Fr Paolo Consonni, MCCJ
While Christmas decorations are already lighting up our city, the severe figure of John the Baptist in this Sunday’s Gospel (Mt 3:1-12) aids us from falling into the trap of consumerism by equating Christmas with spending: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near! […] Bear fruit worthy of repentance!”
“Repentance”, which is a translation of the original Greek word “metanoia”, which means “to go beyond our mind/intellect”, that is, to go beyond the way we usually see and perceive reality. The external spiritual journey of Advent (prayer, silent retreats, mediation of the Word, novenas, sacrament of reconciliation) should ideally lead us to an inner renewal which in turn can help our life to be more in line with the values of the coming “kingdom of heaven”.
In the past few days, I have had two small but meaningful experiences of conversion, in the “metanoia” sense. The first is understanding how wrong was my judgment of a certain person, after listening to what that person revealed to me about his own life. The other one is to clearly see my pride crumbling apart after committing a mistake and meeting a sense of failure. These humbling experiences exposed both my stupidity and my arrogance: this uncomfortable feeling explains why we so fiercely resist conversion. Events which trigger “metanoia” usually “happen” to us, rather than us going to look for them! But the initial uneasiness opened the way to more inner clarity, and to a healthier way of dealing with myself and with others, a concrete way to feel God’s kingdom concretely “coming” into my heart.
We have similar experiences all year long, but Advent is the special liturgical time in which we learn the “method” through which to discern God’s ways to “become flesh” in the historical events of our complex human history. When we put ourselves and our feelings at the center of everything, and when we act only to defend our sense of security, then we leave no space for God to come. We might appear to be very religious people but, like the Pharisees and Sadducees scolded by John, we do not welcome God’s intervention into our life.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than me is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (v.11). On the contrary, from the height of his monolithic ascetism and moral integrity, John surprisingly showed a humble openness which will be decisive for Jesus to start His ministry and reveal Himself as the Messiah, although with a style quite different from John’s.
Similarly, in the Gospel of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, (Lk 1:26-38) we will read about Mary’s willingness to revisit her life choices in the light of God’s invitation to become Jesus’ mother. She, who was without the stain of original sin, didn’t need “conversion” in the sense of repenting from wrongdoing. She however needed to go through the faith-process of conforming her mind and heart to a plan which went beyond her understanding.
A listening attitude in the silence of our souls, far from the noise of our daily business, able to let go of one’s sense of security to make choices which go beyond our self-interest; faith in God while facing uncertainties … those are the fruits of conversions which should adorn our Advent in preparation for Christmas. Originally, the balls and the lights on Christmas trees symbolized the hope that nature would eventually overcome the cold and darkness of winter, and produce once again fruits and crops for our nourishment. May those fruits of conversion also bring hope and light to a world that is still in a deep moral winter.