Cameroon’s Ambassador to the US & His “Etat Major” meet with Cameroonians working at the World Bank. By Jacob Foko
The suspense is over! Now we have a Pope – Habemus Papam – Franciscum erstwhile Jorge Mario Bergoglio – Blessed is he, a Jesuit, from Argentina, South America who comes in the name of the Lord – Let us rejoice and be glad! But what are we to make of this choice?
First of all for the average Catholic, there is an overflow of joy with this choice of the Pope. In deed we rejoice and are glad. A saintly man who defied all odds and bets, hiding in plain sight who though with one lung and with the burden of age will inject a badly needed spiritual steam. What is even more surprising is the fact he featured prominently in the last conclave coming second to now Pope emeritus. Benedict.
A Jesuit as Pope – The Jesuits are a religious order of priests and brothers formed by St Ignatius of Loyola “to serve Christ and the Pope.” The Jesuits have excelled in education with their superb schools and universities especially in the US and in Rome. They are the “brain boxes” of the Church. They are also known for their social justice ministries.
But they are embroiled in controversies! Ask Cardinal Arinze and his commencement address in May 17, 2003 when he was booed in Georgetown University for his defense of prolife and 70 professors signed a petition to the dean against the prince of the church for defending Church doctrine in a Catholic university run by Jesuits. Last year, Georgetown University again made news with her controversial invitation to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius to deliver the commencement lecture amidst the contraception mandate controversy. Yes, the Jesuits have given us a Pope – Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam – To the Greater Glory of God.
This notwithstanding he is an authentic man from the South, born and raised Argentinian even though of Italian heritage. In Pope Francis, the Church comes alive to poverty. He is not a man who just knows about poverty or who has read about it but one who knows poverty. He has lived through the throes of poverty and knows its color, taste, size and shape. One would not be wrong to surmise that in John Paul II we had a philosopher, in Benedict XVI we had a theologian and now in Francis we have a pastor. He comes to us as it were from the trenches. Like Pope Paul VI mentioned: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
Pope Benedict’s message for Lent 2013 echoed these sentiments and the Holy Spirit seemed to have been nudging the Church through him to this selection. He wrote:
The Christian life consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love. In Sacred Scripture, we see how the zeal of the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel and awaken people’s faith is closely related to their charitable concern to be of service to the poor (cf. Acts 6:1-4).
From all that initial reports indicate, Pope Francis fits this bill. The poor, the hoi polloi, the anawims Yahweh in Argentina will tell us the stories beyond the bus riding Cardinal who gave up the trappings and comforts of Office to live the vagaries of daily life in Argentina.
Even though, National Catholic Reporter, Joshua J McElwee in his article, “No Direction Signaled for New Pope at Cardinals’ mass” seemed to indicate that Cardinal Sodano failed to give marching orders to the Cardinals as to who to elect Pope, history has vindicated Cardinal Sodano with this choice of Pope Francis.
The dean of the College of Cardinals, Sodano in his homily on Tuesday for the mass for the election of a Pope placed emphasis on the Church’s social teachings, which have historically been in the developing world.
”The last popes have been builders of so many good initiatives for people and for the international community, tirelessly promoting justice and peace,” Sodano ended his homily. “Let us pray that the future pope may continue this unceasing work on the world level.”
The cardinals took these words to heart and at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gave the Church one who will now continue this work. Beyond the witness of his personal life, we find confirmation in the name the new Bishop of Rome has chosen: Francis.
Speculations are rife as to why the Pope chose this name. Some think it is after St Francis of Assisi the great champion of poverty, or Francis Xavier the great Jesuit missionary to Asia. Pope Benedict in his message to the Jesuits in 2008 seems to give us a glimpse to why Francis Xavier may be the reason for the Pope’s name.
“At a time when new geographical horizons were being opened, Ignatius’ first companions placed themselves at the Pope’s disposal “so that he might use them where he judged it would be for God’s greater glory and the good of souls” (Autobiography, n. 85). They were thus sent to announce the Lord to peoples and cultures that did not know him as yet. They did so with a courage and zeal that still remain as an example and inspiration: the name of St. Francis Xavier is the most famous of all, but how many others could be mentioned!
Clearly, the name Francis if after Francis Xavier signals the new Pope will continue the unfinished business of the Year of the Faith and New Evangelization, which Pope emeritus Benedict XVI left.
