Summary: Christians must discern whether changes in the culture are actually movements of the Spirit, or not.

Thursday of the 3rd Week in Advent 2014

Joy of the Gospel

Yesterday we began the second phase of our Advent preparation. We ceased calling on Christ to return in glory, and we began our proximate preparation for the commemoration of the humble birth of the righteous branch who grew up to reign as king on a cross. Today the Church sings the second of the great antiphons: “O Adonai, and ruler of the house of Israel, who did appear to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai: come and redeem us with Thine outstretched arm.” The word “Adonai” is translated “Lord,” and is the Hebrew substitute for the name of God revealed on Sinai, a name revered to such an extent that good Jews still don’t pronounce it. This is the name given to Jesus by the Father–in Greek it is Kyrios, the name above every other name. Jesus earned it on Calvary: He is Lord and God.

The angel who appeared to Joseph in a vision gave the newly-conceived Son of God two other names. Joseph was to call Him Jeshua, which means “the Lord saves,” because He would, by His sacrificial death, save us all from sin. Matthew adds that this also meant the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, that a virgin would conceive and bear a son with the name Emmanuel, or God with us. The Lord who made a covenant with human beings, and renewed it time after time despite our turning away from Him, came to be with us in a way we could not have imagined–as a human being in a divine person. This God-man also fulfilled the prophecy that God’s people would be gathered together again–that is the ingathering in the Catholic Church.

We now begin chapter two of the long letter of the Holy Father on the Joy of the Gospel. It is fitting that as we read of the ingathering of the nations into the Catholic Church, the Pope begins to write about the crisis of communal commitment. He asks us to be very watchful, especially sensitive to changes in the culture. In his words, “This is in fact a grave responsibility, since certain present realities, unless effectively dealt with, are capable of setting off processes of dehumanization which would then be hard to reverse. We need to distinguish clearly what might be a fruit of the kingdom from what runs counter to God’s plan. This involves not only recognizing and discerning spirits, but also – and this is decisive – choosing movements of the spirit of good and rejecting those of the spirit of evil.” The Holy Father’s Jesuit background is clearly evident here: St. Ignatius emphasized the gift of discerning spirits. It is easy to mistake, for instance, a political movement to help the poor for a spiritual movement to help the poor. Politicians are usually interested more in helping themselves than anybody else.

The Pope goes on: “In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications. At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity. This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occuring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.”

He reminds us of the preferential option for the poor: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.” Humans are not commodities, things. We have a responsibility to treat them all as gifts from God, persons with infinite human dignity.

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