God for carrying them through the painful time. Most of them returned to work and the “normal” responsibilities of life the day after the funeral of their child. Just incredible!
The prophet Isaiah says to us today and Jesus repeats in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke that God offers “good news to the poor and heals the brokenhearted.” Gerard’s and my experience in Peru verify this message. But there is more to the message of the prophet: “Proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners! Announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn!”
To fulfill the prophetic vocation that we all have as baptized Christians, we are called to both work for the liberation of the poor and oppressed and also provide them comfort in their time of pain-- a difficult but central message of the Gospel. Like John the Baptist in today’s Gospel, this is how we “prepare the way of the Lord.” In faith we trust that, in the fullness time, God will bring about complete liberation for all people who suffer. However, we know we can’t just wait around for that to happen. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to continue the building up of God’s kingdom that he started. As we commit ourselves to this task, the grace of God also liberates us from the oppression of our own fears and doubts. In the Kingdom of God, not only are the poor blessed but also those who live in solidarity with the poor. This is indeed Good News.
Fourth Sunday of Advent: “To Remain with Hope”.
Fr. Larry: Today darkness covers the earth, in our northern hemisphere it is our darkest day of the year. It is into this darkness that we look to Christ. It is, as if on the earth, darkness has overshadowed light. Into the stillness of darkness we long for Christ to come with light. In this darkness give us a taste of hope that your birth is near. Help us build “a house made of dawn” that awakens in us that we are that shelter in whose arms all may find comfort. “The angel came and spoke, ‘The Lord be with you’.” Good News brought by Gabriel, given to Mary, meant for all. Come to us, be with us, remain with us. Inspire in us so that we may remain with hope.
Fr. Tommy: When I arrived in the parish in the Peruvian Amazon five years ago, only about twenty of the sixty-five villages in the parish had local chapels for the Catholic community. A couple of years ago, the parish received a grant from a foundation in the United States to build chapels in seven more villages where I felt there was good leadership in the local Catholic communities. Because the parish covers an area of about 3,400 square miles, I am only able to celebrate Eucharist frequently in three of the villages. I am only able to visit most of the other villages once every two years. However, many of the villages have animators, who are the local pastoral agents for the Catholic community and who lead the Sunday liturgy of the Word celebrations.
Since the whole chapel-building process was new to me, it was quite a learning experience. Many villages that wanted to build chapels had no active faith community. Their attitude was, “Build a church and they will come.” I emphasized that iglesia (church) is a community of the people of God. Templo most accurately describes the physical building where people of faith gather. I made it clear that a templo would only be built after iglesia already existed. Some folks had a hard time with my approach just like David has a little difficulty understanding the Lord in our first reading from Second Samuel. God has to clarify to David that the central issue is faith and not a physical building.
In the parish, some villages with beautiful chapels are “dying on the vine.” There is hardly any sense of communal faith and joy. Other villages just have a very small simple thatched roof chapel but are bubbling with a spirit of enthusiasm as they celebrate the presence of a loving God in their midst.
They have a clear sense of God’s promises that the prophet proclaims: “I will fix a place for my people and I will plant them so they may dwell in their place without further disturbance. . . The Lord reveals to you that he will establish a house for you.” Holy people know that grace comes from God and not from buildings or any other king of possession. Mary clearly understands this in the Gospel when she states, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” and not her own virtues. Her humble faith and that of so many holy people I know become their “greatness.” God is clearly more interested in building more communities of humble faith than physical structures. Sacred space is a profound reality but we must remember that the sacredness of places like the Holy Land and Assisi started with the blessings of God and not building projects. Inspired by today’s readings, we pray for the grace of our loving and humble God to guide us in building humble communities of joyous faith. (TK)
Posted by Fr. Charles Talley, ofm at 3:34 PM