Nowadays the new peoples who do not know the Lord or know him badly, so that they do not recognize him as the Saviour, are far away not so much from the geographical point of view as from the cultural one. The obstacles challenging the evangelisers are not so much the seas or the long distances as the frontiers that, due to a mistaken or superficial vision of God and of man, are raised between faith and human knowledge, faith and modern science, faith and the fight for justice.”
Or it could simply be Francis of Solano, the patron of Argentina. In any case, what is clear is the fact that in Francis we find the champion of the poor and the new evangelization. Long live Pope Francis!
One of the most outlandish criticisms against Pope Benedict XVI on the heels of his recent announcement renouncing his office as Pope is that he is a “racist.” This came from some of my African confreres whose singular basis for this claim was that he failed to raise any African to the rank of Cardinal in February 2012.
Nothing could be further from the truth as portrayed by the article “Ratzinger the African,” published last December in the Vatican Diary. I urge everyone to take the time and read this eye-opening article on Pope Benedict’s love for Africa.
Pope Benedict XVI’s short pontificate (2005 – 2013) relative to John Paul II’ s 27 years (1978-2005) and Pope Paul VI’s 15 years (1963-1978) is richest in his outreach to Africa. It is worth saying here that each of these three popes excelled in their own measure in their outreach to Africa. Pope Paul VI, for example, was the first Pope ever to visit Africa. Even before this as a cardinal he often visited Africa. He named the first African saints, the martyrs of Uganda. Meanwhile, Pope John Paul II traveled to Africa more than any other Pope. It is in diplomacy which is the bone of contention here that Pope Benedict XVI finds no rival.
In his opening homily for the African synod of 2009, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of Africa’s faith in such glowing terms when he said: “Africa represents an immense spiritual lung for a humanity that appears to be in a crisis of faith and hope.” Such audacious words could only come from a man who has value for the continent and its geometric growth rate of Catholicism.
Pope Benedict XVI has matched rhetoric with action and the following gist from the above-mentioned article summarizes the point:
Appointment of Cardinals: of the 90 Cardinals, Benedict named over the last 8 years, 7 are Africans. To many Africaphils, this may be a little too small but relative to his two immediate predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI’s records stand tall. Of the 210 Cardinals, John Paul II appointed over 27 years, 16 were Africans while of the 143, Pope Paul VI appointed over 15 years, 12 were Africans.
Roman Curia: There is a visible presence of Africans in the curia with Ghanaian, Peter Cardinal Turkson as President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Robert Cardinal Sarah of Guinea Conkary as President of Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Tanzanian Archbishop Protase Rugambwa as adjunct Secretary of Propagande fide and President of Pontifical Mission Society, bishop Barthelemy Adoukonou of Benin as Secretary of the Pontifical Council of Culture and Msgr. Jean Marie Mupendawatu as Secretary for the Pontifical Council for pastoral care of healthcare workers.
Any keen observers of Pontifical liturgical celebrations would have noticed a new fac
e on the altar very close to the Pope since 2009. This is Fr. Jean Pierre Kwabamba from DRC. This is the first ever African papal master of ceremonies.
African ecclesiastical Diplomats: Currently, there are five apostolic nuncios of African descent. Apostolic nuncios are the Vatican’s ambassadors or more properly the Pope’s ambassadors. The first ever papal ambassador of African origin is archbishop Augustine Kassujji, current ambassador to Nigeria who was appointed by John Paul II in 1998. All the other four have been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI namely: Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo from Nigeria who is nuncio to Chad and Central African Republic, Archbishop Leon Kalenga of DRC who is nuncio to Ghana, Tanzanian Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa, nuncio to Angola and Sao Tome et Principe and lastly Nigerian Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu, nuncio to Nicaragua. Worthy of note is the fact that Pope Benedict XVI earlier on appointed the same Msgr. Fortunatus Nwachukwu as chief of protocol at the Vatican’s secretariat of state, the first of its kind.
That said, it is worth pondering again what it means to be Catholic? The lyrics of this hymn “In Christ there is no East, no West, In Him no North no South, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide world,” are worth spending time reflecting on. The parochialisms and the debilitating”son of the soil” mentality have eaten into the very essence of our being that very often we read events along this prism. In this age of globalization, when we pride ourselves as citizens of the world, does it make sense to continue this sentimental attachment to such warped divisions? Beyond this even, the words of Nigerian archbishop Obiefuna are worth recalling: The waters of baptism are thicker than blood.
