For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members: Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85: 9-14; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8. You can read the texts by clicking here.
The 2nd Sunday of Advent’s readings from Isaiah and the beginning of Mark’s gospel both call to mind John the Baptist, a central figure during this season of waiting and preparation for the coming of Christ. I have often thought that John the Baptist is a strange figure. He roams around the Judean countryside, wearing a leather belt and camel’s hair clothing, eating locusts and wild honey. I think that he must have seemed a little weird to the people of his day too. This peculiar figure had a message to preach, something the Judeans needed to hear.
I think of some of the odd people I know or meet. They seem strange to me because they don’t dress as I do, or think as I do, or respond as I do, but I feel sure they have a message I need to hear, just like I need to hear John the Baptist’s message. I believe God has inserted them into my life for a good reason. This Advent I resolved to look again at people I may label strange and to ask myself “How are they ‘John the Baptist’ for me? What message or lesson do they have for me?”
I shared this idea of my “strange John the Baptist” with a small Eucharistic community with whom I regularly worship on Wednesday evenings. Bob, one of the group, told us about his visits to a shelter where he helps to serve meals to some of the city’s homeless. Recently, while handing out some sandwiches for lunch, he saw, across the room, a white-haired woman in a new and exquisite red dress. Strange, he thought. She was not one of the servers, but she did not look like the typical person he encountered in the shelter’s lunch line. As he approached her, he heard her muttering indistinguishable syllables over and over, under her breath, in a rhythmic pattern. Whirling around in circles and making a humming sound, she looked like a big beautiful top, spinning in a corner of the lunchroom.
Here was a John the Baptist figure, not in a leather belt and camel’s hair clothing, but in an attractive red frock with neat white hair. What prophetic message was she delivering?
After the liturgy I thought much about Bob’s John the Baptist figure. The woman appeared lovely in her external world, but her inner life was bewildered and confused. I think that I am like that red-robed woman when my interior and exterior lives are not in harmony. When at times I appear to be kind and loving, but inwardly resent others’ good fortune because it isn’t mine, I hope I think of the woman in the red dress.
Many of us rejoice that we now have a pope who wants to welcome LGBT people into the Church, but inwardly some may grumble that the official teaching on sexuality has not changed. We forget that Pope Francis said, in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, that we are not to be “obsessed” with a multitude of doctrines and that we should avoid a “preoccupation” with doctrine (par. 35 and 94). Rather our goal, he said, is to “concentrate on the essentials,” on the heart of the Gospel or the basic core, which is “the saving love of God” (par. 35 and 36). Doctrines, really, are not essential to Christianity. Jesus had no doctrines, only the law of love.
Perhaps we can outwardly express some sympathy for conservative Catholics who feel lost, rudderless, and insecure because the Church is now experiencing climate change at the highest Vatican level; but secretly we might feel some amusement or glee when we read that conservative bloggers are talking about schism. We pride ourselves on being Vatican II Catholics, yet we forget that Vatican II taught that unity does not mean uniformity. Catholics can understand the Church differently, but we are all part of the same Church in Christ. We are many branches, but we are all rooted in the one vine, which is Christ.
During this Advent season, let’s think of the strange John the Baptists in our lives who have a constructive and vital message to bring us. Who are the women in stunning red dresses, muttering gibberish, who are calling us to resolve the dissonance between our interior and exterior lives?
–Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry