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.]
“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your Hope.” (2 Pt 3:15)
Advent is synonymous with “Hope”. We pray at every Eucharistic liturgy: “We are people who wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” Hope, in this context however, is not understood in a flabby, weak meaning of the word — like simple optimism or being in a good mood, or wouldn’t it be nice if…” Pope Francis says, “Hope does not expire, because it is based on the fidelity of God.”
Never is this more true than during the season of Advent. The hope that is demanded of us in this wonderful season is the opposite of “we sort of hope it is true”. As this ancient story begins again, we are called to hold fast to the promise of a Savior, once given, realized — and given again.
Isaiah is the great Advent prophet. Fully one-half of the readings from the Hebrew scriptures during these four weeks are from him. And rightly so, because this servant of God, who lived 600 years before the fulfillment of God’s original promise of a Savior, continuously proclaims a divinely inspired Advent vision of the fulfillment of God’s promises.
Yet if truth be told, the specifics of Isaiah’s prophecies strike us modern believers as too farfetched, too idealistic, too otherworldly to be practically possible. Our challenge, then, is to look at these prophetic claims in the light of this historical moment and by God’s grace find meaning in and through them, “find reason for the hope that is in us.” Pope Francis assures us that in this way we will “find the Lord, who calls to us, speaks to us and inspires our actions.”
Two short reflections, then, on Isaiah’s prophecies:
“In days to come… they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (Is 2:2-4)
Aren’t we able to find a glimpse of this ideal in the thousands (millions) of peacemakers around the world who stand over against “war as the solution”? Isn’t God found in the underreported nonviolent and creative efforts of ordinary Ukrainians to subvert the Russian war machine in their cities? Cannot the nonviolent Christ be visible in the practical and increasingly accepted conviction of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative that nonviolence is ultimately the way to “beat swords into plowshares”?
“The desert and the parched land… will bloom with abundant flowers…” (Is 35:1)
Don’t we find a powerful, if initial, fulfillment of these words in Pope Francis’ uplifting encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home”? And in the daughter of the encyclical, the Laudato Si’ Network, the Global Catholic Climate Movement?
Furthermore, the Holy Father is also typically down-to-earth in his Advent counsels. He insists that we need to be shaken out of our torpor to recognize Isaiah’s vision and God’s presence in daily situations. Because, he says, “if we are unaware of his coming today, we will also be unprepared when he arrives at the end of time.” And even more concretely: God is present “in our daily work, in a chance encounter, in the face of someone in need. Even when we face days that seem grey and monotonous, it is right there that we find the Lord who calls to us, speaks to us, and inspires our actions.”
Francis’ words remind us of others from St. Peter: “What kind of people ought you to be … waiting for and hastening the day of the day of God” (2 Pt 3:11-12). We move forward the coming of the Lord by how we live our daily lives, just as the “ordinary Jesus” did during his life on earth. Theologian Karl Rahner wrote: “If I cannot find you in the ordinary, I cannot find you at all.”
In his first reflection for the Pax Christi USA Advent booklet, our Bishop-President, Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., paraphrases a line from Paul’s letter to early Christians in the imperial city of Rome: “The dawn of the day of the Lord is already breaking through the night sky…” (Rom 13:11-14).
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.