Metanoia, Jubilee, Beauty

The First Sunday of Advent, November 28, 1999

The Beginning of the Year of Grace 2000

We dedicate this first week of Advent to Dorothy Day of New York, Catholic Worker. May her example of faithfulness, beauty, and love inspire many people to practice the works of justice and peace!

Isaiah 63, 15b - 17, 19b, 64, 2b-7 + 1 Corinthians 1, 3-9 + Mark 13, 33-37

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Dorothy Day Icon, by Robert Lentz, courtesy of Natural Bridges, used with permission.

All have wandered away, Isaiah tells us, turned their backs on the God of their fathers and mothers. We are the prodigal children, disobedient to the call to holiness and justice. Paul salutes the Church in Corinth, giving thanks to God for the grace bestowed on them, whereby they were "enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge." Mark reminds us to be watchful, awake, for we know not when the day of the Lord will come upon us.

These words are read this Sunday from every Catholic pulpit, in a hundred different lands and a myriad of languages and voices -- Peking to Washington, D.C., Rome, London, Berlin, Paris, and onto New Delhi, Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro and the islands of the sea. They fall upon a world filled with trouble and intrigue, fraught with portents of danger and chaos -- and also of hope and joy, peace and charity.

The past ten years have been very cruel to the poor of this planet. The full force of globalization has fallen upon them, rice is daily stolen from their food bowls to enrich the wealthy. Everywhere, the poor are demonized as problems and exploited. Hundreds of millions of people are hungry because they have no land on which to grow food or money to spend in the marketplace. Meanwhile, the wealthy obsess on the latest grooviest toy for the Christmas shopping season and America the Merciless continues to bring death to children in poor countries all around the world. Sure, Congress voted $100 million for debt relief, an amount that is a small fraction of the cost of one Trident submarine. One of the most bizarre sights recently has been the spectacle of President Clinton wandering about the world declaiming on behalf of the poor. Huh? His hands are stained with the blood of hundreds of millions of poor children, and at this late date in his administration he is noticing the plight of the poor?

The Babylonians are truly at the gates. Systems which are unsustainable, which cannot go on forever, do wake up one morning and crash by the afternoon. A garbled radio transmission opens a Berlin border crossing, and a mighty empire dies. What will be the straw that is laid on the camel's back of the American Empire? Nobody knows, nor do we know how long the camel can groan under his burden, but the harbingers of collapse are there for those who will look, listen, think, and feel the "signs of these times."

Visible also are the harbingers of hope such as the Messianic promise that brings heals our despair. This is the in-breaking into temporality of the Divine as a little baby in a manger in a poverty-stricken village in a conquered land, born -- not to the wealthy and powerful, but to the humble, poor, and marginalized peasants of the hill country around the Sea of Galilee.

I bought a brand new flannel shirt today for somebody who doesn't get many new shirts. I got it at Wal-Mart, and its label said it was made in Bangladesh. I had to wonder, "How much of the ten dollar price of this shirt went to the worker who made it?" A quarter, perhaps, leaving $9.75 to be divvied up in the rest of the economic food chain. Once again I thought of the stockholders of Wal-Mart, and wondered if they were proud to be making dividends on the backs of the poor who have no other choices but to work for them at low wages. These products are not made in factories where the workers have the right to freely express the opinions and organize labor unions to protect their rights and secure a bigger piece of the economic pie. They are made in countries where such basic human rights are denied -- so that transnational corporations such as Wal-Mart can exploit the labor and desperation of the poor. And also so that I Robert Waldrop in Oklahoma City can buy a shirt for somebody who needed one.

"Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them: -- by participating directly and voluntarily in them; -- by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them; -- by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so; -- by protecting evil-doers. Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them. Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. 'Structures of sin' are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a 'social sin.'" (Catechism 1868-1869)

Thus we journey into the Jubilee Holy Year 2000.

Here are some of the prayers of hope that I have for this upcoming Year of Grace.

+ When I need to buy a shirt for myself, or for someone else who needs one, I hope that instead of rewarding the exploitation of the poor, I can go to a local cooperative of tailors who will sell me a shirt made right here in Oklahoma City at an honest price. I hope that the tailors' cooperative will be part of a local network of successful Mondragon-style cooperatives, rooted in the social justice principles of solidarity, honest labor, and the common good.

