Heart Speaks to Heart
by Dr. Jason West,
We are an Advent people. As we enter into this new liturgical season the Church reminds us that we are people of the future. While we must, of course, attend to the responsibilities of the present moment, we cannot let these be the focus of our ultimate concern. The Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent has reminded us of this fact. Of the two men working in the field and the two women grinding at the mill, one is taken while the other is left.
What is the difference between them? Certainly not their skill at working the field or the mill. The remainder of the reading provides the essential clue: one was awake while the other was not. One worked in the present while her heart was set on the future coming of our Lord, while the other was so caught up in her daily tasks she could not imagine ahead to the day for which she was preparing.
To be a people of advent is to be focused on the future. We are not called to sacrifice the present as a mere instrument in bringing about a better utopian future, for God is already with us. This presence of the future we long for here and now the Christian calls grace. This unique dynamic is seen in the fact that the word Advent itself, paradoxically, implies both “arrival” and “waiting”. We are waiting for the arrival of our Lord that we will celebrate joyfully at Christmas, all the while finding him present in our soul today through grace.
The time of advent is a time of waiting, but what are we waiting for? Certainly, we are waiting to celebrate Christmas. But, interestingly the Church chooses to begin Advent by reminding us not of Christ’s birth, which humanity experienced some 2000 years ago, but of his coming again in glory at the culmination of history:
“Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
As people of Advent we are called to stay awake, to be a people of the future. But, that is to be a people of hope, a people longing for what we profess in faith is still to come. Hope is often one of the easiest virtues to forget. But, for the Christian it is indispensable. Unless our faith in the power of the Cross is vivified by a living and active hope in the promise the child Jesus represents, and in the reality of the glorified Christ still to come, it is very much in vain. In this way Advent is as much a waiting in preparation for Christ’s coming again at the end of history as it is a preparation to celebrate his birth in Nazareth. In this light each of us can take this attitude of longing hope to heart, praying many times each day Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!
Heart Speaks to Heart
by Dr. Jason West,
Over the past year we at Newman have been positioning the College to contribute in a more focussed way to the New Evangelization. This is a task that the recent Popes and Archbishop Smith have been asking us to make central in our lives as Catholics. Yet, for many it remains unclear what this means.
I was reminded of this kind of confusion during my summer holiday when I returned to my home town of Sudbury, ON after many years away. This homecoming brought to mind a conversation with an old friend about my decision to become Catholic and to take my faith seriously. His response was “Christianity is fine, if it weren’t for all the rules”.
This is, I fear, the response of many today. Unfortunately, our faith is often presented, even by many Catholics, in a way that makes this complaint seem justified. One of the great challenges to the Church in our time is moralism: the reduction of the faith to a list of negative rules that essentially seem to amount to saying ‘don’t have any fun’. This can occur when we hold strongly to the guidance the Church offers us, but lose sight of the reasons underlying it; when we begin by telling people what they should do, without telling them what it means to be a Christian.
The contentious nature of moral disputes is nothing new. People have always disagreed. As the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has pointed out, what is new is that people now see opposing sides not only as wrong, but as irrational. People simply lack the moral imagination to see why another would believe differently, because our views of how to live are often rooted in convictions about the human person, God and the nature of rational justification that are foreign to them.
In light of this challenging reality, the New Evangelization demands that we present the faith to our contemporaries in ways that will open the door for them to encounter Christ. This means that we must give people more than a series of rules to follow. It means that we have to give them insight into who they are as persons and who this God is who loves them beyond measure.
Once one has begun to grasp oneself, and the love of Christ that leads to the Father through the Holy Spirit, then the reasons for the Church’s positions on a whole range of issues can begin to become clear. This does not mean they will be easy to live, only that we will be able to see more clearly why they are needed.
It is said of the great theologian St. Thomas Aquinas that when he was a young student he repeatedly asked one question: ‘What is God?’ One of the tasks of theology in the 21st century must surely be to create a place in which this question can be pondered anew, for only when we reflect deeply on the heart of the human person and the nature of God will we be in a position to understand how we should respond to God’s love and live our Christian life authentically.
A Harvest for the Streets
by Rev. Stefano Penna,
VP for College Advancement & Development
This prairie boy’s heart is happy in these Indian Summer days – sun and warmth mean good harvesting weather. Those crops that looked so promising are actually going to end up in the silos and bins … and families are going to have food again. I can hear my Grandpa Elden humming “Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.”
It was good for this prairie boy’s heart to be with the students and staff at Newman’s opening barbeque and see the warmth of smiles and eagerness as we began another year of “planting the crops” of studies and formation. The metaphor is not too stretched since after all “Seminary” means a “seed-bed” and these seminarians and the lay students and Religious of our community looked quite ready to be planted in the soil of a community of “faith seeking understanding”.
Forgive my prairie boy anticipation of the harvest but each of these faces represents for me food for our family of faith and for the world. The Sower who is at work is at the same time the Lord of the Harvest – and I can hear him humming, “Bringing in the sheaves …” as I look into the eyes of our students: just-out-of-high- school eyes shining with enthusiasm, in-the-middle-of-life eyes looking for deeper wisdom, new-parent-with-toddler-in-hand eyes desiring God for their family. And at the center of each of those eyes I see the longing-for-love that I know will be met by the Lord who is at work, planting, tending, weeding, and harvesting here at Newman.
It is a messy, dusty, business sometimes, this work of planting, tending, and harvesting. But our Supreme Pastor – Pope Francis – says that this is precisely the kind of Church he wants: a messy Church that goes out of itself and into the streets to meet all the poverty of the world: physical, spiritual, intellectual, and existential poverty. A Church that goes out with the “sheaves” of having met Jesus Christ in His Church and being filled with the deep faith that demands to be proclaimed and lived in the world – this is the Church the Holy Spirit is forming yet again today.
So Newman Theological College takes the gifts we have received – your gifts of prayer and financial support – and offers them to the Lord for planting, tending and harvesting. We believe that each of these students - in seminary, on-line, in educational seminars – will grow to be a sheaf of rich food-faith for our families – for your families – on whatever street they find themselves. The wise passion of Pope Francis to take the Gospel out of the doors of churches and colleges and into the streets is our passion at Newman.
Drop by our College, talk to our graduates, take our courses, support us financially, and –please - pray for us, pray for us, pray for us… and you will hear the Lord of the Harvest, walking in the streets and humming, “Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.”