I did some parish business several years ago with an 88-year-old shopkeeper, a bright, alert little guy who loved to tell funny stories, he said, especially to Catholic priests, although he was Jewish. I never went to his place unless I was sure I could spend an extra 20 minutes as his appreciative audience. A prominent sign in his cluttered shop read, “NO CHECKS,” but, regardless, he volunteered, he would take my personal check because, as he put it, “You I’m sure I can trust – a Catholic priest only, no one else.” The accolade bothered me, so I pressed the point and asked him what kind of a world he thought it would be if no one ever took the risk of trusting anyone else. He answered, “I’ll tell you what it would be: the kind of world it’s always been, rotten from the beginning.” I challenged him with, “Maybe you and I can change it.” He replied, “Don’t waste your time.”
With all the merriment that radiated from his expressive eyes, all the love of life his jokes revealed, my friend admitted that his view of life was jaundiced, pessimistic. People are intrinsically evil, he kept saying, and the best we can hope for is survival among the thieves and traitors that surround us.
It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that such an attitude is very common around the globe.
Penetrating that darkness a voice is heard, promising salvation from pessimism and despair and final destruction. The voice proclaims that the days are coming when justice and peace and security will instead be the norm, the universal experience, and that in the meantime, while we still suffer the pain of human evil we are to act as if the day of salvation has already come. We are to trust and hope and reach out with love in every direction, despite the possibility that we will be rebuffed or cheated or that the cost at times will be high.
For our times, I think that no vehicle has expressed that Christian philosophy of life more attractively, more memorably than the brilliant and enduring musical, Godspel. We might consider seeing it again, perhaps in the DVD version, as a prayerful work for Advent.
Today’s excerpt from Matthew’s version of the Gospel contains Jesus’ plea to his disciples and to each and all of us that we keep our minds and hearts always alert to his often unanticipated entrance into our lives — as he put it, “at an hour you do not expect”.
“Camelot” was a beautiful dream; but there’s never been an age in all of human history in which there were no terrible troubles, rooted mostly in human evil and violence. Religious fervor often enough did not only fail to prevent or solve the problem; religion often was, sad to say, the cause or the essence of the conflict.
Is it possible that we have been missing the point? It isn’t being super religious that fosters and brings peace — in our homes or in the world; rather, it is being really conscious of the presence of Jesus in our lives and following his example in our relationships with others that create and maintain peace and love and happiness.
I urge us all to see the Advent that begins today as the perfect opportunity to begin thinking daily of the presence of God, the Spirit, the crucified and risen Jesus with us always. And then to do even the smallest tasks of our ordinary lives as well as we can, in particular our conversation and interaction with others, conscious that we are collaborators with the Savior Jesus, who leads the world to its appointed destiny.