Words of wisdom and signs of encouragement from the former Master of the Dominicans
The Eternal City is buzzing right now as we head into this final week before Christmas.
There seem to be many more visitors from out of town and tourists from abroad than there were last year at this time.
A real bustle of activity has overtaken Rome!
But that doesn’t mean everyone is happy or hopeful. A public transportation strike this past week brought many more private cars than usual out onto the road and in the midst of clogged traffic there were a lot of agitated, aggressive people behind the wheel.
Meanwhile, people are trying to live as if the Covid pandemic were over. But the obligatory wearing of facemasks indoors, and even in crowded outdoor spaces, has become exasperating for many.
Covering our faces and keeping our distances are constant and unpleasant reminders that we are not out of the woods yet.
Pope Francis has repeatedly said — as he did again on Friday to a group of ambassadors — that humanity must emerge from the health crisis in a better and a more fraternal way than how we entered it.
But are people listening?
For many, 2021 has been another difficult and depressing year, especially for those who find it hard to be patient or accept the reality that the pandemic will never end until people finally get vaccinated.
Hope and despair
And now that the Omicron variant of the virus is quickly spreading around the globe, a lot of folks are overcome by a sense of gloom and even despair.
It’s not just Omicron, but a sense that history is not going anywhere. There’s a rise of violence, threats of war, the ecological catastrophe… Many young people say they don’t want to have children because they don’t want to bring them into a world that has no future. But we believe in God’s future.
Those are the words of Timothy Radcliffe, the former Master of the Order of Preachers. He offered them this past Friday in the homily he gave at the morning Mass he celebrated with his Dominican brethren in Oxford, England.
What he said next is something we all need to ponder.
I love the word “confidence” — from the Latin con fidens, “believing together”. In this time of waiting, we should give confidence to each other… We must share our hope. Hope and despair are contagious. And every one of us makes a choice of whether we are going to be a source of hope or a source of despair.
Hope or despair. We must choose which of these we will embrace and share with others.
The choice should be obvious to those of us who are trying to follow Christ and imitate the way he lived on earth.
What it means to be a Christian
But it isn’t obvious, is it? We too often get tempted to opt for gloominess and despair. Why? Perhaps because we lack patience and cannot seem to look at the world around us from a distance and with a longer perspective.
Radcliffe began his homily by recalling how John Henry Newman defined what it means to be a Christian. It means “to wait for Christ”. He then went on to say that we “wait in confidence” and “do not procrastinate”.
Reflecting on the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah that Matthew puts forth at the beginning of his gospel account, the former Dominican Master said that most of the people named in these 42 generations are largely unknown figures who apparently accomplished precious little.
“It is a history that doesn’t go anywhere… and seems like a history that does not lead to fulfillment,” he said.
There were prostitutes, murderers and adulterers in Jesus’ royal lineage. Oh, and there was the Babylonian deportation, too. At almost every juncture there was reason one could despair. It did not look hopeful.
Living in the real world, God’s world
It sounds like our own world and Church at times. They can similarly tempt us to despair.
Yet, as Radcliffe points out, all the time this crazy, screwed-up family tree was actually “bringing forth the birth of Jesus Christ”. It really was leading to fulfillment all along — the fulfillment of God’s promise.
As those who profess to be Christians, we must choose hope. Over and over and over again.
This hope means that we can act now as those who believe in the promise. In the antiphon that we shall sing this evening we will ask Wisdom to teach us the way of prudence. And prudence isn’t being cautious, in the medieval tradition. Prudence is living in the real world. And the real world is God’s world. And in that world we are travelling to fulfillment.
These beautiful and encouraging reflections are all the more extraordinary because the man who offered them has just been through an extremely challenging health ordeal, spending the past several months recovering from a major surgical intervention.
Hearing him preach so clearly and boldly is yet another sign of hope. This is how he concluded his homily:
So let’s not procrastinate. Let’s act today. Who are the people from whom we must ask forgiveness? Today. Who are the people that I must forgive? Who are the people that must I reach out to in kindness? There’s no time to waste.
Robert Mickens is a Rome-based journalist who has been reporting and commenting on the Vatican and the Catholic Church in the past three decades. He is currently editor of La Croix International, an online English version of the eminent French Catholic Daily La Croix.
Reproduced with permission from La Croix International and Robert Mickens.