Chaplain's Comments

There is an ancient story that depicts a man entering the gates of heaven. Once inside he discovers nothing but a place to sit facing a huge wall. When he asks his escort, St Peter for an explanation, Peter says, "You have but entered the antechamber of paradise. Paradise itself is on the other side the wall. An opening in the wall will appear, but only once a year. It could emerge at any time possibly in the next hour, possibly in many months. Keep vigil and watch. If you miss it your waiting will continue".

We wait for buses, trains, flights, friends and doctors. Those of us who are very time conscious and impatient find even short waits almost intolerable. What keeps us waiting is the hope that something positive may yet happen, that our waiting has been worthwhile and we can move forward with our lives.

In the New Testament patience (hypomone in Greek) is not passivity. Rather, patience entails active waiting and hoping. As we begin a new liturgical year in which most Sunday gospel readings are from Luke, we are invited to focus on the Lukan Advent virtues of patience hope joy and fidelity.

Advent is a time of waiting and hoping, and renewing our trust in God's merciful love and care and of reflecting with gratitude on the several comings of Christ in our lives this year 2012. This is another way of talking about waiting and hoping.

Think about the future of others when you think about yours. Their future is in their hands, but they need people to walk with them on this journey. Every generation we have had people tell us that the sun, moon, stars, wars, famine, tidal waves, and earthquakes, mentioned in today's Gospel, all demonstrate that Jesus is about to return. Clearly, we are still waiting. If only the Christians who give out these dire predictions, every so often, would take as seriously Jesus' words, "You will know not the time or the place when the Son of Man will return in glory."

Luke's community thought that Jesus would return quickly and spectacularly. They were surprised that the first generation of Christian believers was dying without seeing it all happen. Given the terrible suffering they were enduring for Jesus, the early Christians no doubt hoped that the end of the world would be soon and would demonstrate to everyone that they were not foolish to cling to Christ in the face of all opposition and persecution.

The early Christians knew that there was no point professing faith in Jesus Christ unless our daily behaviour reflects his kingdom. It has been a telling point ever since. If every Christian lived out the gospel in his or her daily life, the world would be transformed and Christ would come in spectacular fashion.

I haven't got a clue when the world will cease to exist, but on this, the first day of the Church's New Year, I know that the Lord returns to us every time we love and forgive, share in charitable giving and philanthropy, are compassionate, and are generous and sacrificial toward one another. It may not be as grand as dancing suns and tidal waves, but the heroic love of a parent for a child, a spouse for their sick partner, and the first world sharing with the third world are spectacular enough for me to believe that Jesus' kingdom comes on every day, in every hour, at every moment.

At the beginning of his classic Spiritual Exercises St Ignatius Loyola offers these words, "Let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to save his neighbour's proposition that to condemn it. If he cannot save it, let him inquire how he means it; and if he means it badly, let him correct him with charity; If that is not enough, let him seek all the suitable means to bring him to mean it well and save himself". In other words, give the other person the benefit of the doubt. This is as important in political life as well as in spiritual life.

Emotionally charged public policy issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and health care of indigenous people and their rights, asylum and refugee indifference, defence spending and religious freedom are difficult and complicated. We too are part of the problem in not being kind and patient to listen to the deeper human alienation people feel in today's fragmented family and society. With Christians and Non-Christians everywhere in a multi-cultural society, we need constantly to seek forgiveness, for what we have done and for what we have failed to do.

As the newly elected Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby says we want 'safe spaces' for the contentious issues to be discussed 'honestly and in love' so that Christians may find a better way of disagreeing with each other. Further, he likes to get to the bottom of things, but in a spiritual way. He listens to people. He is not the sort of person to go round with three mobile phones. His optimism in the wider Church is grounded in a deep faith, no more evident than when he invoked the Holy Spirit at the beginning of his new appointment. Not a bad way for a new Archbishop to start.

May our first Eucharist of Advent, be a taste for us of the kingdom of God that is both present among us and still to come and may it sustain us in our waiting and give us courage in living.

Fr Gaetan Pereira SJ
College Chaplain