The Word Engaged
"Reform your lives." (Jeremiah 26:13)
In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, one of the more elaborate meditations is a study of the Incarnation. Ignatius has us imagine the Trinity gazing upon the world, desiring to save the human race. He paints a vast mural of persons, various in dress, actions, and color, “some in peace and others in war; some weeping and others laughing; some well, others ill; some being born and others dying.”
But there is great blindness in humanity. People not only lose their way; they lose their souls as well. So Ignatius writes of the great entry. God, in the second person of the Trinity, chooses to be one of us. In an earthly village the Virgin gives herself in gratitude and trust.
The entry of God is not only portrayed as a religious experience by individual persons, it is also an invasion of history itself, a breaching of the geopolitical and social worlds of all humankind.
This global emphasis did not originate with Ignatius of Loyola. It is clear even from the prophetic utterances of Isaiah that the Messiah, upon whom the Spirit of the Lord would rest, was to be of vast importance, not only to Israel, but to the Gentile world as “a signal for the nations.”
Isaiah tells us that the promised one, with the wisdom and understanding of God’s Spirit, will judge the poor with justice and strike the ruthless and wicked. He will carry a peace to the world that transforms even the animals.
Wolves will eat with lambs, leopards with kids. Lions will browse with calves, cows, and bears. Babies will play near cobras as if they were kindly neighbors. A little child will lead the entire earth, where “there shall be no harm or ruin.”
Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Second Reading) reminds his readers that the advent of Christ into their lives will require a reform, as well, of their personal relationships.
The mercy of God will enable them “to live in perfect harmony with one another according to the spirit of Christ Jesus.”
They are henceforth to accept each other in the same way that Christ accepted them. Therein, they will reveal the glory of God.
The reforming power of God’s advent, finally, must penetrate our interior lives. This was the message of John the Baptizer.
We may, like the Pharisees, go through the motions of baptism, but we are commanded to “produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. (Mt 3:8)” It is not enough to proclaim that we are saved. We must yield our entire being for purification by the Holy Spirit and fire.
Many Christians seem to have a problem with the total message of the Incarnation and Christ’s Advent. They tend to select some safe portion of their lives which they open to God while they slam shut all the others.
Some of us think we can get by with allowing God to enter our interior “prayer lives.” We try to hold the reform to that.
We resist the possibility that our relation to our families or friends could be transformed. We can’t imagine that we would have to change our attitudes toward our enemies.
And we certainly would not tolerate any challenge to our pet political suppositions or economic practices.
Others think their personal relationships can be transformed, but not their interior hearts or their external world. “I find God in my relationships and my friends. I don’t need personal prayer, and I can’t worry about the world.”
This attitude refuses to acknowledge that solitude and social justice are essential in our relationship to God.
Finally, some of us ardently believe in the social gospel. We want the world to be saved.
We insist that the Democrats and Republicans be reformed. We demand that the church be changed and nations disarmed. But it rarely strikes us that we may be as unjust in our own relationships as the principalities and powers are in theirs.
We can’t imagine that we, in our own way, could be as narcissistic and self-centered as preening politicians and avaricious misers.
If we restrict the entry of God into our lives, we cannot help but limit the power of God’s grace. When we wonder why our path of discipleship seems to lead nowhere, it may be because we have set up too many roadblocks.
The narratives of the Advent gospels, like Ignatius’s meditation on the Incarnation, reach beyond nations out to the cosmos and down into the individual heart.
The coming of Christ is an event for the universe. It is an event for history and an event for each of us in our personal struggles and interpersonal relationships.
Our entry into Advent, like the entrance rite of every Eucharist, is most effective when it is most expansive. When our arms are fully open, we welcome God to embrace all of us, every part of us.
We Christians must be about the reform of our nations as well as of our Church. Lord, have mercy.
We must he about reconciliation with our families and our friends. Christ, have mercy.
And we must be about the acknowledgment of our own failure. Lord, have mercy.
What does such penitence lead to? Not sadness, but “glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth.”
John Kavanaugh, SJ
Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.
**From Saint Louis University