Advent is my favourite liturgical time of the year. The Church has given us this time to prepare for the coming of Christ, but my joy for the coming of the Lord is deflated as I walk through the centre of Birmingham. As the start of the liturgical year, Advent invites us to abstinence and meditation. Instead, we are bombarded by the psychedelic Christmas paraphernalia. Even though secular Christmas promotes universal values like harmony and peace, the emptiness of consumerism obliterates this time of love. However, in an Ignatian spirit, we are called to find God in all things: Even in the Christ-less Christmas.
Our Jesuit charism calls us to be in the service of faith and the promotion of justice. Seeing the crowds agglomerated at shopping centres, I wonder about those who are less privileged by our economic system, and those people “let aside” by our society. In a world of social injustice, the image of the Church as Zion comes to mind: “The Lord has founded Zion, and the needy among the people will find refuge in her.” (Isaiah 14: 32) In our baptism, Christ has made us priests and priestesses, kings and queens, prophets and prophetesses. By the baptismal zeal, the Spirit calls us to bring God’s justice and to build His Kingdom on earth.
Three weeks ago, the novitiate studied Catholic Social Teaching (CST). Sociologists describe CST as the Church’s “hidden gem”. In its four principles (human dignity, solidarity, common good and subsidiary), CST invites all members of the Church to actively seek God’s justice and peace. (see more in http://www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk/principles/) Most importantly, CST is not about theory but action. Thankfully, our lessons on CST were not only theoretical but practical.
During that week, the novitiate joined the pre-assembly of Citizens UK – Birmingham. As a network for people’s empowerment, Citizens UK promotes the common good by community building. In our local chapter, a wide range of organisations are involved. These included: faith groups (like churches, mosques and synagogues), educational institutions (schools and universities), trade unions, in between others. (see more at http://www.citizensuk.org/chapters/citizens-uk-birmingham/)
To me, it is amazing to see the gift of unity at work. Citizens UK is an example of how CST has permeated outside the Catholic circles. In the diversity of faith, political views and backgrounds, the common good liaises us to make a difference in our community. For example, our local chapter is focusing our efforts in the living wage campaign. (http://www.citizensuk.org/campaigns/living-wage-campaign/) In the union of the diverse, I could sense Emmanuel (God-is-with-us).
Similarly, I was happily surprised by the number of Catholic organizations involved with Citizens UK. I was particularly moved by the speech by two Six formers from St Thomas Aquinas High School. Their speeches had a clear message: they wanted a future for their generation and they wanted to start building it now. In the spirit of unity, CTS transcends differences and incarnates in every Christian the great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 37. 39)
In this time of the year, the prophet Isaiah is recurrent in the Liturgy. Some of the scriptural basis of CTS can be found in this book of the Bible. In the different apocalyptic visions of the prophet, the Lord remains faithful to his people: “I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant, and lay low the insolence of tyrants.” (Isaiah 13: 11) In this time of Advent, we are preparing the way of the Lord, and what a better way to prepare it than to bringing God’s justice to our world.
A former prime minister said that Christianity is about spiritual redemption, not social reform. In the example of our Lord, all Christians are called to be aware of the signs of the times. If this awareness is not bringing us to build a fairer society, then we are not fulfilling the great commandment. Jesus did not only want us to worship the Lord in His temple but to tell among the nations His glory and His wonders among all the peoples. If our faith does not have an impact on our local and global reality, then we are not allowing the Spirit to move within us. In the light of CST, we should prepare Christ’s way by bringing the justice and joy of His kingdom. As Ignatius said: to be contemplatives in action. May the love that God has for each of us, emanate from our hearts to the world. Only then, will we truly let the King of glory come in.