Advent is a time for us to examine those parts of our lives that need the light of Christ. What parts of us are still in darkness? Many people when they hear the word “sin” may immediately think of things that have to do with sex. Have we confined the confessional to matters strictly related to the bedroom? Why? Perhaps the greatest sins are actually the more spiritual ones, which in turn affect more people, such as pride or greed. Even if we’re living well the call to chastity and the like, it becomes moot if we’re leading lives of selfishness in how we treat others. Living in that sort of darkness distances us from God.
If desolation is the feeling of darkness and distance from God, then we should not be surprised that a great first step in getting ourselves out of such darkness could be going into the light – even if that light is, at least initially, a street light.
The cliche that “charity begins at home” is a good place to start. How often do we think about the truth this statement is expressing? We can parse this cliche out by asking the following questions. How are my familial relationships, especially the ones that do not seem all that “familial”? Have I taken the time to ask questions like “How are my parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins?” How are my relationships with them?
While charity does begin at home, it doesn’t end at home. In fact, the Greek word for hospitality used in the New Testament literally means “friendship-love towards the foreigner.” 1 Were we to focus on perfecting our love towards our family members before showing love to our neighbors, we would never get out of the house!
How are my neighbors, or perhaps first, who are my neighbors? Do I even know my neighbor’s names? How are my relationships with them? Do I even have relationships with them? Is a wave or brief greeting the beginning and end of our communication? Are our deepest conversations and concerns a common community gripe or pest? Are our interactions limited to garbage day? What might I be able to do to build community?
Apart from my neighbors, what are the concerns in my community? Who is living in the streets? Do I even care to know the names of the men and women I see daily begging on the corner? What are their concerns and why are they there? What is my community doing to address the conditions that drive people to the margins? What am I doing? The bedrock of Christian living is recognizing that our relationship with God directly impacts and ought to have very real implications for our relationships with others, especially whoever it is that society is typecasting as “the other.”
How often do we confess sins of omission? It is not so much what people did to the Holy Family that caused Jesus to not have a warm place to lay his head, it was what people did not do. There existed places to stay, but there was no room for Jesus and his family in the inn. On a spiritual level, what room are we making for Christ in our very own hearts, especially this Advent season?
While the Christian invitation is certainly to live the most virtuous life possible, when that virtue becomes restricted to matters that seem to affect ourselves more than our neighbors, perhaps it suggests we need another frame of reference, one that encourages us to look more closely at the life and wellbeing of another, rather than just ourselves. As much as we need a mirror to do our examination of conscience, we also need a window to examen where Christ is in the world around us. What opportunities might there be to serve Christ through serving another person, whether on the street, within our parish, or within our very families?
Perhaps we ought to be taking a second or third look at the people and objects we have relegated to the background, and left in the dark as of late. Ultimately, no matter what angle we use, we ought to look out the window, too, to a world in need. In the context and climate of prayer, that window, especially if long ignored, needs some time and attention, another cleaning of sorts. Then, with pure hearts and windows, our focus can shift, in the healthiest of ways, from just ourselves to the streets and “the other.”
- Hermano John, of Taizé, Un multitud de amigos: La Iglesia en la hora de la mundialización, Santander: Sal Terrae, 2012, pg. 136. ↩