Yet one must never lose sight of the fact the universal does not merely subsume the particular such that the particular disappears. There must be some balancing acts whereby as Catholics even though from Africa which is by no measure a small qualification, we belong to a reality that transcends this geographical circumscription. The African I embraces the universal we.
Filed under: Religion | Tagged: African, Archbishop Leon Kalenga, Archbishop Nwachukwu, Archbishop Obiefuna, Archbishop Okolo, Peter Cardinal Turkson, Pontifical Council for Justice and peace, Pope John Paul II, Pope Paul VI, racist, Ratzinger, Robert Cardinal Sarah, Roman curia | Leave a Comment »
Pope Benedict XVI ‘s decision to step down – A Blessing to the Catholic Church and the World. Lambert Mbom
There has been a mixed flurry of reactions amongst Catholics to Pope Benedict XVI’s surprising announcement on Monday Feb. 11, 2013 that he will be stepping down from his office as Bishop of Rome and Successor of St Peter. Some believe the negative press the Vatican already enjoys will gain impetus from this. Why did Benedict not spare us this negative PR some have been heard to ask? Others, rightfully, celebrate the wisdom of the Pope’s decision for his humility, his courage and his commitment to the Church.
For one thing, one is grateful that there was no butler and so there were no scoops even from the corridors of the papal chamber.
First, it is important to get the correct description of the Pope’s action. It is inaccurate to refer to it either as retirement or as resignation, at least not in the American sense.
In American political parlance, resignation is generally a euphemism for dismissal. Public officials resign when they are mired in scandal. The revered American General, David Petraeus, was forced to hand in his resignation when the sex scandal broke out. Now former Congressman, Rep. Jesse L Jackson (D-IL) also recently resigned in what turns out to be fraudulent management of campaign finances.To resign presumes a higher authority to whom one submits a letter and often linked to a scandal of one form or another.
Pope Benedict’s action is far from any of these. As he himself says: For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005,
It is a renunciation of the office he assumed in 2005. Some conspiracy theorists think that there is something amiss, which shall come to the limelight some day. We can only wish them good luck with that.
Our appreciation of the Pope’s decision says something about our psyche. Contemporary society has become so scandal prone and crisis-ridden that it has adopted a one-size-fits-all standard for evaluating actions, namely scandal.
The Genius of Pope Benedict XVI’s decision lies in his own words: After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry…. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. (emphasis mine)
Two words that encapsulate the Pope’s position are “Strength”(which appears three times) and “adequately” (which appears twice). Both are the operative reasons for the Pope’s decision. The enormity and sublimity of the tasks of the office require a certain alertness of the mind and physical strengths, which age has robbed the Holy Father of.
One cannot avoid but reference the words of the Delphic Oracle – “Man know thyself and you shall know the gods,” which find classical fulfillment in Pope Benedict’s decision.
Ola Rotimi, in his play, The Gods are not to blame, says of Odewale the protagonist, “The butterfly thinks itself a bird.” And because of this misconstrued and bloated ego, Odewale meets his demise.
Humanity must learn to acknowledge the limits of being. There are no supermen no matter how much the movie superman wants us to believe its reality. There are limits. Pope Benedict’s decision is a great lesson in humility.
There is a greater lesson even for those with political power. Clinging tenaciously to power is a disservice both to the institution and to those served. The Pope could go on till his demise but seeing the enormity of the tasks at hand, believes the institution would be able to wade off the buffeting tides, with a stronger and ‘younger’ person in office. Out of deep love for the Church and the flock he has shepherded, Pope Benedict XVI has so graciously considered that the best course of action is to relinquish power.
In a very real way, Pope Benedict’s XVI decision makes the Church a beacon of hope and an example even in the face of the crises that have stormed the Church sapping her of her moral authority. Today, one can ask Biya of Cameroon, Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and Mugabe of Zimbabwe and the other Octogenarians to follow the example of Pope Benedict XVI and leave power before power leaves them.
Pope Benedict has thought hard about this for a long time and so the question becomes why did he choose to relay his decision on Monday 11 Feb. 2013? The coincidences are just too many and all give us a clue. First, the Catholic Church celebrates February as a Marian month. In fact, it was on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes that the Holy Father made the announcement. On this day, the Church celebrates World day of the Sick. And all of these at the time the Church is celebrating the year of the Faith.
The Pope has discerned that this is God’s will for him and the Church. Like Mary, the Pope is not doing his will but rather God’s will. The Pope’s decision is intimately Marian in character.
The Pope is well aware of the signs of the times and he mentions this in his announcement saying: However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith…What better gift could the Pope give to the Church in this year of the faith than to step down and make way for one with a younger mind? Like Alfred Lord Tennyson expresses in his poem: The Old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfills himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
There is no doubt that Pope Benedict would have been emboldened to take this decision from the experience of his predecessor. The last forty days of John Paul II were days of tremendous suffering as John Paul II shuttled between the Gemelli hospital and his residence until he finally passed on. That this had a toll on the administration of the Church at the time is anyone’s guess.
Even then, John Paul II died like many of his predecessors. There is no denying it that the administration of the Church suffered at this time. In the face of the visible suffering, then Cardinal Ratzinger said, “The example of a suffering Pope is very important. It is another way of preaching that suffering can be beautiful when we share it with the Lord.” It is fitting then that Pope Benedict XVI who does not cite health reasons as necessitating his decision, relinquishes power on this world day of the sick.
Let us take consolation in the words of Pope John Paul II: Be Not Afraid. May we not be afraid for as the prophet Jeremiah reminds us of Yahweh’s promise, “I will give you pastors after my own heart who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer.3:15). May the words of Christ Himself when he commissioned the first Pope Peter enlighten us: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against you,” (Mtt.16:18) “for I am with you always to the end of time.” (Mtt.28:20)
Filed under: Religion | Tagged: Alfred Lord Tennyson, Biya, Cameroon, Delphic Oracle, Equatorial Guinea, Mugabe, Obiang Nguema, Ola Rotimi, Pope Benedict XVI, The gods are not to blame, Vatican, Zimbabwe | 1 Comment »
On the last day of the Christmas Octave (eighth day after Christmas), which happens to be the first day of the calendar year, the Church invites us to celebrate Mary as mother of God. This celebration highlights one of the four Marian dogmas with the others being the Immaculate Conception, perpetual Virginity and the Assumption.
The dogma of Mary, mother of God draws its inspiration from the Christological clarifications at the council of Ephesus (431), which said Jesus Christ is two natures and one person. Clearly then, one cannot stress enough the fact that Mary’s light draws its power from Christ. The Marian reality draws its power from the Christological even though foundational to this Christological is the Marian Fiat: Be it done unto me according to thy word. In these words, Mary epitomizes the genius of motherhood.
Our contemporary society is in a crisis of motherhood. We live in an age that is “allergic to children.” We must look to Mary, the daughter of Zion, to rediscover the meaning of motherhood. In the first instance, motherhood is a gift. Mary expresses this thus: I am the handmaid of the Lord. Bearing a child is first and foremost a divine gift that elicits human response. A child is a gift: given and received. To be a mother then is to receive actively, be a divine conduit – God’s handmaid. God extends his creative act to the woman. Properly understood then motherhood is not a right but rather a privilege. God is the starting point and not the petri dish or the comfort of the living room: Be it done unto me according to thy word. This is passive in an active way.
How does this play out in the drama of contraception and abortion so prevalent in this age and time? The Catholic Church in America often celebrates the annual right to life march in January. On the first day of the New Year, the Church’s invitation to be pro-life resounds in the Fiat: I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word. Women are challenged to truly appreciate the gift and value of motherhood. To be a woman is to be a mother. Womanhood finds its fulfillment in motherhood. Pregnancy is not an illness, the prevention of which is contraception and the cure, abortion. Far from bring a negative imposition impinging on the woman’s right, depriving her of choice, pregnancy becomes a celebration of the path to motherhood.
We live the contemporary paradox where more and more women try to and/or steal newborn babies, very often to please their husbands and save their marriages. Others think the best show of their freedom and right is to dispose of life willy-nilly. If only more women could truly appreciate the gift of motherhood, the discourse on contraception and abortion would shift gears.
Beyond being a gift, motherhood is in fact a vocation. Helen Alvare’s “Breaking through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves,” is an excellent read for Catholic women in this year of the faith. She describes motherhood as the “basic vocation to love.” It is “finding-oneself-by-losing-oneself.” It is this “losing” – in a sense a surrender of oneself that this Christmas season invites us to rediscover. Physically, some fear motherhood because they lose the mannequin or chic physique to a bulk as the woman bulges forth during pregnancy. Or what is more, her once elegant breasts suffer the wear-and-tear of breastfeeding. The physical bodily exasperations that come with pregnancy cause some women to shun motherhood. As a revolt against male chauvinism and careerism, the vocation to motherhood is in decline.
Alvare captures this reality when she notes “Our world views motherhood as a waste of time, economically worthless, socially disvalued and particularly so by comparison with the many other paths opening up for women.”
We must never forget that Motherhood is a vocation, a path to sainthood or more properly holiness. Christmas is a celebration of motherhood.
Motherhood also helps sustain marriages. This not only in the sense that now the husband values the wife more, if at all. The mother discovers the husband through the son. Alvare drives the point home when she notes that: And I can see qualities in my husband – unselfishness, determination, wise planning – I would not likely otherwise have seen. Having boys on particular has helped this feminist grasp the charm of males qua males. (A friend and I recently laughed to discover that we had both told our husbands how much we had learned to love about men by raising sons, and how useful it would have been to have raised the boys first, and then (I) met their fathers.
It behooves us to broach the question of barren couples. While some presume children as a natural outcome, the true character of the gift is appreciated when one realizes that there are some who either through no fault of theirs or by the consequence of some previous action cannot bear children. This is a very difficult situation especially for Africans in a culture where a man without a child is a curse. There are too many families torn apart because of this and unfortunately too often the blame is on the woman. Christmas rings out a message of hope for such couples to be patient. The bible is replete with examples of God’s miracle to barren couples – Isaac, Samson in the Old Testament and John the Baptist in the New Testament, to cite but these. The brevity of human intuition precludes us from waiting for God. The fact of barrenness once again shows us that motherhood is a gift and not a right. Learning to wait for God is a timeless Christmas message.
Christmas also invites us to consider adoption. By the incarnation of Jesus Christ we have become adopted sons and daughters of God. St Paul so eminently discusses this (Romans 8:15, Galatians 3:26). Joseph at the angel’s recommendation adopted Jesus Christ as his son. He is often referred to as foster father of Jesus Christ. Even though it is not because they were barren, barren couples are invited to consider the adoption route. If you cannot bring forth children you can adopt them and if you cannot adopt them you can give birth to them in Church by being sacramental sponsors.
In this year of the Faith, those who have given birth to children in Church as Godparents must renew their vows and ask themselves how they have helped to groom the children in their faith. Godparents also share a huge part of the responsibility of those who leave the Catholic Church for one reason or the other because these parents failed in their responsibility to be Godparents.
May Mary, mother of God whom we invoke every time we pray the Hail Mary, intercede for all women, mothers and barren couples.
These are not what you are thinking. If one were to do a quick survey of what the greatest temptations of Christmas are, the laundry list that would ensue will include temptations to indulge in passions – excess food, booze and sex. In short, it is the temptation to indulge and excessively too.
By the way, many will confess to the fact that it was and it is paradoxically during this Christmas season, that while we celebrate Mary’s virginity that many lost and lose their virginity.
The temptations of sex, food and wine are fairly obvious. Without minimizing them, it is fitting to focus on some other more subtle but pernicious forms.
Taking Christmas for granted: Christmas is an annual event. In the Catholic tradition, Christmas is a season celebrated from the birth of Christ December 25th to the Baptism of Our Lord, which this year, falls on January 13. The danger with an annual event like this is the temptation either to see it as just part of an annual rhythm lacking in anything substantively new and ground breaking or look forward to with much excitement – evanescent albeit. For most adults, we have become so used to it and like they say, “familiarity truly breeds contempt. “
Christ, who was present at the creation of the world comes to re-create us. Like Pope Benedict XVI says, “…our true ‘genealogy’ is faith in Jesus, who gives us a new origin, who brings to birth ‘from God.’” It is an opportunity to renewal.
Christmas is not just the mechanical return of the seasons; rather, it is a return to the source, which is ever fresh, ever new. The temptation to view Christmas as just a part of the regular cycle receives fuel from yet another temptation to see Christmas as a mere children’s affair.
