Fr. Charles Irvin
The biggest single factor that divides us from our Jewish brothers and sisters unites us at the same time. Jews, as we know, are looking for the promised Messiah — God’s Anointed who is to come. They reject the notion that Christ Jesus is the Promised One, the Messiah. We, however, accept him, and thus we are separated out from the Jews.
But at the same time we look for the Messiah to come again and therein to fully establish God’s kingdom here on earth – as do the Jews. Thus the One who divides us like a two-edged sword is at the time (namely the End Time) the One who unites us in shared hope and expectancy. Together with the Jews we live in hope that God will reward the righteous, punish the unjust, and fully establish his kingdom of peace, truth, justice and complete goodness here on earth as it is in heaven.
As Christians we live in the “in-between” time – in the time of the “already but not yet.” God’s kingdom has been established in Jesus Christ, but it has not yet been brought into its fullness, into its completion. Jesus Christ has saved us by establishing us in his very own life, but we can nevertheless lose it. For God wants us to come to him in faith and in love, both of which necessitate our free choice, our freely chosen response.
Like Adam and Eve, we have been given freedom of choice. To claim that Catholics against freedom of choice is to claim something that’s absurd. We do not deny freedom of choice – we affirm it! The question is not whether or not we are free to choose, the question is rather about what we choose with our freedom. Are we free to own slaves? Are we free to smoke wherever we want to? Are we free to practice polygamy? No! Americans do not have absolute freedom to choose whatever they may wish to choose.
God has offered himself to us. Now he awaits our response. God has initiated the dialogue; God has offered us his love and his life in Jesus Christ. God has come to us. History records our responses.
Today’s gospel passage begins with these words: “Here begins the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” As with all beginnings, and end is implied. It could be near; it could be distant. But however soon or far removed, an ending is certain. What is to be noted in this instance is that St. Mark ends his gospel account quite abruptly. He reports three post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, and then ends his gospel with Christ’s great commission to go out to all the nations while baptizing and proclaiming the good news. That’s it in all its simplicity.
Evidently Mark wants us to understand that each one of us must add his or her own story to his gospel. Your faith responses to Christ and my faith response constitute our own gospel accounts. There is nothing closed or private about this event because it is an on-going event — as well as a spreading event. The one who has come is to come again, and during the in-between time we have a share in the final outcome, a share that is constituted by our sharing with others what God has given us.
There are those who insist that our religious response to God must be private and personal. Yet clearly and emphatically Christ wants us to be communal and public. This is perhaps why the Catholic Church is so troublesome to so many. It is very communal and quite public. The word “our” predominates in Catholicism. We speak of “our” Church, our Faith and our sacraments… not my faith, my Church and my sacraments. Our central prayer begins with the word “Our”. We share a common union, a holistic and holy communion. We have a family of faith. Ours is a “we and Jesus” religion, not a “me and Jesus” religion.
We are witnesses to our faith. We devote enormous resources and energy to missionary activity. Evangelization is constantly on our minds. We are told to engage others in the public square, to promote our values, to vote our values, and to inject Christ’s vision into our culture. Engaging the surrounding culture is something we are urged to do. Ours is not a Church that is inside a castle, ours is a Church out on a pilgrimage. It’s out and about — moving, dynamic, engaging, and caring. Care-giving institutions are found wherever our Church is found. Indeed, a good part of our missionary efforts center on care-giving institutions.
All of this, however, is built upon one indispensable element, namely holiness of life. Without holiness in the way we live we are little more than just another social service agency, a sort of International Red Cross with holy water sprinkled upon it. This is not to demean the International Red Cross – it is a wonderful agency. But that’s just what it is, an agency. The Church is established by God to be something more. It is called to be the very presence of Christ through its members. It is seen by God to be the Mystical Body of Christ on earth.
Like St. John the Baptist, our lives point to an Other; our efforts are to bring other people to the One among us who was sent by God to restore us into a holistic, holy, relationship with our Father in heaven.
St. Mark’s entire gospel is simply and profoundly a beginning. So is Christmas. They imply and point us toward an end, a purpose, a finality. Advent, therefore, helps us each year to re-focus, to re-orient ourselves. At that time of the year when there is more darkness than daylight, as well as in those emotional and spiritual times when we live in darkness and are perhaps unsettled by gloom, a bright and penetrating light shines in the heavens in order that we might re-direct ourselves. The powerful symbol of the Star of Bethlehem and the journey of worldly and wise kings resonate deep within us. For we see our stories and ourselves in their stories.
What happened to those great and worldly kings after they journeyed to Bethlehem? We don’t know. But what will happen to you and me after we encounter God in Bethlehem’s child once again this year? If we don’t know, we should start considering our response to God’s offer right now.