Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Who stands with us?
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Dec. 4, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
Like participants in a huge liturgical board game, every Advent the wisdom of the Church takes us back to the beginning Ė not historically speaking, but spiritually. And so it is we once again pick up the Gospel and begin a renewed trek of Christian discipleship with an encounter with John, the sharp-eyed prophet on the banks of the Jordan River. There we find ourselves challenged to enter anew into the mystery of salvation which is not yet fully realized in our lives.
Indeed, we Christians know that Jesus already has come in the flesh Ė that he is the X in X-Mass and the real reason behind the joy of ďWinter Break.Ē We also affirm that Jesus will come one day in full, final glory to complete Godís plan of salvation. Nonetheless, we also recognize that Jesus also needs to come to us now, in this time and place where we live and carry out our daily responsibilities. His way to life needs to become flesh in us. Celebrating Christmas without first responding to Johnís call to conversion runs the danger of reducing our holiday glee to the passing fancy of glitter and tinsel.
John the Baptistís call to conversion echoes throughout these fast-paced days before Christmas. His is a message for all to hear as if we had never heard it before. It summons us to the banks of the Jordan where, with the confession of our sinfulness, we stand open to whatever way God may want to use us for the good of the Kingdom. Like that of brothers and sisters of old, our ďconfessionĒ must be an admission of poverty, brokenness and need.
As in our own time, there were those in Johnís day who ignored the prophetís challenge. Their minds and hearts were imprisoned by other, more expedient, matters. They poured time, energy and money into the worship of the craziest of things which, despite all appearance, really possessed no power to touch hearts and save.
Most likely, there also were people in Johnís day who already had ďgot religionĒ but for whom his call was disruptive of daily life and pushed at the comfortableness of organized religion. These were the moneymakers, shopkeepers, students and business people of his day who were just too busy and preoccupied with the responsibilities of daily life to have time for pursuing a deeper personal walk with God. Johnís call to conversion was just irrelevant or at least too challenging. For them, faith and its expression in a way of living remained a commodity of convenience, something to be engaged in when opportune. John might as well have preached to the scorpions and sagebrush.
The disturbing man on Jordanís bank criticized such people with all the fire and brimstone a prophet could muster. He identified their blindness and deceitfulness for what it was. He insisted that conversion calls for more than show; it calls for a deep, radical change of heart. So many who stood on Jordanís bank were well-versed in putting on the appearance of repentance, but had no interest in the new heart God sought to create in them.
Once again this Advent the prophetís cry reminds us all that preparation for Christmas calls for far more than the appearance of conversion that can be well hidden by purple banners, matching vestments, charming hymnody and the increasing glow of Advent candles. Each year Advent is a call to stand together on Jordanís bank, not as saints in full glory, but as sinners in beggarís garb. The sinners who came to Jordanís bank were willing to admit their need for Godís gift of salvation. They were ready to confess their hypocrisy and phony pursuits of happiness. Their bath of conversion gave witness to a change of heart. It was the gift of themselves to God in an open, generous act of readiness for the works of the Kingdom. Only God could save, and they knew it. Only God could save, and they wanted it.
It is spiritually rewarding for us this and every Advent to struggle with our call to the kind of conversion uttered by our Saviorís cousin centuries ago. The struggle is important, not because our age is more sinful or corrupt, but because beneath all the pretense we all experience the same poverty: the need of salvation. We stand on Jordanís bank with humble heart and honest want. Deep down we need as well as want true life and happiness. Our baptism of conversion becomes a way of living Ė a constant, trusting and radical openness to the wonderful ways of God. To make such a commitment and to pursue such a way of life will not be easy, but it is the only way to Godís life for us.
Conversion is a walk with God, and in our walk we are not alone. Look around. Who stands on Jordanís bank with us this Advent?
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics
Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.)
(Download an order form in pdf format to
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