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Advent’s greater context

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, December 1, 2005

How’s your Advent going so far? The academic calendar and the Church calendar are certainly no great friends of each other. Just when students feel the most pressure to excel comes a season when we’re actually supposed to pay extra attention to our faith. Come to think of it, our culture and the Church calendar don’t exactly get along either. Unfortunately, Advent happens to coincide with the biggest, most concentrated, orchestrated, over-inflated, mega-marketing barrage of the year. On the whole, things are not looking good for Advent.

What’s a faithful believer, trying to grow in devotion and discipleship, to do? We can certainly try to close our eyes and ears to the near-constant urgings to purchase, as if buying enough stuff will make us ready for Christmas. We’ll find more challenging the task of insulating our minds from preoccupations, whether from studies or from the gifts and greetings which Christmas asks of us. In the end, however, we can’t change the finals schedule or the hearts and minds of corporate America. Perhaps our best hope is simply a new perspective.

Advent does not simply exist as preparation for Christmas. The gospels for the Sundays of Advent don’t even speak about the birth of the baby Jesus until the fourth Sunday. Preparation for the second coming of Jesus, also called the “end-times” or “judgment day,” makes up the whole first phase of Advent. Jesus certainly will come again; this we believe and this our faith, our sacred scriptures and the sacred tradition of the Church teaches us. We ignore or choose to disbelieve this truth at our own risk. We are to prepare this world so that the Kingdom of God can break into it when Christ comes again. Within Advent also fall some feast days and anniversaries of true heroes: people whose attentive watchfulness can inspire and encourage us as we try and try again to hold fast to an Advent spirit.

Dorothy Day died 25 years ago on Nov. 29. “Poverty is my vocation,” she wrote, “to live as simply and poorly as I can, and never to cease talking and writing of poverty and destitution.” She lived with the poor in one of the many Catholic Worker houses she founded and owned almost nothing. She can give us fortitude and focus when we get caught up in all that we wish to receive – and even all the material goods we think we need to give.

Today, Dec. 1, is World AIDS awareness day. We might spend some time in prayer for the people of sub-Saharan Africa, by far the region of the world who suffers most from the AIDS epidemic. According to the United Nations and the World Health Organization, while the people of those African nations represent about 10 percent of the world’s population, they make up more than 60 percent of those infected with HIV/AIDS. Approximately 38 percent of the adults in countries like Swaziland and South Africa are infected with HIV/AIDS.

Closer to home, today also marks the 50th anniversary of the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the Montgomery bus. Both of these events today can remind us to use a wider lens in our view of the world.

Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of the murders of four women who served the poor in El Salvador at the time of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assassination in 1980. “I am at peace here and searching – trying to learn what the Lord is asking,” wrote Maura Clarke, one of the four, about a month before her death. How much time do we spend really searching for what the Lord asks of us? Or do we, ironically, spend our Advent days searching for material items on extended gift lists?

On Saturday falls the feast of St. Francis Xavier, an early member of the Jesuits who spent his life as a missionary to many parts of Asia, learning Japanese so that he could minister to and preach to the poorest people of Japan and intentionally living always among the sick and impoverished.

These anniversaries come from only the first week of Advent. If we look ahead, the coming weeks are like a roll call of heroes of our faith: people whose lives and purpose focus on preparing for the Kingdom of God. How will we be a part of it? How will we strike a balance between other demands competing for our time – the need to study and prepare for exams, the genuine desire to share gifts and greetings for the upcoming Christmas season? Turn to the Scriptures – and the people – of Advent to keep the competing pressures of the season at bay and the presence of Jesus close to our hearts.

Kate Barrett is the director of Resources and Special Projects for Campus Ministry. She can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer