The constant call during the weeks of Advent is to watch and wait once more for the coming of the Christ. This is not a time to be passive but to be alert and attentive to the signs of the times.
Our time is one of chaos globally and locally. Pope Francis speaks of “people on the move” to challenge those individuals and nations that excuse themselves from responsibility. Distinctions based on ethnic, religious, political or other classifications are bantered about by the comfortable and powerful while millions of men, women and children flee violence, extreme poverty, persecution, wars and climate destruction. With over 65 million people on the move, the most since World War II, instead of increasing the number of immigrants welcomed, the U.S. Government is reducing the number from 110,000 to 45,000, the lowest since 1980. This is embarrassing and shameful.
In the Second Book of Samuel, a comfortable King David enjoys a house of cedar and thinks about building a house for the ark of God. However, God reminds David that all he has is from God. This is the God who is always with us as well.
No matter the turmoil in which we find ourselves stuck, our God loves us and is always with us. Our God cares for us and calls us to reach out to those in need of housing, health care, education and especially human kindness.
Living in the United States today provides plenty of opportunities to speak out and act on behalf of those denied these essentials. In the richest country in the world. a Senator promoting a tax bill that shifts massive wealth to the top five percent of the population, showed his contempt for working people in a recent interview discussing the elimination of the estate tax which benefits the richest 0.2%: "I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies.”
At the same time, supporters of the bill suggest tax cuts will pay for themselves while proposing to do so by cutting essential services to the needy, such as Medicare, Social Security, health care and other basic human needs. This is an example of the chasm that exists between the powerbrokers and the working poor in the United States today — a profound difference in viewpoints that has generated fear and distrust among different segments of society.
As we listen to the familiar Annunciation story in today’s Gospel and rejoice at the birth of the Savior, we are called to respond to the cry of the poor, sick, homeless, unemployed at home and around the world. There are hundreds of babies born in refugee camps each day, and children deprived of health care and education and families desperate for some normality and safety. Most are innocent victims of wars or disasters, both man-made and natural.
On the first day of Advent, having just return from a visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, Pope Francis spoke about the themes of Advent and said the person who pays attention is one who, “in the noise of the world, does not let him or herself be overwhelmed by distraction or superficiality, but lives in a full and conscious way, with a concern directed above all to others.” He went on to say, "the vigilant person is the one that welcomes the invitation to watch, and is not overwhelmed by the weariness of discouragement, a lack of hope or disappointment.”
We need not only to continue support for ‘people on the move’ but to increase work for peace, by demanding the elimination of nuclear weapons and warmongering, support climate protection and expansion of sustainable energy, protect victims of human trafficking and prosecute abusers. It is up to each of us to determine what we are able to do locally, nationally and globally. What matters, in the long run, is the sum of our total efforts on behalf of the common good and Earth itself.
Sister Mary Ann entered Maryknoll in 1952 from Archbald, Pennsylvania. Assigned to the Philippines in 1960, she began teaching in elementary and secondary schools, and studied the Ilocano language. She founded the Diocesan Adult Training Center for the Vicariate of the Mt. Provinces, fostering adult education and community development. This still exists as an independent NGO, The Development Agency for the Tribes of the Cordillera. Sister Mary Ann also worked in Asia with ECPAT USA (End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking) as part of an ecumenical group that responded to a call for action on behalf of victims of sexual abuse. Her years in the Philippines launched her search for justice and concern for the integrity of the environment, a search and concern which continue today.