by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
[NOTE: During these weeks of Advent our reflections will strike a continuous note: Searching for Hope.]
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. o God hear my voice.
I wait with longing for the Lord, my soul waits for His word.” (Psalm 130)
Those who take Advent seriously face an enormous challenge this year and for years to come. The traditional themes of this wonderful liturgical season – expectancy, waiting, believing – confront a world which seems the very opposite of those optimistic and uplifting sentiments.
Therefore, at the risk of sinking deeper into “the depths”, it seems important to confront honestly where we are at this point in human/salvation history. This first of four Advent reflections will attempt a social analysis of this moment. As in every reflection on God’s Word, it is vital to consider the concrete circumstances in which we do it. Today’s will be hard to face, but as we will see in following weeks, this is not the last word of the Advent story.
An editorial in the November 20th edition of The New York Times categorizes the moment in which we live. It begins with the observation that today’s world is in the midst of a “perfect storm of simultaneous crises”.
To name a few:
- The coronavirus is approaching its third year and seems to have migrated into others just as lethal.
- The war in Ukraine is threatening to go nuclear – or at least produce a catastrophic event as Russian shelling continues to destroy Europe’s largest nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.
- Extreme climate events are happening in every corner of the world.
- Authoritarianism is on the march across the globe.
The editorial goes on to state that these factors are not individual phenomena but deeply intertwined crises causing worldwide damage worse than the sum of their individual parts. Rates of global hunger, numbers of migrants forced to move away from impossible living conditions, consequent violations of human rights – the list of these interconnected results of this perfect storm is long.
Our common home, Planet Earth, is particularly vulnerable: global warming with its perilous offspring, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, near-unbearable heat waves, droughts, floods and storms and loss of living species. It reminds us of Pope Francis’ ominous observation, “The earth is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”
What is more worrisome is the fact that humanity – especially leaders of nations – is only slowly coming to understand, much less deal with, this “global poly-crisis”. As this NYT editorial states: “The magnitude of humanity’s resource consumption and pollution is weakening the resilience of natural systems, worsening the risks of climate heating and biodiversity declining.” The recent near-failure of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 27) underscores this reluctance to face seriously this imminent catastrophe.
As if this were not alarming enough for us, aside from Pope Francis, there are relatively few hierarchal leaders in the U.S. Catholic Church willing and competent to offer guidance on facing these issues. With a few notable exceptions, our bishops have exhibited a lack of courage and boldness to speak a word from our religious tradition regarding these current global realities. They are content that their “teaching authority” centers on predictable, inwardly-focused, “churchy” issues. They have become effectively irrelevant.
Despite this dreadful picture of our time, for the next three weeks of Advent these lines will take a positive turn in an attempt to shed some encouraging light, if not answers, to the towering question: Where Is There Hope?
For a start we should look back on what we call salvation history and the generations upon generations of God’s people who clung to the divine promise of a Savior. Even a superficial overview of Israel’s history of faithfulness and unfaithfulness to God, of covenants between God and this people established, broken and reestablished over and over; a nation in exile for 70 years – and above all God’s abiding love and forgiveness. This history can well be helpful for us who cling to a second promise. We have the advantage, the historical memory that the Savior came – in unexpected circumstances – and remains the Light of the World.
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.