Third Sunday of Advent
December 11, 2011
"Living into the Reality of Advent Today: The Call to Mission and Ministry"
Maryanne Confoy, RSC
There is neither ambiguity nor naïveté in regard to the call to mission and ministry in the readings of this Third Week of Advent. We are ‘to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the hearts that are broken.’ (Isaiah 61:2) We are directed ‘to be happy at all times’ and to ‘give thanks’ and ‘pray constantly,’ because this is what God expects of us ‘in Christ Jesus.’ (Thess. 5: 16) The gospel presents a model of wholehearted commitment to mission and ministry in John the Baptist who described himself as sent to ‘witness to speak for the light … a voice that cries in the wilderness’ to ‘prepare the way of the Lord.’ (John 1:7, 23)
John’s was certainly a formidable commitment. It is daunting for us today, perhaps even more than it was in the time of the early Christian community. Such a witness needs not only the trusting and patient hope we have been reflecting on during the past two weeks but a new quality, that of connectedness or engagement with each other. Although we are living today in more concentrated environs it is possible to have little or no connection with our neighbors. Disengagement from others is a characteristic of much urban living. Yet Christianity has never been an individualistic or private religion. We are each other’s keepers in more ways than we might like to recognize. ‘No man is an island entire of itself … Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’ (John Donne, Meditation 7, 1624)
Ours is a more expansive worldview than was that of the Hebrew or Christian eras, and ours is a secular culture which is both more skeptical and more distracting in the search for Truth than theirs. But while our culture makes Christian ministry difficult, this does not excuse us from taking our baptismal vocation seriously. In a world already described as one that is “amusing itself to death” we are called to give witness to the Good News of the saving power of Christ in our time. We do this in our own lives, and then in our care and concern for others, those on life’s margins and those close to us.
As this time of preparation moves along we are response-able to bring good news to the poor. This requires us to have the heart and mind to understand the various experiences of being poor in our own era. The pandemic of depression in the western world affects most people in one way or another. In a world of ‘fragile peace and broken promises’ many people experience disconnectedness – within themselves, from family, friends and workplace. Our Christian call to mission and ministry does not allow us to be disengaged from others, to protect ourselves from cultural contagion, to isolate ourselves in a cocoon of comfort. In whatever way poverty is experienced, whether it is in terms of mental or physical health and well-being, whether it is the feeling of disillusionment with, or betrayal by, a faith community to which we have been committed, whether it is financial or relational dislocation, this is the context in which we are called to witness to our belief in the healing power of Christ in our world.
The experiences we have in common with each other are usually greater than we realize. The questions and doubts that accompany us as we move into deeper levels of awareness of our vocation to wholeness, while seeming to be indicators of what might be wrong with us, can actually be indicators of new growth of our understanding of ourselves, of others and of God. It is interesting to note that John the Baptist, forthright witness, also had his time of doubt and questioning as he sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one to come (Luke 7:20). John’s strength was that while he had a deep conviction about his call to witness to Jesus, he also had the courage to face his own inner questions, and even to share them with his community of disciples.
Connectedness rather than disconnectedness characterized the communities of John and of Jesus. It is the connectedness, the engaging hope of communio, the Holy Spirit alive in God’s people that enables community life and offers healing for the Body of Christ. It is the Loving Spirit who makes it possible for us to reach out in compassionate care for others in need. ‘Through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and eucharist, every Christian is called to participate actively and co-responsibly in the Church’s mission of salvation in the world.” (USCCB, Called and Gifted for the Third Millennium) This is Christian mission and ministry lived out in the reality of our day-to-day struggles to live and love authentically: this is what God expects of us ‘in Christ Jesus.’ This is our source of gratitude and happiness.
Comments from Alumni to this week's Reflection:
"Our Christian mission gets buried in the commercialism of the holidays. Connectedness in our own families is worth much thought and the disconnectedness is oftentimes the core of so much misunderstanding and stress. Thank you for your profound thoughts." ~Muriel Desrosiers '65
"Sister's meditations on this week's readings are very poignant. Disconnectedness, doubt, and fear are the source of so much unnecessary suffering and pain. I pray for an end to these maladies and new hope at the coming of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ." ~ Ryan Doyle '95