The second temptation is viewing Christmas as just a children’s affair: The image and symbol of a child that characterizes Christmas has the unintended consequence of reducing it to seem as a feast for children.
While growing up, Christmas was a cherished celebration. Christmas gave us the opportunity to have new clothes. Then the special meal: Remember the Christmas rice? Even more so, Christmas provided the luxury of having a variety of dishes. There was rice and then chicken at the least. After the family meal, as kids we will visit other families in the neighborhood for more food, more drinks and gifts. A fun part of the day was “Calabar juju” where we masqueraded and danced around to the song: O kokoriko Oya, Okokoriko Oya, Juju don come oya, massa charge your pocket…” for some pennies and goodies.
As one grew older, it became a sign of maturity not to revel in the pleasantries of Christmas. Christmas lost its childlike pomp and opened new vistas. Like a nursing mother so eager to wean her baby from breast milk so too it would seem, age weaned us away from Christmas. When it became time to provide or better still take care of one ‘s self and later for others, the temptation to cast Christmas off into the class of childish excitements is even greater.
Properly understood, Christmas is a children’s feast. It is as a child that God took human form. And in the Gospels, Christ invites us: Let the little children come to me for to such as these belongs the Kingdom of Heaven. Christmas invites us to childlikeness. Children embody the spirit of Christmas – Joy, peace, humility, gratitude and gift.
Weigel expresses the point even better when he writes: “‘The return to the nursery’ at Christmas is not infantile. ‘The return to the nursery’ is to re-experience the wonder of God in his search for us in history.”
May we not lose sight of the fact that at the birth of Christ, heaven and earth and all therein came together. We have human beings: Joseph, Mary and the shepherds; then we have the animals, the shepherds were tending. Then there is the star that led the wise men from the East representing the celestial skies; Angels from the spiritual realm also showed up.
Christmas is a feast for humanity. It is an angelic feast. It is an agrarian festival. It is also spiritual. Christmas is essentially a family celebration. Given that the first Sunday after Christmas is Holy Family Sunday, we shall leave our reflection on Christmas as the family feast on that Sunday.
On January 1st, the Church celebrates the motherhood of God hence giving us the opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a mother. Let us then get the men on stage.
But more than just being a children’s festival Christmas is so eminently a celebration of fatherhood, in fact of manhood. The infancy narratives, which contain the highest number of references to Joseph, paint the portrait of true fatherhood as incarnated by Joseph. One of such instances where this rings out is in the gospel passage where we read: Joseph did not want to put her to shame (Mt 1:19). Joseph wanted to quietly call off his engagement to Mary and spare her the trauma of public disgrace. In the marriage dynamic, the husband is both provider and protector. Here, Joseph stands out as the protector.
Joseph’s decision to protect Mary’s good name by sparing her from public embarrassment and even further to accept the child are classical acts of manliness and fatherhood. Christmas reminds fathers to be protectors of their wives and children. Christmas invites fathers to spare their families public disgrace. For example, when a husband cheats on his wife, this debases his wife and makes her vulnerable to the wiles of the one with whom he is cheating.
Or the inability for the man to honor his word and repay his friends who came to his aid and lent him some money, makes not only him but his entire household “cheap” and vulnerable. Christ is born in Joseph’s heart first before in Joseph’s home.
The third temptation is removing Christ from Christmas: In a certain sense, Christmas is a birthday anniversary. At Christmas, we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Christ. Christ invites us to his birthday anniversary every year at Christmas. Unlike the biblical story of the man who threw a party and invited guests who made excuses and never showed up, the temptation here is that with Christ’s invitation those who show up try to throw him out of his own party. We catch a glimpse of this in the expression “crying more than the bereaved.” Have we not thrown out the host who invited us to his birthday?
The Gospels talk of “the lack of a room at the inn” causing Christ to be born in a manger. In his homily at this year’s Christmas vigil mass, Pope Benedict meditating on this passage, notes: Do we really have a room for God when he seeks to enter our roof? Do we have time and space for him?
Pushing this further, in the context of the birthday anniversary, one can ask: Have we not actually turned God away? We are so “full” of ourselves that there is no room left for God. We have come in and pushed him out or rather struggle to shut out the birthday boy. The next time you say Happy holiday instead of Merry Christmas you might just have fallen into the temptation.
