The Gospel passage — filled with tribulations and fright — reminded me of Geraldine Brooks’ novel “March.” It is a story of our Civil War and all its pains and horrors. Many people in our country in the middle of the 19th century must have thought that the world was coming to an end. And for many, it did.
Several passages from the novel relate well to our readings for this first Sunday of Advent. Isaiah speaks of God’s promise of a redeemer who will bring justice and security to his chosen people. It would be from the house of David that a just shoot would rise up and bring deliverance. Isaiah is a prophet of hope, drawing all of us to trust in a faithful God.
The very last sentence of Brooks’ novel reads: “As she turned the screw to adjust the flame, light flared. For an instant everything was bathed in radiance” (273). This is the promise that gives us hope: that light will conquer darkness, that love trumps death. And why? Because God’s grace is stronger than all human cruelty. Throughout the novel we have a record of massive inhumanity. Without faith, we might yield to despair. But God has sent Jesus and, if we participate in his paschal mystery, we too shall adjust the small flame of faith until it fills the whole world with radiance, the glory of God.
St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is about love and the strengthening of the human heart. Paul urges his people to do what is pleasing to God and live lives of holiness. Jesus and the holy ones are coming and we must be prepared.
“I remember arguing that moral greatness had little meaning without action to effect the moral end” (64). This statement from “March” emphasizes the need to translate ideals into practice. One of the best ways to prepare for the coming of Christ is by striving after moral greatness, expressed so often in simple acts of kindness: a kind word, a pat on the back, a visit to the nursing home, a letter of consolation. Indeed, we encounter Christ right in the midst of living out our moral lives.
At the very start of the novel we hear “ … for an army on the march provides no tranquil place for reflection and correspondence” (3). How true that is. There are circumstances in which we are unable to take time for reflection and communication. Advent is an invitation to stop the march, to pause and reflect, to note the comings of the Lord into our lives.
My favorite line in the novel reads: “In the months that had followed our marriage, I quietly conspired to build beauty into our daily life” (114). What if; every day of Advent we built some beauty into our homes and workplaces. What a glorious Christmas we would experience.
Questions for reflection
1. How can you build beauty into your days?
2. What simple acts of kindness can lead to moral greatness?
3. What is the quality of your vigilance in awaiting the Lord?
Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.