Saturday, December 1, 2012



Last Wednesday’s gospel reading at mass, following the "end time" theme of the final weeks of the liturgical year, was an excerpt from Luke 21:9 ff. It read in part:
St. Paul on trial before Gallio
‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify.'

It was this last phrase that sat me up bolt upright in my chair even at 5:15 a.m. In reflecting on the reading about the end-time I wasn’t really expecting to find anything that would point so directly at me and the way I live. But there it was, this little phrase “This will give you an opportunity to testify.” This translation from the New Revised Standard Version captures the meaning of the Greek nicely. Another way of saying it might be: “This situation [of being handed over for trial] will give you a chance to bear witness.”

After the usual first step of asking what the sacred writer originally meant by the passage, my next step was to ask what the sentence means for me today in my own life. Not only was the answer immediately clear, it also followed me throughout the day. I began to see lots of “opportunities to bear witness” to Christ and to God’s boundless love for us.


A couple of hours later, just before the start of Religion class that morning a troublesome student came walking toward my desk, “Hey, Father Al!” I cringed inwardly, bracing for the latest assault on my equilibrium when I heard the voice from my earlier meditation: “This is an opportunity to give witness to Christ’s gentle kindness to the needy and the outcasts.” It worked! I found myself being cheerful and open to my least-favorite student; I hope that he caught at least a little of my testimony to God’s unconditional love.

Then in early afternoon I was in the auditorium getting ready for a rehearsal for our annual Christmas program. Suddenly through the back door of the auditorium came streaming a marauding band of thirty seventh-graders reporting for practice full of enough energy to power a small city. My first reaction was “I can’t take this! I’m gonna scream them into submission!” But the voice came again, barely audible above the exuberant din: “Here’s an opportunity to bear witness to God’s patience and loving acceptance.” So I kept my voice low but firm and in a pleasantly short time all the marauders were seated properly and just as it would happen in a "B" movie they were using their energy to sing God’s praises in a beautiful song, and the littlest ones with the unbounded energy and the unchanged voices sounded the most beautiful of all. I’m sure the Lord enjoyed it. I know I certainly did.


Augustine and the Donatists

Then after practice I went up to the novitiate study hall on the fourth floor of the monastery to have class with Novice Brother Thomas. Tired from teaching two classes and running the practice I dragged myself  into the study hall to teach about Saint Augustine’s theology of monastic life. In my brief summary of Augustine's life I found myself talking about his involvement in the Donatist controversy in North Africa. Normally ancient controversies don't say much to me about my own life, but imagine my feelings when I read aloud the following: "Donatism arose from the political and social tensions between surviving martyrs and those who had lapsed under persecution." What to do with Christians who had caved in and offered sacrifice to idols when they should have borne fearless witness to Christ? The morning's sentence returned once more: “This will give you a chance to bear witness.” But this time it had a somber tone because the long-defunct Donatists had just added a second clause: "And you better not blow the opportunity when you're called to bear witness."
I left that class hoping that I wouldn't cave in the next time I'm given the opportunity to bear witness to Christ's love.


As we begin the season of Advent, you may want to join me in a little Advent resolution, a practical way to prepare the way for the Lord by being “constantly on watch” not for temptations and vices but rather by looking for “opportunities to bear witness to God’s loving presence in the world.” I’ve been finding that these opportunities often come when I’m dealing with difficult people or unwieldy situations and when I’m tired. It is in those situations most especially that Jesus encourages us, as he did his first followers who would be hauled before magistrates and kings, “this will be a chance for you to bear witness to me.”

This sounds like a great way to spend Advent, a practical way to “prepare the way for the Lord.”

"Make his paths straight!"


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