Advent Part II: The Face of Remorse and Reconciliation

6 December 2009 2nd Sunday of Advent
Bar 5,1-9; Psalm 126; Phil 1, 4-11; Luke 3, 1-6

Note: I would like to share with you four dimensions of Advent. Each dimension will correspond to the four Sundays of the liturgical season. And just as it prepares us for the Christmas season, we too are being led to ally with God’s plan to save humankind. So the Sundays of Advent homilies will have a common thread. It will have four parts. This is the second. For the first part, check the previous post titled Advent Part I: The Face of a Promise.

Part II. The Face of Remorse and Reconciliation

We used insights of the Jewish-German philosopher, Hannah Arendt to begin our reflections on the Sundays of Advent. She said that we are in a state of chaos because of our uncertain future and our wounded past. Our uncertain future is secured by our promises; and our past is healed by forgiveness. In the first Sunday of Advent, we see that God saves us from chaos by promising us a Savior and a life that is safe and secure. This Sunday, God promises to bring back those who were scattered. In the first reading from the prophet Baruch, Jerusalem is portrayed as a mother who yearns for the return of her children. By promising to bring them back, the mother is consoled. The resolution is therefore a gathering, a reconciliation, a return of those who are scattered. When this reunion happens, a new relationship is established.

Every waiting consists of an evaluation in view of a restoration. When my close friend informed me of his return to the Philippines, he asked me to meet him and his daughter in Makati. As I waited, I could not help but remember the times we spent together in the novitiate and the juniorate. We were together in the first two stages of Jesuit formation. The memories that flooded my mind and my heart led me to assess the depth of our friendship. And part of the remembering is to accept the times when we have “forgotten” each other as we both pursued our own vocations: he as a family man and I as a priest. In the remembering — and the catching up — the desire to deepen our friendship intensified. We do assess our relationships while we wait for the person to arrive.

That is why in the second week of advent, we are asked to look back and assess. It is indeed a pagbabalik-tanaw. To “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths” is the cry of John the Baptist in the desert. But we have to keep in mind the purpose of this assessment so that we will not be led to some form of self-condemnation. St. Paul sets the context in his letter to the Philippians: “that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” The assessment is in view of love.

With this note, we are to be aware that in our life there is a mysterious ambivalence: in the abundance of sin, there is the super-abundance of Grace. In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola clearly asks that we pray for the grace of a deep sorrow for our sins and our patterns of predisposition towards sinfulness. At the same time, to beg the Lord for a deep sense of awe because God continues to accompany us and to give us the grace to become whole and holy despite the sinfulness around and within us. In the headlines of newspapers here in the Philippines, we see this ambivalence: as we are shocked by the recent Maguindanao massacre and the extent of our heartlessness; we also hear the stories of heroes and the breadth of their ‘heartfullness.’

Because this is the truth. We are NOT waiting for Christ to come, AS IF, He isn’t here now. He is with us, always with us. We need Him to assess our lives. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us to pray. I am therefore convinced that it is God who waits for us, not we waiting for Him. For all our attempts at conversion and penitence, God in His unconditional love and acceptance of us can make us realize how real our sins are. Scripture uses different images of sin, but it also gives us a corresponding image of the sacred. Stain is revealed in bright white. The miss is revealed against the target. Darkness against the light. Enslavement vis-a-vis our freedom of heart. Alienation and division brought by sin is revealed most clearly in the context of a relationship of wholeness and unity. That is why when we need space to re-think our relationships, we ask how far or how close we are to the person we love. We think about how we have alienated or caused the rift that affects the ties that bind us. So that knowing the source, we are able to reconcile and strengthen the relationship.

In the second week of Advent, we look back at our lives and our selves. We look deeply at God’s overtures, drawing us to return to Him. Where lies our pretenses, our masks and our idols that plague our hearts? And more importantly, why and how we are led to maintain them? Sometimes, we have to look at the things we are afraid of, such as our fear of rejection or failure that keeps us from forgiving others and ourselves. Because they pose as obstacles to our return to the God who waits.

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