Last Saturday we marked the 180th anniversary of the martyrdom of Pierre Domoulin-Borie, one of the martyrs of Vietnam. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese Christians suffered torture and death for the faith. It was one of the most cruel persecutions the Church has ever seen. The authorities branded Christians on the face with the Chinese characters that mean “wrong religion.” [Spanish]
A week ago Friday, we marked the 91st anniversary of the martyrdom of Miguel Pro. They shot him to death in Mexico City for the crime of being a faithful Catholic priest. He died willingly, shouting… Viva Cristo Rey!
Remembering this kind of Christian heroism, it focuses us for Advent, the holy season before Christmas.
Advent does not mean maxing out the credit cards on American-Girl space suits or Aquaman merchandise. Keeping Advent means going back spiritually to the days before our Savior’s birth. It means sharing intimately in the thoughts, affections, hopes, and longings of a special group of people. The “heroes” of Advent, our brothers and sisters in the faith of Abraham, who longed for the Messiah’s coming.
The prophet Isaiah. Sts. Zechariah and Elizabeth. St. John the Baptist. The three Wise Men. St. Joseph. The Blessed Virgin Mary.
Instead of going shopping, they visited the Temple. Instead of watching tv, they memorized the Psalms. Instead of playing video games or fantasy football, they gazed at the stars in the night sky.
Events happen. Campaigns, elections, birthdays, sports seasons, Winter Sales Events, trials, tribulations, travels, transactions, treaties and treaty violations–they happen. Signs in the sun, moon, and stars. The anxieties of daily life. History constantly seethes with events.
But the heroes of Advent stayed vigilant while the world around them flimmed and flammed. It’s not as if the world just recently became crazy. The craziness of the world goes way back.
The prophet Isaiah witnessed events that would make our heads spin. Foreign armies conquering the Holy Land, the people dispersed in exile and degradation. St. John the Baptist saw the Romans take control, wrenching power from Herod the Great’s feckless progeny. Only the Lord knows all the things that the Wise Men saw, as they journeyed west across deserts and through huge ancient cities teeming with Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Greek-speaking self-help gurus.
But, through all this, one thing, and one thing only, touched the innermost hearts of the heroes of Advent. The world turned, unsteady and confused. But one single sentence made its way into the epicenter of the bosom of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “Behold. You will bear a son who will sit on the throne of David.”
If we keep these four weeks of Advent holy, the liturgical season will train our hearts and our minds to remember that all of history has one decisive event. One. He has a name.
Stay awake, “lest that day catch you like a trap.” What could ‘that day’ mean, other than when earth and heaven meet? ‘That day,’ when God opens Himself up as a living temple for our souls, His light shining as a perpetual sun. ‘That day,’ when truth and justice kiss. ‘That day,’ when sick people heal, when blind people read the words of a book, when the human child and the bear cub frolic together. That day: when God and man are one.
The Incarnate Word of God was born in humble circumstances. He never wrote a book, got interviewed on “60 Minutes,” played professional football, or won a Nobel Prize. He never had a facebook or twitter, never ran for office, never made a lot of money. Never endorsed a product or conducted any kind of PR. We’re not even sure exactly what He looked like.
But: in the list of all the things that have ever happened or ever will happen, His coming to earth is The Big One.
They waited. The ancient prophets. The devout foreigners longing to know God. The aging carpenter, living in a chaste marriage and hoping for a future that only God could know. And his lovely young wife who had become pregnant through an act of faith. They kept quiet and waited patiently, calmly. Awaited the birth of the man, the child, the baby boy Who is God.