Last October, Pope Benedict XVI officially launched the Year of the faith – a year in which Catholics are challenged to a “New Evangelization.” For some of us, it simply means a return to doctrine class. Truth be told, for many of us doctrine beyond the preparatory lessons for the sacraments is far fetched – one for parents and God parents when we were baptized (for those baptized as infants), one before we received the sacrament of Holy Communion and one before confirmation. There is some added value to those who were fortunate to attend Catholic schools.
Little wonder then that bible-wielding “Born-Agains” bamboozle and confound us.
The Church gives us an opportunity this year to put on some weight in our faith as Catholics. What better opportunity to begin than this season of advent.
Advent is the shortest of the Church’s liturgical seasons – Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Ordinary time. Advent has four Sundays and lasts between three to four weeks. At the heart of advent is a waiting, a preparation for Christmas. But what does it mean to wait? And how are we to prepare?
Let us first of all acknowledge that we live in a world that has lost its sense of “wait”. The most obvious example that comes to mind is fast food restaurants. We want it now and on the fly. Or if this example is too banal try out the more serious “true love waits…” meant to be a celebration of the fact that sexual intimacy as the climatic expression of true love finds its true meaning in marriage. Old school and out of touch with reality, one can hear some saying. Add to this mix the fact that for some people it is often said when they ask you to wait just start running for they will not show up or will show up late. Clearly, contemporary man has lost the sense of wait.
But let us clarify what Advent means as a time of waiting. The most obvious image that this conjures in our minds is the waiting room of the hospital. It is a terrifying experience especially when waiting for diagnosis, waiting to get lab results. Closest approximation I can think of is waiting for an HIV test result for those who muster the courage to get tested. I remember the experience when seminarians went to Shisong hospital every year for this test. Pressures are quite high and the silence in the room deafening. Or waiting outside while a loved one undergoes surgery. There is anxiety that raises stress sensors. This is not the kind of waiting Advent invites us to.
The kind of waiting, Advent beckons us to, is that of the labor room. Even though again because of the fright of waiting long, caesarean sections have become popular, the sublime action of giving birth captures in essence what Advent calls us to. There is the pain, which we shall return to later but even more so is the restlessness that comes with labor – a restlessness that yearns for another even though writhing in pain. There is the joy that comes when the mother beholds her newborn baby. The joy of motherhood that radiates and the mother’s face glows as a result compensates for the pain. The restlessness seems to find fulfillment with the birth of the child but before long there is need for another child. St Augustine so rightly affirms that: Our hearts are restless till they rest in God. Like the mother who wails awaiting the birth of her child restlessly so too are Christians. We await the birth of Him in whom we find true rest.
The birth of a child requires a lot of preparations. How are we to prepare during this season for the birth of Christ? Before we delve into this, it is instructive to pause a minute and see what the liturgy tells us about Advent. Any keen observer of liturgical colors will notice that there is an inner harmony between Advent and Lent. The vestments for Advent like Lent are purple. This is the same color worn at funerals. Advent is as much a penitential season like Lent. We also do not sing that great hymn of praise – Gloria during Advent and Lent. Advent is not just about preparing for the birth of Christ but even more so for the second coming of Christ. We wait for the second coming of our savior Jesus Christ.
To wait is to acknowledge some dependency. It is not accidental that wait as expectation is intimately related to wait as service such as a waitress in a bar. We wait for the coming of our Lord by waiting on him in service. It is not by stargazing and reading horoscopes.
We wait not in anxiety but in hope for the joyful coming of our savior Jesus Christ. Mary is the epitome of waiting. St Luke tells us: Mary treasured these things and kept them and pondered them in her heart. (Lk. 2:19) In this Year of Faith, the Church calls us to ponder our faith. Our faith is a reasonable faith. Let us not remain “babies” in the faith but grow to adulthood especially this year.
The Church puts before us two Marian feasts to celebrate: Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (Dec 8) and Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Dec 12). After the annunciation, Mary left in haste “to wait” on her kinswoman Elizabeth who was six months pregnant. She waits to bring forth the savior of the world by “waiting” on Elizabeth.
Our “waiting” this advent must be active and not passive. It is not the passive waiting in the hospital room but the active waiting in the labor room. The words of the angel to Mary: Do not be afraid ring out to us too. We wait not in anxiety and fright but with hope and joy. We wait by becoming waiters.