+ When the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker household sits down for the holiday meals next year, I hope that the food that we eat comes from the labor of our own hands, or is bought from local farmers of this region.

+ As we go about our daily duties, I hope we learn more about responsible stewardship of our material resources, in particular, that we stop producing trash. (This property used to produce 3 city garbage containers of trash per week, we are now down to one and have a 10' x 3' x 4' compost heap in the south-side yard. Also, last year's heating bills for this house ran in the neighborhood of $150/month, this year's gas bill is staying at $25-30/month; if the natural gas went away, we could still have hot water, warm house, and hot food.)

+ When I sit down to write my Advent letter next year, I hope that I am able to speak of America the Merciless in the past tense.

I have these hopes even though I think that evil is growing stronger in the world and we are approaching a time of turbulence and instability. But this is not a counsel of despair, rather, a reminder that as Paul writes to us today, God is faithful and enriches us in all discourse and all knowledge. God is faithful, and able to keep us firm -- strong -- watchful! -- until the very end. God is faithful, and he has called us to fellowship within the Trinity. And with the God who is faithful, enriching, strengthening, all things are possible.

God said to Joshua: "I command you: be firm and steadfast! Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord, your God, is with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1, 9)

Now is the time to call forth new structures of justice, peace, wisdom, and love, and to strengthen other such structures which are already among us. If instability is coming, let us remember that this can be an opportunity for the Good and the Beautiful. We tend to think of turbulence and instability as bringing evil, and certainly, this is always a possibility. But angels and saints are among us, and miracles happen a thousand times everyday. For every secret work of darkness, there are many secret works of beauty and goodness. For every one such saint that we know of, there are a thousand more secret heroes whose works are known only to God, but whose fruit is a blessing to many in great need of such help.

We are called to awaken within ourselves all the spiritual sensitivities and strengths and graces that are available to us. Now is not a time to be stupid, but rather prudent, wise, vigilant. People speak of random chances and sudden opportunities, but as Catholics we know of signal graces, openings (or closings) sent to us by the Lord to help guide us on our journeys of justice and peace.

Reality is that which cannot be ignored, it thrusts itself upon our consciousness and will not go away. When we say this we tend to think of the temporal reality, but it is equally true of the supernatural reality. God is that which cannot be ignored, He thrusts himself upon our consciousness and will not let us go. It is in this life within the Godhead that we can find our ways through the times which come upon us. How many people will die in the 21st century due to war and economic chaos? How many will live because of beauty and goodness? You will cast your votes in this poll by your actions today and tomorrow and the day after. Everybody votes, whether they want to or not. Even an attempt to not vote is a vote. So participation is not optional, and given the stakes, it's not prudent nor is it wise to abdicate your vote to chance.

The Jubilee Holy Year is a time to stand up and be counted for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the culture and civilization of life and love, to live in solidarity with the poor, to simplify our lives and be liberated from the structures of sin which bind us and oppress. We are called to stop making excuses for our injustices and oppressions (or for the injustices and oppressions of others) to cease our praising and rewarding of those who would profit from the exploitation of the poor. Would we accept "everybody is doing it" as a moral argument from our teenage son or daughter when it came to e.g. experimenting with heroin or pre-marital sex?

The point is this: If the year of Jubilee is to be a time of redemption and freedom, reconciliation and reparation, then shouldn't this begin at home, with an examination of conscience of the ways that we participate in and profit from the exploitation of the poor? And as we come to understand how our voluntary choices are affecting others in a negative way, is it not possible for us to invest some of our ingenuity, cleverness, capital, and old-fashioned American know-how in avoiding such oppression? In fact, couldn't we take our lives in the other direction and become empowers and liberators? The signs of these times call us to cultivate the culture of life which blesses the poor, and withdraw our lifeline support for the culture of death which gravely harms the poor.

Next year in Jerusalem! May the first Sunday of Advent dawn in the coming century on a world purged by metanoia, where great structures of sin have toppled onto the ash heap of history, the world renewed by grace with structures of goodness, beauty, wisdom, and love.

I suppose we better get busy.

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Dorothy Day Icon, by Robert Lentz, courtesy of Natural Bridges, used with permission.