Another cycle of our spiritual year and journey starts today on a very optimistic note. Jeremiah prophesies that Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem dwell secure. Imagine that! Isn’t that the kind of news we long to hear today as the Coronavirus continues to threaten? Won’t you love to know that we can return to normal life without fear of each other as disease-carrying agents? Our desire is to be secure and free from the ravages of disease and fear, yet without growing complacent. Hence, Jesus warns in the gospel about the dangers of growing complacent and letting our hearts become drowsy with carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of life.
Several are counting down the days to Christmas and are already filled with the anxiety of what would be the best gift for XYZ, ideas for decorations, flamboyant flowers and Christmas trees. I was surprised how early the so-called Holiday commodities were rolled out to the shelves this year. I observed the earnestness with which you swooped on the cheap stuff rolled out at the malls on Black Friday. One would think that with the economy as bad as it is, the urge to buy would reduce, but we seem trapped. I plead for such earnestness in stocking our hearts and souls with valuable spiritual goods.
Our citizens love to buy new things and throw away old stuff. Every thrash pickup day, we gather our refuse into the refuse bins and bring them out to be thrown away by the thrash company. How much more beneficial it will be if we also bring out our old stock of sin, selfishness, arrogance, immorality, corruption, infidelity, injustice, discriminations and all sorts of filths inside us; disposing of them at the confessional, where, priest-thrash-collectors wait to pick them up to throw away for us. Some are not in a hurry because they have great optimism that they’ll make it to confession before they die. They haven’t learned that, as you live your life, so you die. Two Catholics discussed about salvation over a keg of beer. One said: “I’m making my confession on my deathbed, like the Good Thief.” His buddy replied, “There were two thieves on the cross; one guy didn’t make it to confession, even with the Chief Priest there. What makes you think you won’t be the second guy?”
Advent is the period for spiritual thrash removal. Several have piles of dirt in their souls; some have swept theirs under the carpet. The molds form into depressions and psychoses, which they pay psychologists and psychiatrists to take away. As the number of psychologists grows, so does the filth. These days, drug companies have jumped in, promising to take sin away with new brands of pill. The failure of the “sin-pills” to take away sins is seen in the number who call it quits and take their lives, and sometimes, the lives of other innocent people. Had they recognized that the Lamb of God, who comes to us this season as a babe is the only “sin-pill” available to humanity, they would have sought Him with zeal. But their hearts are coarsened, darkened and drawn away from the source of all good in their adventure to find life outside the author of life.
This Advent, our parish family inaugurates a New Year of Grace and Discipleship. It’ll serve as a great opportunity to seek God’s mercy through repentance, transformation and reconciliation, which will lead us to seek out our brothers and sisters who have lapsed in their faith and invite them back. We will vigorously pursue the call to discipleship and become strong messengers of the gospel to others. This pastoral strategy will enable a change of attitude that some guests to our parish have described as “unfriendly” and “cold.” We will step out of our comfort zone to become the face of Christ to all we meet, especially those who seek a home and a community in which they can feel welcomed. We pray for the mercy of God to transform our lives as we seek to transform the lives of others. God does not delay in showing mercy and transforming our lives. Welcome to Advent! Happy New Year!
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo