December 10, 2017

The older we get, the more we realize that we are travelers. In our life journeys we move not just from day to day, but from place to place, and from event to event. There are grand discoveries, routine daily chores, great joys and great disappointments. Throughout the whole journey, as we hear so often these days, God travels with us.

Soon, we will again commemorate the biblical journey of Jesus’ parents to Bethlehem. Young people on the road. Their journey leading to the great revelation that would change the course of human history. Matthew’s infancy narrative also describes Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as refugees, fleeing into Egypt to escape the villainy of Herod the Great. Self-centered Herod launched colossal building projects. He ordered great buildings and walls and promised to make Judea Great. Focusing on Jerusalem, he expanded the Second Temple (“Herod’s Temple”) and even slaughtered children to eliminate any possible opposition. Every age has a Herod, determined to make things great, branding “accomplishments” with his own name.

And so for today, the Second Sunday of Advent, my travel advisory for contemporary Christians:

(1) Traveling with “them.” The fundamental reality for most travelers is that we travel with other people. It is easy then to make comparisons and to make judgments. Other travelers can make us feel uncomfortable and occasionally frightened. They do it to us; but we do it to them as well. In truth, however, we may dress strangely and speak in funny ways; but we all have human dignity, equality, and self-worth. We are not just “us” and “them.” We are brothers and sisters. If we travel with the Spirit of Christ, differences in gender, race, and nationality can never allow us to denigrate and condemn the other. Contrary to an old Catholic teaching about gays, for example, no one is innately disordered. God loves all. So should we. We need to welcome and accommodate them.

(2) Travel brings change. Life is not static. Change happens. We either make the best of things and move forward or we regress and die. Nostalgia can be fun for a short time, but do we really want to live in the past? An acquaintance, who is a US Catholic cardinal, told me some time ago how wonderful the 1950’s were and how much he misses those days. I chuckled and said he had a very selective memory. I said I remember the “good old days” as well. I remember having scarlet fever. I remember the petrifying fear of polio and learning that a couple kids in my school were in “iron lungs.” And I remember public drinking fountains marked “for whites only.”

We change and our understandings can and should change. Women are not inferior to men. Protestants do not adhere to a “false religion.” Some of our religious understandings and practices (perhaps) made sense in the Middle Ages but certainly are nonsensical today.

St. Francis Xavier was never in an airplane. He died on December 3, 1552. I read last week that a Catholic group in an effort to “revive the faith” is flying Xavier’s arm to various locations across Canada. The arm even gets a reserved seat on Air Canada. I think they should put the old bone in a box and leave it in baggage claim…..A far better way to revive people’s faith would be for Christians across Canada (and everywhere) to put their living arms around contemporary people who are fearful, depressed, or impoverished. More Christ-like than a fragile old bone.

(3) News travels fast. Yes, news travels fast. Yet not all the news is fit to print. A lot if it these days is phony and dishonest, especially when linked with regressive politics. This morning I read on Facebook that a blog called “Freedom Crossroads — America Love It Or Leave It” announced, with disdain, that former President Barack Obama’s oldest daughter was fired from an internship in Spain this summer. According to Freedom Crossroads, Malia had a “cushy internship” at the Spanish Embassy; but she was fired when she got caught smoking pot.

Another contemporary alternative fact. The truth is: Malia didn’t have an internship at a Spanish embassy this summer. She had an internship in New York City, before attending Harvard. When her internship finished very normally, she went on vacation with her family. No pot involved. Just a lot of nasty falsehood.

As we travel through time and cyberspace, we have an obligation to check facts, and to speak out about and protest those often self-righteous “Christians” who propagate falsehoods and plant seeds of destructive discord.

(4) Traveling with fear. Fear is a part of life. In our human journeys, I suspect most of us have had fearful days that threatened to destabilize or even destroy us. And, in our politically unstable times, new fears are on the horizon. We need to acknowledge our fears but continue the journey and face life with courage. We are not alone. As believers we know that, despite paralyzing problems, we are loved. Love energizes and strengthens. Over the years I have often thought about the thirty years old man from Nazareth, stumbling towards his death, with a cross-beam on his back. Freightened beyond belief…His courage, suffering, and death gives me the courage to continue my journey on difficult days. “Greater love no one has than to lay down one’s life for a friend….”

(5) On a God pilgrimage. We are traveling with God and to God. The most exciting part of our journey. There are of course threatening temptations along the way. The first is to think that God is only for US and only with US. God travels indeed with all kinds of believers and nonbelievers. God is at the heart of all life and all Reality. No group owns God. The second temptation, however, is to act as though we can indeed control God and, like some fundamentalist fanatics found in all religious, use God to condemn and destroy the people we just don’t like and want to condemn and destroy. The temptation to make God in one’s image and likeness.

Safe travels!


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