Building Bridges in Advent

Six years ago Pope Francis was in Turkey, a country that is predominantly Muslim even though it is deeply connected to Christianity over the last two thousand years. One of the historic gestures that the pope extended on his visit was to meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the head of 300 million Orthodox Christians. The Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church have been separated for a thousand years and the split came about over the authority of the papacy. Against such a historical background, the pope asked the Patriarch for his blessing. There was a time when patriarchs had to kiss popes' feet. At the end of a joint prayer service, Francis bowed to Bartholomew and asked for his blessing "for me and the Church of Rome," a remarkable display of papal deference to an Orthodox patriarch that expressed the Holy Father’s hope to end the schism. The papal gesture was an attempt at reconciliation between two major Churches.

The Season of Advent also is all about reconciliation. What is the mystery we celebrate?  It is the mystery of the Incarnation. The Son of God takes on our human, mortal nature in order to reconcile us to the Father. The great theologian, St Anselm, said: “What is assumed is redeemed.” The Second Person of the Holy Trinity assumed our sinful flesh to bridge the infinite divide that had been created by the sin of Adam. Advent as well as Christmas is all about reconciliation. Thanks to the birth of Jesus, we can call God our Father and the doors of heaven are open for us once again.

It is our tendency to think that Lent is the time for reconciliation. Advent is also an apt time to work towards reconciliation. The two feasts that serve as bookends for the Season of Advent are Thanksgiving and Christmas. Both those special days bring families together. Where do we have the majority of our difficulties and differences in relationships?  Within families. How often the celebration of these two family days ends up in more hurts and anger! Old resentments do not die easily. It is amusing that as adults we fight with our siblings just like we did when we were children. 

Advent is a good time to reach out to those family members who pose special challenges to us. It is a good time to build bridges and to mend fences. We find it hard to reconcile and move on because of two reasons. First, our egos get in the way. Second, we focus too much on the hurt and not enough on the person.

The biggest obstacle to forgiveness is pride. When I am filled with pride, everything is about me.  I play the victim and insist that I deserve better. On the other hand, when I am humble, just like Jesus, we are able to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. I realize that I have been forgiven many times and so I must forgive others. Recognition of my own faults leads to compassion and reconciliation. Pride, on the other hand, makes a person hold on to the hurt.

Second, we are unable to forgive because we focus too much on the hurt we received. We forget the person we love. This can happen even in good marriages. We have to stop and think: “Does this one hurt cancel out all the love we have shared, all that we have invested in this relationship?” Certainly not. When we turn our attention to the person, then we realize the foolishness of being unforgiving.

There is a story told of a young man, named George, who owned a red Mustang convertible. It was his baby. He would wash it, vacuum it, and polish it every week. If there was any unusual noise, he would take it to the mechanic. He did not allow anyone to drive it until he got married. He let his wife drive the car a couple of times. The second time she drove him, she was involved in an accident. When she checked the damage on the car, she was heart-sick. The front part of the car looked like an accordion. She said to herself, “George is going to be upset with me.” Then the cops came and asked for all the documents. She opened the glove compartment and pulled out the documents. They were all wrapped in a piece of note paper and on that paper this message was scribbled: “It is you I love, darling, not the car, George.” We can always replace a car. We cannot replace a person. We must focus not on the hurt, but on the person.

Let us remember that the Son of God sets us free.  By imitating His act of forgiving His own murderers, we set ourselves free.  While he was breathing His last on the Cross, He uttered His final prayer, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” To the good thief, He promised paradise. When we forgive, we are doing a favor not so much to the offender as much as to ourselves. As someone has said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was YOU!”

Let us build some bridges this advent. Let us mend some fences. Let us extend our hand of forgiveness and reconciliation – to those we love.

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

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