11-28 Reflection

Volcanoes, even when they are dormant, mark the places where the possibility of violent destruction always looms over the landscape.  History provides the record. East of Naples, Italy, stands the imposing cone of Mt. Vesuvius. It had an explosive eruption in 79 A.D., which buried Pompeii and Herculaneum.  Our only record of that is the site of petrified bodies of those people caught by the surprise of it.

Closer to our time, who among those of us living can forget the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helen.  We saw the videos that showed us the most significant eruption to occur in the contiguous United States since the much smaller 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak, California.

But while God seems to permit the earthly forces He created to be capable of violence, as when a volcano has one of these “coughing fits”, so to speak, He prefers calm and silence as the backdrop for His special works.  Consider the Annunciation and the very private encounter of Archangel Gabriel and the subsequent Nativity on a silent night when “all was calm and bright.”

In like manner comes the lovely little season of Advent that begins this weekend.  In our country, it seems to arrive so suddenly but quietly, like cat’s paws on carpet, so soon after the happy but noisy family gatherings only last Thursday, Thanksgiving Day.  The joyful white vestments have suddenly transformed into the much more solemn purple of penance. Penance has been the long standing Christian preparation for a major feast.

One could call Advent “a little Lent” or even “Lent light” because it features elements of fasting and repentance.  But the accent is more on that of hope and anticipation, first by recalling that this world as we know it has a final destination, known only by its Creator, and then by the encouragement of a bright future brought about by our Savior’s entry into our history.

I think we can all acknowledge the added difficulty for prayer and silent reflection brought on by how the outside world approaches these weeks before Christmas.  Having all but eliminated any serious contemplation of the world’s future, except under the heading of climate change, it hardly acknowledges the birth of Jesus as the central focus. Look at the pitched battles every year on where and whether to set up the creche scene. Therefore the onus is ours as believing Christians to strike a balance.  No need to be volcanic.

One of the most famous books of all time is Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” in which Gibbon traces what happened to that mighty empire and how it disintegrated from within.  He says this concerning the Church within the empire:  “While the great body (the Roman Empire) was invaded by open violence or undermined by slow decay, a pure and humble religion gently insinuated itself into the minds of men, grew up in silence and obscurity, derived new vigor from opposition, and finally erected the triumphant banner of the cross on the ruins of the Capitol.”

Reading I:  Jeremiah 33: 14-16
One of the prophet’s oracles on the future king.  Jerusalem will replace Israel and will be known by this king’s name.

Reading II:  I Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
First comes an invocation.  Then Paul recalls his past instructions to the community.

The Gospel:  Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36
The evangelist tells of mental upset that will follow upon dramatic cosmic upheavals.  But after those, the full achievement of Jesus’ work, His mission of the salvation of the world will be near at hand.