If we want to improve our relationships … we must hear the truth from our John the Baptist at home
“Our waiting is always shaped by alertness to the Word. It is waiting in the knowledge that someone wants to address us. The question is, are we home? Are we at our address, ready to respond to the doorbell?” (https://www.thespiritlife.net/facets/exchanged/75-process/process-reflection/5000-november-29th-henri-nouwen-waiting-with-the-word-first-sunday-of-advent)
Our Gospel today reminds us of the call to repentance preached by John the Baptist. It begins by setting the context in which John spoke: a long-winded and boring explanation of where and who was the Governor, etc. It seems like a waste of space.
However, upon reflection I saw it as an invitation to look at my own context. What is my reality? And do I believe that God is sending “John” (whoever that might be today), to challenge my behaviour and habits?
Secondly, the Governor was very powerful, and yet, he was disturbed by the Christian message started by John the Baptist. Do we, also, feel powerful? Untouchable? Righteous? Do I think it’s other people who need to change their behaviour and ways of speaking?
To most people, John was a bit strange: ordinary and, yet, extra-ordinary. In the beginning, he was just ordinary, but, by the end of his life he was special. Who, in our lives is the ordinary one, who may be extra-ordinary after they speak to us?
I’ve never forgotten an interview on TV between Pat Rafter, a great tennis player (a Catholic boy from Queensland, Australia). On the Roy & HG show, they asked: “Pat, the girls think you’re a sex-God, everyone wants to be your friend, and advertisers want you on their products. How do you handle that?” His answer was very humble and admirable: “well, I just go home to my mum, dad, 7 brothers and sisters, and they soon pull me back to earth!”
That is an advent process: being told by those who love us to, “pull your head in,” etc. Listening to a bit of truth telling: and then modifying our behaviour to fit in. When we do that, the Gospel comes alive: “And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.”
That is, we will feel more connected, more loved and more belonging in our relationships. Being deeply happy (=belonging) in a Community, is symbolic of God’s salvation. Repentance is too easily dismissed behind our defence shields of “I’m right”. Repentance is better seen as REPAIRING our relationships.
I think many of us, if we are really honest with ourselves, have at least one relationship that is not what we would like it to be. For some it might be parent/ child, for others husband/ wife, sister/ brother, employer/ worker, or a friendship which is not where I’d like it to be.
A practical way of journeying through Advent this year (even every year!), would be to sit quietly and reflect on the relationship I most want to heal. However, in order to empower the relationship we need a John the Baptist to speak in our context: I’m Governor of myself! J
Let me confess here to give a practical example: one day, just a few years ago, I was home in Australia speaking with my one of my sisters. And at one point she said, “Gerard, you’ve switched off, you’re not listening.” But then she followed up with “you’ve always done that!” I was a bit shocked, because many people have complimented me for being a good listener.
She was John the Baptist. She was right, in hindsight. And it opens up the Gospel story even better: at home we can be like Governors, but outside we are usually different. However, it is at home that we need the greatest relationships in our lives. This Advent, can we “go home”? Can we ask our loved ones “what is my sin?”
I know this is not easy for the men in Kenya. Men in Kenya, after initiation into manhood, are frequently closed to outside pressure, unless it has direct and immediate benefit to them. There is, especially in younger men, a struggle to be told what to do, and to hear what we’ve done wrong.
Advent is waiting with a purpose: the purpose is to go home and listen. When we do that, the Gospel comes alive: “And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.” Feeling more connected and belonging is, “seeing the salvation of God.”
By Gerard Conlan, OMI