Advent 2: Beauty, Burning
Advent 2: Beauty, Burning
‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath! Produce fruit in keeping with repentance…I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come One who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.’ (Matt. 3: 7, 8, 11)
John the Baptist’s cry against the corruption of human hearts cost him his head; the very leaders he decried killed him and so fulfilled the firebrand’s own prophesy that ‘he must decrease in order for Christ to increase’ (JN 3:30). But what an increase! John’s fiery call to repentance razed mountains of bad morality and religion, and raised high beautiful Jesus. The Baptist blazed the way for us to ‘Behold the Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world.’ (JN 1:29)
John invites us to behold divine beauty: a sight that can free us from falsehood, and free us for genuine fruitfulness. Perhaps his burning admonition unites two themes of Pope Francis’ recent exhortation on proclaiming the Gospel: a joy-filled invitation to ‘a horizon of beauty and a delicious banquet’ (14) on one hand, and on the other the awareness of a culture driven by the ‘absolute rights of individuals’ and a ‘remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment.’ (64)
Nowhere is Gospel beauty more needful than in the superficial, irrational moralizing of gay activists. Two recent examples: a NYC Catholic High School invited a priest to address the Church’s response to homosexuality, which involves the humane and compassionate goal of chastity—purity expressed in and through the body. The outcry against his visit (and chastity for persons with SSA in particular) was so great that the school rescinded the invitation. Similarly, Liz and Mary, daughters of former Vice-President Dick Cheney, differ on their views of ‘gay marriage.’ Yet Mary, a ‘married’ lesbian activist, slammed her conservative sister with this public statement: ‘Liz, this is not an issue on which we disagree. You are just wrong. And on the wrong side of history.’
Activists are no longer intent on their ‘gay’ rights; they now demonize anyone who disagrees with them. Especially targeted are those who believe that sexuality is all about fruitfulness: life and kids, and inspired self-control when one is not married. What used to be good common sense now provokes outrage from both bad religion and politics. The ‘right’ side of history needs beautiful Jesus.
How timely the Baptist’s call to repent this Advent! What life it brings! Laying down burdens that frustrate fruitfulness is one my friends and I take up soberly, yet with great joy. We hold onto no identity or affection that would keep us from His beauty. In that great exchange, we bear fruit: we become beautiful gifts to each other, to our spouses, and to the world which shall perish without Him.
As it was for the Baptist, our joyful Gospel is ‘to some the smell of death, to others the fragrance of death.’ (2Cor 2: 16) In that tension we rejoice with Pope Frances, with John the Baptist and with the beautiful One whom we welcome and await this Advent. In Your increase, Jesus, may we readily decrease!
Like John the Baptist, Father Alfred Delp decried the bad politics and religion of his day and was put to death by the Nazis. Here he described the Baptist’s legacy:
‘Not for an hour can life dispense with these John-the-Baptist characters, these original individuals, struck by the lightning of mission and vocation…They summon us to our last chance, while already they feel the ground quaking and the rafters creaking and see the firmest of mountains toppling inwardly and see the very stars of heaven hanging in peril. They summon us to the opportunity of warding off, by the greater power of the converted heart, the shifting desert that would otherwise shift upon us and bury us.’
‘I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!’ Jesus (LK 12: 49)