First Sunday of Advent

First Sunday of Advent C Cycle

Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life. . . .

St. Benedict, in his Rule, instructs his followers to “listen with the ears of their heart.” The heart is s symbol for the core of our being, for that which is most real and most aligned with God. Merton calls it the true self where we let go of all self-centeredness and rest in God who dwells within us. We are Jesus who became human so that we might become divine.

Luke is admonishing us not to let anything get in the way of our relationship with God. Ignacio Martín-Baró, Jesuit priest psychologist from El Salvador, was exploring the psychology of liberation before his brutal assassination at the University of Central America. Martín-Baró had developed a bottoms-up psychology and was examining the ordinary reactions of people in the extraordinary situation of oppression.

Generational healing teaches that oppression takes its toll on the victims and those who come after them. Freud’s concept of repetition compulsion explains why the oppressed become the oppressors. Because of trauma, people tend to do what was done unto them. Witness the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians only half a century after they suffered the horrors of the holocaust.

Social and cultural conditions can cause our hearts to “become drowsy.” We know all too well that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) hardens our hearts as we seek programs for happiness that never seem to satisfy.

Using Martín-Baró’s insight and coming at his teaching from the other point of view, that of the affluent oppressor, can help us shed whatever keeps us from listening with the ears of our hearts. Not that we are consciously striving to oppress others. We are unknowingly complicit in the oppression of others. Our bloated consumerist lifestyles dull the sensitivity of our hearing hearts. False programs for happiness clamor for our attention 24/7. We amass more and more in silos while others eke out an “existence” with less and less.

We let corporations, governments, and churches assuage our fears without ever questioning what our lifestyles are doing to the people around us and to our Mother, the Earth. The Romans knew how to control the masses—food and games. Remember that the next time you watch a game and see the Bud Light commercial!

Greed and consumerism are the earplugs which make it impossible for us to hear with our hearts. Ched Myers says:

Jesus understands greed not as a moral category, but as a lethal, predatory force. It represents the primal sin of “taking too much,” as first articulated in the Exodus story of the manna, the foundational text of Sabbath Economics (Ex 16:16-18). Universally condemned in antiquity as one of the three greatest sins (see Mark 7:22; Rom. 1:29; 1 Cor. 5:10ff; Eph. 4:19), in the New Testament greed is tantamount to idolatry (Col. 3:5; Eph. 5:5). (“Pay Attention to the Birds,” Sojourners, December 2009, 30)

Yet, the message of Advent is that we are not to despair. Despair is not an option for disciples of Jesus. Jeremiah tells us that God will be faithful to promises made. God will raise up a just “shoot” from David. Jerusalem will be justice incarnate.

Justice is about right relationships. Recently, I heard something that adds another dimension to our understanding of justice. Justice is fidelity to relationships—to ourselves, others, God and creation. Hope empowers us to be faithful to relationships when things look bleak. Fidelity and its counterpart, hope, enable us to understand how we are enmeshed in unjust, violent systems and how we are to strive to work free of the structural violence that binds us. God promises to be faithful to relationship with us; we must be faithful to our relationship—discipleship—with God.

Paul instructs us that justice and fidelity are about love. We are to “increase and abound in love
for one another and for all.” Love strengthens our hearts. Love removes the wax from the ears of our hearts and takes away the cataracts from the eyes of our hearts so that we can hear and see God’s will for us.

We cannot let governments, corporations, and organized religions dupe us with food and games and false promises. The false programs for happiness that they offer harden our hearts. They dull our senses. Drugged by comfort, power or religiosity, we renege on the demands of discipleship. Relishing in our security and comfort, we are complicit in the misery of others.

Corporations cannot fulfill our needs. Governments cannot provide security. Organized religion cannot provide salvation. Our fulfillment, our security, our salvation lies in seeking justice. This is Advent hope for things yet unseen but possible with the God of Justice. In a season when darkness is overcoming light, we can see the Light with the eyes of our hearts.

Martín-Baró’s colleague, Ignacio Ellacuría, accepting an honorary doctorate at Santa Clara University, says it all, “Do everything possible so that liberty is victorious over oppression, justice over injustice, love over hate.”

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