Advent 2013: Third Week

December 23, 2013

“We love this magnificent planet on which God has put us, and we love the human family which dwells here, with all its tragedies and struggles, its hopes and aspirations, its strengths and weaknesses. The earth is our common home and all of us are brothers and sisters. . . . The Church cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. ” [183]

On November 8, the Philippines was devastated by the strongest hurricane ever to make landfall in history. Columban Fr. Shay Cullen visited the devastation three days later. He wrote:

“I have been through ferocious typhoons during my 44 years in the Philippines but have never seen or experienced anything like this for the sheer savagery of this destructive force of nature. The gigantic force of the wind churned and turned everything it could to flying debris, smashing and tearing at everything. . . . We met people, listened to the survivors with compassion and were awed as they recounted their terrible ordeal.”

Often, the magnitude and intensity of human suffering overwhelms us. What can we do in the face of such suffering? Pope Francis invites us to respond with “generosity” and “solidarity” that “restores to the poor what belongs to them” and “eliminates the structural causes of poverty.” [188-89]

In Jesus’ time, of course, people suffered the devastation of natural disasters.  Today, however, in many of the countries where Columbans serve,  “natural” disasters are even more destructive because of “human” causes, from global warming caused by carbon emissions to destruction of the environment that strips the earth, cuts down the forests, poisons the water, and creates “climate” refugees.

In this week’s readings, the prophet Isaiah shares with us a vision of “the peaceable kingdom,” when “the desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.  They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.” [Is 35:1-6, 10]

Imagine such a day for the people devastated by the typhoon in the Philippines! When justice, peace, and the integrity of creation flourish! “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing!” [Is 35]

This week’s reading invites us to have both the patience of “the farmer [who] waits for the precious fruit of the earth,” but also of “the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” and announced God’s kingdom.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, “The miracle of all miracles is that God loves the lowly. . . . God is not ashamed of human lowliness, but goes right into the middle of it, chooses someone as an instrument and performs miracles right there, where they are least expected.”