Advent 01, Year A

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
The kingdom of God is among you (Lk. 17:21)

Asked in an interview (cf. the November 26, 2007 issue of America), “What led you to enter the Society of Jesus?,” the soon to retire superior general of the Jesuits, Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, replied that it was a booklet he read while a secondary school student that led him to the Jesuits. The booklet caught his attention “because it contained not only words but sets of horizontal lines.” He discovered in it St. Ignatius Loyola’s foundational principles and found most opportune the light cast by the Ignatian vision. Yet Father Kolvenbach was quick to acknowledge (in good humor, I'm sure): “When I told my novice master how I had read this short text he informed me that I had not understood it. Still, it brought me to enter the Society.”

That it was a booklet, eye-catching for its horizontal lines but which he apparently did not understand, that brought Father Kolvenbach to enter the Society of Jesus is one more indication to me that the Lord meets us human beings where we are at and calls us according to our capacity to respond at the moment of the call. God makes use of a given response in faith, albeit insignificant and lacking in either understanding or intelligence, to prepare us for more significant and intelligent future responses in faith.

Faithfulness, then, in small matters prepares one, by God’s grace, for great responsibilities (Mat. 25:21, 23). While the spectacular final realization of the end-time at the return of the Son of Man in days to come undoubtedly matters first and foremost, concentrating only on it is not wholly what it means to keep watch and stay awake. An integral part of watchful waiting is faithful responsiveness to the call of the moment, faithful accomplishment of duties at hand (cf. footnote 1 [1]). It is wonderful to dream in beautiful poetic terms, along with the prophet Isaiah, of Jerusalem as a city of peace and learning for right living, not unlike perhaps Córdoba and Baghdad of centuries ago, but sowing faithfully the seeds of peace and justice here and now requires the sweat of our brow and the strength of our arms.

Such faithfulness, of course, indicates firm belief that the night is advanced and that the day is at hand and demands, therefore, that believers throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. But for the followers of St. Vincent de Paul—“God is more pleased,” according to him, “by small beginnings than by projects that begin with the ringing of bells!” [2]—faithfulness fundamentally entails welcoming the least of the brothers and sisters. Starting small with what is at hand, St. Vincent’s followers will surely end big, if not with prodigious projects, then with the ultimate grandeur of the glory of the Son of Man when he comes accompanied by all his angels in order to separate those who welcomed the poor from those who did not welcome them.

As the parable has it, just like those who did not welcome the poor, those who welcomed them did not understand what was at hand, but still it brought the latter to enter the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. There is really no attaining the final goal without taking the steps leading to it, small though these steps usually are. I am afraid, therefore, that the opinion that facilely makes a complete separation between the spiritual sphere and the political sphere, claiming that the church is under no obligation to seek social justice in the political sphere and that the idea of “the common good is no more helpful in making political choices than are the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the parables or the Book of Wisdom” (cf. a letter to the editor in the November 19, 2007 issue of America), takes no cognizance really of either charity or political action, settling simply rather for business as usual—for banquets and weddings, farming and grinding at the mill. Such an opinion is, in my view, just as suspect as the opinion that simplistically makes a complete separation between exterior and interior mortifications, for it only betrays, as St. Vincent noted, lack of appreciation for both types of mortification (P. Coste XI, 71). There is no recognizing the Lord when he comes in glory without discerning the body of Christ in our communities here and now. The Lord does meet us where we are at and calls us according to our capacity to respond at the time of the call.