As you know, I live and work at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center. “Mater Dolorosa” means “Mother of Sorrows.” My suggestion to the staff is that we change the name to the “Hokey-Pokey Retreat Center.” Just imagine the slogan, “Come on in and turn yourself around!”
That is the challenge that John the Baptist gives us today. Repent. Turn yourself around. Perhaps we don’t need a complete turning around. But chances are we need to change some things, to recalculate if we have veered a bit off the path. To repent can also mean to grow. We accept the graces God is giving us and we grow closer to him.
Advent. Some say that Advent is a time for waiting. I say Advent is a time for longing. There is a difference.
Waiting is sort of neutral. We wait in line at the store, at McDonald’s, at the DMV. We wait in the doctor’s office. We wait in traffic. We wait for water to boil. It is an exercise in patience. We have no choice but to wait.
Longing is something else. We long to graduate. We long for a raise. We long to retire. We long for the return of loved ones. We long for appreciation. We long for understanding. We long for love.
Deep down, the human heart longs for peace and harmony.
In our first reading today, Isaiah gives us a vision of peace. He sees a time when, “The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb.” He paints a very beautiful picture of peace.
In our second reading St. Paul exhorts us to harmony. “May God, the source of all patience and encouragement, enable you to live in perfect harmony with one another…” Paul tells us what life could be, if we followed the words and example of Jesus.
Peace and harmony… What a vision. So, what can we do to help bring it about? I suggest five actions. Peace and harmony come from: forgiving, showing compassion, listening, sharing tears, and sharing laughter.
1) It all starts with Forgiveness. A wise man said, “He who forgives builds a bridge over which one day he himself must pass.” All of us are imperfect. And the only way that imperfect people can live in peace and harmony is by frequently apologizing, forgiving and being reconciled.
2) Compassion. The Dali Lama said, “If you want to make others happy, show compassion. If you want to be happy, show compassion.”
Our inspiration is Jesus. He had compassion on the sick, so he healed them. He had compassion on the hungry so he fed them. He had compassion on the ignorant, so he taught them. He had compassion on us, so he died on the cross for us.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky stated, “Compassion is the chief law of human existence.”
3) Listening. Oftentimes, compassion only comes after listening. When we listen to another not only with our ears, but with our eyes, with our emotional sensors, with our hearts, and not judging, we open ourselves up to their inner world. If we listen well, we may hear the other eventually exclaim, “Oh, thank goodness, you understand.”
Einstein said that, “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be accomplished through understanding.” Understanding comes from listening.
4) Sharing tears. There are many languages spoken around the world, but the one language everyone understands is tears.
Addressing thousands of youth, Pope Francis said, “I invite each one of you to ask yourselves: Have I learned how to weep, how to cry when I see a hungry child, a child on the street who uses drugs, a homeless child, an abandoned child, an abused child, a child that society uses as a slave?”He encourages us all to “learn, really learn, how to weep.”
The pope summed up, “If you don’t learn how to cry, you can’t be good Christians. This is a challenge.”
Yes, it is good to cry. It shows our hearts are in the right place. It shows that we are sensitive to pain and sorrow. It shows that we are sensitive to injustice and unfairness. It shows that we long for peace.
5) Finally, sharing laughter. Victor Borge said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between people.”
Like tears, laughter is a universal language. Laughter wipes away the divisions of rich and poor, old and young, white or black, educated and non-educated. Through laughter we share a common experience and simply enjoy each other as human persons. Laughter unleashes a desire to know the other. Laughter opens our hearts for unconditional love. Laughter turns strangers into friends.
Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
Yes, by forgiving, showing compassion, listening, sharing tears and sharing laughter, we can do our part towards achieving peace and harmony. But Psalm 127 alerts us, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor I vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1). To long for peace and harmony is to long for Jesus, for without him we can do nothing. Come, Lord Jesus, come! We need a lot of Christmas. We need you.