Reflections for St. Gabriel the Archangel
Can you feel the anticipation? It becomes more tangible as the weeks go by, and the day draws closer. People young and old grow more and more excited. Stores and streets display cherished signs and symbols, and familiar music is heard everywhere. As we count down the days, some of us are delighted by giddy memories of childhood. Others are inspired by the cosmic significance of the triumph of Good over the powers of darkness. The energy builds as the season of expectation moves toward a long-awaited conclusion.
I’m referring, of course, to the new Star Wars movie that comes out at the end of this week. What did you think I was talking about?
Now, we could lament our culture, so saturated in marketing that a movie release might overshadow the celebration of Christ’s birth. We could bemoan the fact that many children know more about the Jedi than they do about Jesus. But wringing our hands and pining for the good old days blinds us to the very thing that makes Star Wars and other movies so compelling: they tap into our hidden hunger for heroes. The Gospel, the Good News of hope for humanity, is disguised in a myriad ways in our popular culture. We have a holy longing, as Fr. Ron Rolheiser named it, to acknowledge something greater than ourselves, to be known and loved, to sacrifice for a cause or a person, and to make a difference to those around us.
This same hunger brought crowds to the Jordan River to hear John the Baptist. He brought a message of hope, but wrapped it in a challenge to change. Those who heard him became convinced of their need to repent, to turn from the way they’d been on. There was more to life than what they’d experienced so far; they needed something substantial to take home, not just a fleeting feel-good moment on the river bank.“What should we do?” they asked him. Here in our troubled world, twenty centuries later, we echo their same plea. “What should we do… in an age of senseless acts of terror and gun violence, under the cloud of a changing climate, troubled by refugee crises, threatened by financial insecurity, discouraged by the disregard for morality and human life, disgusted by divisive politics… What. Should. We. Do?”
John the Baptist dispenses advice for those who sincerely wish to turn their spiritual conversion into concrete action. Share with the needy. Stop cheating and gossiping and complaining. And as always, John turns the focus on Jesus, the one Who will come after him.
What would John tell us to do, if we’re serious about changing? When I respond to the chaos and challenge around me, am I guided by fear or by faith? Are my reactions shaped by my passions? My politics? My predicament? My pocketbook? How can I instead seek first the kingdom of God? How can I embrace His priorities?
Christ is the only one Who will satisfy our hunger and calm our restless spirits. He is the one to restore that joy announced by the prophet Zephaniah. If we look to Him, following the lead of His compassionate heart in this Year of Mercy, we will find a way forward, from darkness into light. When we remember “the Lord is near,” then we can know “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”