Summary: The Church must reach out in mission to those who are in need, whatever their stage of spiritual growth or seeking.
Thursday of 2nd Week in Advent
Joy of the Gospel
Not everything in the Scriptures is easy for us in the 21st century to understand. That is particularly true in our passages from Isaiah and Matthew today. Isaiah is exaggerating for effect. At the coming of the Redeemer, he says, everything changes. The pitiful little rump of a kingdom, Israel, becomes the leader of the nations. The deserts of the south become full of water and fertile. Trees that do not inhabit the same biome are seen together. The prophecy is being fulfilled in Christ. The Church, in every crisis, has the only voice that is heard all across the world. Heard, but not necessarily listened to. All over the world, the Holy Spirit’s healing and lifegiving waters–Baptism–change hearts and redeem souls. The Word of God is preached and it quenches human thirst for the Truth.
Jesus tells his hearers that the prophets predicted that a great prophet would appear in the last days, one who comes, as Luke’s Gospel puts it, in the spirit and power of Elijah. Jesus tells us that even though John himself denied being Elijah, it was the spirit of Elijah that worked in John. The coming of Jesus fulfills every prophecy of the OT.
Jesus took special care to reach out to the poor, the sick, and the marginalized. The Holy Father, in his letter, reminds us that this is the special duty of the Church today: ‘to whom should [the Church] go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbors, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14). There can be no room for doubt or for explanations which weaken so clear a message. Today and always, “the poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel”, and the fact that it is freely preached to them is a sign of the kingdom that Jesus came to establish. We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.
‘Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. . .I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).”
Once again the successor of St. Peter is telling us that if we are going to err, we must err on the side of compassion. A few months ago I was called on to begin marriage preparations for a couple, a man and woman whose situation was way outside my experience. They already had a baby together, and the woman had a child from a previous relationship. In such situations, we cannot sit in judgement. Every baptized person has the right to the sacraments. Of course, as time goes on I’ll have to do some intense catechesis: they need to understand the responsibilities of being images of the Church-bride and the Christ-bridegroom. But we are not judges, we are servants of the Lord and servants of His people. We pray and work with folks at their own stage of spiritual development, whether it is far along or just beginning. That’s how Christ did it. Remember when he healed the blind man? He began the healing and the man said he saw men walking, and they looked like moving trees. Then, later on, he saw clearly. All of us are like that. All of us are on a journey, not at a destination, and we are walking together, and together with Christ.