by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
For us who pay attention to the liturgical year, we now begin again the ancient, ever-new and dramatic story of salvation history. Normally the first chapter of God’s intervention into the human experience, Advent, reminds Christians that we are “awaiting in joyous hope” the second coming of our Savior. It renews an active expectancy based on the fulfillment long ago of a promised Redeemer. We express it often as we proclaim: “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again,” and as we affirm that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it”. Advent for many of us is our favorite liturgical time, a kind of a lifetime metaphor for all of us who trust that the Christ will return in glory.
However, this year that point of Light is nearly impossible to imagine, much less see. Advent 2021 is a most peculiar liturgical observance. Darkness seems to reign.
Pope Francis has catalogued specifically these negative signs of our times in his powerful encyclical, Fratelli Tutti. In its very first chapter, entitled, “Dark Clouds Over a Closed World”, the pope describes today’s disturbing realities such as:
“A Throwaway World”; “Insufficiently Universal Rights”; “Conflict and Fear”; “Globalization and Progress Without a Shared Roadmap”; Pandemics and Other Calamities”; “An Absence of Human Dignity on the Borders”; The Illusion of Communication”; “Shameless Aggression”; “Information Without Wisdom”; “Subjection and Self-Contempt”.
And then, incredibly, this “prophet in the Vatican” writes of hope. His voice is like another Advent figure of long ago, John the Baptist, “crying in the wilderness”. Francis, with a counterintuitive view, says: “The pandemic has enabled us to recognize and appreciate once more all those around us who, in the midst of fear, responded by putting their lives on the line … God continues to sow abundant seeds of goodness in our human family.”
Further and even more surprising in the face of his devastating assessment of our present human realities, Pope Francis calls for what we might call a “new Advent”. It can well serve as a consoling, challenging and visionary meditation for us who struggle to find evidence of “the tender compassion of our God who will cause the dawn from on high to shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”
“I invite everyone to renewed Hope, for hope speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our circumstances and historical conditioning. Hope speaks to us as a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfillment, a desire to achieve great things, things that will fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love… Hope is bold: it can look beyond personal securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile. Let us continue, then, to advance along the paths of Hope.”
Then in subsequent chapters the Holy Father puts forth a series of goals that would embody his dream for living out lives based on hope. The very chapter headings point to this utopia:
- Chapter III: Envisaging and Engendering an Open World
- Chapter IV: A Heart Open to the World
- Chapter V: A Better Kind of Politics
- Chapter VI: Dialogue and Friendship in Society
- Chapter VII: Paths of Renewed Encounter
- Chapter VIII: Religions at the Service of Fraternity in our World
We could well use these dreams of our visionary and practical pastor as the stuff of our Advent meditations. The encyclical really cannot be read quickly. It is a deeply spiritual document to be taken in “small bites” and best done on a daily basis like the 27 days of this first new liturgical season.
And with this reading, we should offer grateful prayers for our remarkable Holy Father.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.