The 2008 election has come and gone, but with a difficult economy, an on-going war and an incoming administration committed to troubling policies on abortion and other sanctity of life issues, the challenges facing us as a country seem just as intractable as they were a month ago. Elections focus our attention. They fire up our emotions. But the real work of applying our Catholic faith to building a culture of life must happen between our trips to the voting booth.
This week Catholics have an opportunity to wash away the grime and heavy feelings of a long campaign season. Thanksgiving Day reminds us that gratitude is the beginning of joy. We cannot be happy unless we’re first grateful; and gratitude can only come about through yet another virtue-humility, which is the ability to see beyond ourselves to the needs, feelings and rights of others. Despite our nation’s problems, God has given us enormous blessings as a people. The Thanksgiving holiday serves perfectly as a doorway to the First Sunday of Advent, which opens the new Church year this weekend.
Advent is a chance to begin again; a time to examine our hearts in the light of the Gospel, repent of our sins and look for the coming of our Savior. We can’t really experience or understand Christmas unless we first conform our hearts to the longing of Advent. Advent calls us all to refocus our lives on God’s promise of deliverance and the flesh-and-blood reality of Jesus Christ, our deliverer-who came to us first in Bethlehem, comes to us today in the Eucharist, and will come again at the end of time.
Like any deep human relationship, our Catholic faith, to be genuine, must have consequences-first in our private lives, but also in our public witness. If we really believe in the coming of a Messiah, our lives will reflect that in the way we treat our families, our friends and business colleagues, the poor, the homeless and the suffering.
Real faith will drive us to live our lives in a spirit of humility, hope and courage, as Mary did. It will also guide us to press our public leaders for laws and social policies that respect the dignity of the human person, from conception to natural death.
Jesus, his mother and Joseph knew the reality of poverty firsthand. They knew the fear of being without shelter; of being hunted by enemies and being “strangers in a strange land” as refugees in Egypt. The “poor” in modern America take many forms: the elderly without adequate health care; the unemployed single parent; the undocumented immigrant; the homeless family; and most urgently and callously of all, the unwanted, unborn child.
As a society, we have our work cut out for us. But all genuinely Catholic action begins and ends in the worship of Jesus Christ. If we want to change the world, we begin by saying “yes” to God, as Mary did. We begin with our own obedience to God, using Mary as our model.
It’s no accident that Mary is the patroness of the Archdiocese of Denver, and that the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception-the mother church for all Catholics in northern Colorado-is dedicated to her. There’s no better way to immerse ourselves in the meaning of Advent and the renewal of our own Catholic identity than to pray over the witness of Mary in the Gospel of Luke, and to focus our hearts on her. This is our chance to begin again; to start the new Church year with the longing for God that leads to Bethlehem, to our own renewal, and to the conversion of the world.