I want to look at four Scripture passages, four publications, and four messages.
CHAPTER 1 – The Turbulent 60’s and the Medellin Conference.
Vatican II ended in 1968. The bishops of South America returned to their native countries. They met in 1968 in Medellin, Columbia. The discussion was about how to take the documents of Vatican II and apply them to the situation in South America. The situation in the 1960s was challenging. The Berlin Wall had gone up. The Soviets were supporting a revolution in Angola, Africa. America was reeling after the Tet Offensive. The seeds of the CIA scandal with President Salvador Allende in Chile were being sown. There was a great disparity between rich and poor. There was competition between the economic systems of free-market vs. Communism. Democracy vs. Socialism was in play.
In this midst of this, the Latin- and South American Bishops produced what would be known as the Medellin Conference Statements. “Systematic” changes were called for. Such changes could only occur when the individual changed first. For example:
We will not have a new continent without new and reformed structures, but, above all, there will be no new continent without new people, who know how to be truly free and responsible according to the light of the Gospel. (Bishops of Latin America, Medellin Documents)
This year is the 50th anniversary of the publication of these documents. They are already being reexamined by many in the church. They also provide an insight into the mind of Pope Francis.
CHAPTER 2 – Bishop Barron and The Abuse Crisis.
This year, Bishop Barron published the book, A Letter To A Suffering Church. Barron said that this is not a time for people to quit or to run away. Now is a time to stay and do something to fix the situation. The roots of the crisis are deep. The maleficence has gone on for years. No one can address such a complex, “structural” issue. But Barron says that each person can do something. Gerald Darring writes that, “The uniqueness of the Christian message does not so much consist in the affirmation of the necessity for structural change. It consists of the insistence on the conversion of people which will, in turn, bring about this change.
CHAPTER 3 – The Catholic Moment
George Weigel recently published The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. Weigel looks around at current society. Left vs. Right. Conservative vs. Liberal. Socialism vs. Capitalism. Trump vs. Pelosi. College campuses shutting down free speech. Violence at polling places. Weigel seems to pull a page from the South American Bishops. In this midst of this chaos, Weigel says that the Catholic Church is perfectly positioned to offer solutions.
What does the Church have? Look at today’s readings. A spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD.
We have an education system that can aid in clarity. We have a medical system that offers healing. We have 2000 years of inter-personal relations. We understand human values. We wrote the book on human dignity. We understand metaphysics and philosophy and the transcendent value of the human person. Weigel is not Pollyanna about the challenges. The Catholic will be vilified once it tries to engage with suggestions and solutions. The Catholic Church offers Instruction, Encouragement, Endurance, and Hope. Yet Weigel states that no other entity in the world is in a better place to help.
CHAPTER 4 – What Can We Do?
Meghan Cokeley is the Director of the Office for the New Evangelization at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Meghan is a “rather-light-a-candle-than-curse-the-darkness” type of person. Amid a struggling archdiocese, reeling from two Grand Juries Meghan felt that she could do something positive. She took a step. She put together a presentation entitled, What Can We Do? The Role of the Laity in a Time of Crisis. I asked her to come and present to the Parish of St. Monica. Meghan responded that there has been a tremendously positive response to her presentation (Imagine that…). She is giving it all over the metropolitan area. She will be giving the presentation on Monday, January 27, 2020 at 7:00 PM at the Parish of Saints Peter and Paul in West Chester.
In today’s Second Reading, St. Paul writes that “Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance – and by the encouragement of the Scriptures – we might have hope.” Paul knew adversity. Like the South American Bishops, and Bishop Barron and Meghan, he writes that the Scripture and experience of the People of God provide a historical perspective and a reason for hope. Paul also seems to be encouraging the disciples to get moving. Scripture scholar Anne Osdieck and Jesuit priest Father John O’Malley, S.J. echo this sentiment: “The changes that are called for in Advent are fundamental and far-reaching. They are not only individual; they are structural. Pope Francis is continuously pushing us beyond the comforts of our religious boundaries towards encounter” …and accompaniment. (John O’Malley, SJ)
We are in the Second Week of Advent. Osdieck writes that “John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ In this new church year, we are challenged to work for a better society, different from the one we now have.” Now is NOT the time to leave. Now is the time to stay and engage! How are we changing? What have we done over the past two weeks of Advent?
The Old Testament readings of Advent set the mood and theme each week. As we hear these readings, we need to look at our own dreams and expectations. How do we express them? Our reading today from Romans comes from a section of the letter that discusses the demands of living the Christian life and our motivation for doing so. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
This summary of John’s preaching is identical to the proclamation of Jesus in Matthew 4:17. John is calling – not only for a change of heart – but for a change of conduct as well.
What is the one, small thing that I can do during this second week of Advent to begin that change in my life?