Awaken to a new life

Published on 10 Dec 2019
A flower in the desert

Dushan Croos SJ, a member of the Laudato Si' Community in Clapham, calls us to reflect that the call to 'Stay awake' in the Sunday gospel applies to our current climate crisis as well as other ways in which we live our lives.

In the midst of winter, it is hard to get out of bed as the day begins and to resist the inclination to be sleepy, but the invitation of Advent is precisely to Stay awake, to be alert, to wait in hope.

We hear that call in the Gospel chapters as the Lord approaches Jerusalem before his Passion, precisely because it is so difficult to keep alert on long winter nights, to keep watch for the dawn (as Ps 129(130) invites us). But why is it so difficult to stay awake, watching and praying, waiting for the blessed hope of the coming of our Saviour? Those Gospel stories suggest that the root of our difficulty is that we don’t know what is going to happen and when, (Mt 24: 42-43, 25:13, Mk 13.35) or because the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Mt 26.41, Mk 14.38), or because of grief (Lk 22.45).

Journey to 2030

This Advent, the Catholic Church in England and Wales is inviting us to stay awake and act on our journey to 2030, lest we sleepwalk into the worst consequences of the ecological crisis. 2030 is the year by which the UN IPCC (representing 97% of scientists from all over the world), tell us that we must have curbed our green house gas emissions. Our country and our world appears to be asleep while our house is on fire, in Greta Thunberg’s words. The leaders of our world in Politics, Business and Economics seize every distraction so as not to act on the impending climate catastrophe, increasing the cost of acting each year, because the crisis only becomes more severe. There has been, for example, little news coverage of the of the COP 25 UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid. These leaders are asleep and need to wake up and act now, so that we will not need to respond to a more severe emergency in the decades to come. Global climate change is the most far reaching environmental issue of our time. If the climate change within the range of current predictions actually occurs, the consequences for every nation and every aspect of human activity will be profound.” While recognizing the need for continued research, this could not be used as an excuse for delay: “We simply cannot wait – the costs of inaction will be too high.” All these quotes are from US Federal Government Memoranda in 1989, which shows us that we have known for decades the future which we are making, and that had we acted sooner, we could have acted more gently and more effectively.  

Anxiety and Sadness

Perhaps we are asleep because we claim that we do not know what will happen or when, or because of the grief we feel as we are confronted by the climate crisis, leading us rather to distract ourselves and look away, or again, because perhaps we have been successfully confused by the false information from climate denialists funded by fossil fuel companies, (well documented in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything and on the DeSmog blog). Their fossil fuel company confusion tactics somewhat resembles how St Ignatius describes the action of the bad Spirit in his second rule for discernment [Spiritual Exercises 315]: to cause gnawing anxiety, to sadden, and to set up obstacles. In this way he unsettles these persons by false reasons aimed at preventing their progress. 

Advent wakefulness and hope

The Advent invitation to wakefulness is threefold: vigilance against the temptations and snares of the enemy who seeks to deceive and entrap us; readiness to welcome the presence of God as he takes up our flesh, and walks with us; and most importantly, attentiveness and openheartedness to the new life, surpassing our human imagination, into which the Risen Christ desires to lift us up.

The readings and prayers of this Sunday’s Mass (3rd of Advent Year A), invite us to look beyond our imagination to the joy of the life which God promises to us. This is what we call hope: not that everything will be alright or that nothing difficult or painful will happen, but that God will be with us through the worst catastrophe we can imagine and lead us out of it by inventing, from nothing, a new route where none had previously existed.   

A desert bursting into flower

The prophet Isaiah offers a metaphor for the restoration of the defeated people of Israel, using the image of a desert bursting into flower, the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the lame skipping, and the mute singing. Confronted by the failure of his mission, imprisoned after speaking the truth to the corrupt ruler of the people, John the Baptist hears that his work continues and is even surpassed by Jesus. His messengers ask Jesus if it can really be true that Isaiah’s prophecy and what it implies are being fulfilled beyond their dreams. In the words of St Oscar Romero “Christianity is not a collection of truths to be believed, rules to be followed, or prohibitions. Seen that way, it puts us off. Christianity is a person who loved me immensely, who demands and asks for my love. Christianity is Christ” (Homily, 6 Nov 1977, quoted in Pope Francis, Christus Vivit 156).

At a moment holding little optimism for the people of Britain and the world, Christians are still called to hope in God, who keeps faith forever. How can one who has never experienced spring, imagine or expect that the bare branches of our trees will in a few months’ time be filled with leaves and with blossom? The letter of James calls us to wait patiently for the blessed hope of the coming of our Saviour; our hope is in the God who does what we cannot even dream, making humans guesses at God’s plan somewhat unconvincing! Knowing that one is falling far short of what will given us, we might still be permitted to sketch our desire for the future, offering it to the Lord who will make it much greater than we can envisage.

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