Monday, November 30, 2009

St Andrew, Apostle

Romans 10:10-18 / Matthew 4:18-22

It is hard to say whether or not the 1956 movie Miracle in the Rain reinforces the typical vice of Hollywood narrative, which is to say, whether it paints a picture a little too bright, a little too neat, a little too saccharine. To be sure, it is sentimental, a tear-jerker even, and likely too direct in its storytelling for most contemporary audiences.

Yet, there is a darkness here. Our heroine Ruth, played by Catholic convert and later Third Order Dominican Jane Wyman, has much in her life we would do well to pity. Her father abandoned her mother, who herself attempted suicide in her grief, and over the years has, through her bitterness towards men and her fear of losing her daughter to anyone else but herself, raised Ruth to be timid, to live a kind life, but a life on the surface, not knowing the depths of love. Even the rainstorm which brings Ruth to meet the lovable soldier Art, and all the joys which enter both her and his life from their budding romance, are not enough to drive away the gloom. The happy joy of their love cannot move Ruth's father to acknowledge her when he spies her in a restaurant, nor her coworker to end her adulterous affair with her boss, nor even can it move the affairs of state when Art is called away to the War. When she finally hears, after three months of silence, that Art has died, Ruth's desperate turning to St Andrew and offering up prayers does not keep her from terrible sorrow in her soul, nor from delirium and illness in her body.

Yet, it is just in this sorrow, in this grief, that love, true love is found. Seeing Ruth's suffering, her mother is lifted out of her own selfish world to care for the daughter she has smothered for so long. Seeing Ruth's suffering, her coworker turns from her affair to live a better, more honest life. Even Ruth's father, if in a halting and feeble way, breaks through his fear and shame to return to his wife. And, it is in her delirium and illness, in the unanswered grief on the way to visit once again the image of St Andrew, in the middle of a rainstorm, that Ruth is graced with a visit from her beloved Art, who though undoubtedly dead, is also undoubtedly alive and present to her.

St Andrew is, above all the apostles, the apostle of the Cross. His legends tell us that it was his insistent preaching of the Cross that led the Romans to try to silence him, and finally to imprison him and sentence him to death. It was his love for the Cross that led Andrew to dissuade the mob from freeing him, from keeping him from joining his Lord through suffering with him on the Tree. It was words of love for the Cross that came from Andrew's lips when he saw the gibbet on which he would be slain, and it was love for the Cross of Christ that, according to the story, moved Andrew to request he be fixed to a Cross askew and not upright, with ropes not nails, that he would not pretend to be worthy to suffer exactly as had his Lord Jesus Christ.

Is it any wonder, then, that Ruth's prayers to St Andrew would find their answer, that Love would find its way into her own heart and the hearts of those around her, through the crucible of suffering? With Christ as the one who calls, as our way and our goal, could it have been otherwise for her? Could it be otherwise for us?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

First Sunday of Advent

Romans 13:11-14 / Luke 21:25-33

There is an odd time, well past midnight, but not nearly bright enough to see without the lights on. Shall we call the hour early, or is it very late? It depends, of course, on what we have been doing, what we are doing, what we hope to do. The night is far advanced; the day is near at hand. For the student, up all night finishing work he ought to have begun days, weeks, even months ago, the waning of the night, the coming of the dawn, is no source of comfort. He has slept not a wink, and can hope for no rest until well past the coming of morning; when all else has come alive, when the earth beckons with the promise and hope of a fresh new day full of possibility --- then it is he wants to close his eyes, refuse the light, and fall into the numbing comfort of sleep. For the carouser, the reveler, the passing of the night means seeking out another venture after the last call for drinks, for thrills, for worse. It means trying to keep the night alive, to find one more place that shields her from whatever pain she hopes to numb, exchanging the healing if all-too-revealing and honest light of the sun for the garish tones of neon seen through the gray hues of one too many cigarettes in a poorly ventilated room. For the mother in the hospital waiting room, her daughter taken to the hospital for what was supposed to be a routine check up, only to have spent the night in agony, splitting herself and her heart between the critical care units for her own child and her newly, prematurely born and dangerously fragile grandson, the passing of the night is hardly any more welcome. What news it brings, for good or ill, offers no hope that she can see.

There are many reasons we do not want to hear that the sun is rising, many places we find ourselves where the light of dawn is unwelcome. Yet, come it will, whether we want it to do so or not. To see in the faint but unmistakable lightening of the darkness in the east a sign of hope and cheer takes many things, but most of all what matters is how we have spent the night. Have we gone to bed at a sound hour, grateful for the day that has passed and wanting to face the challenges of a new day, even or perhaps especially ones we expect to be difficult, with freshness and energy? Have we been up all night in joyful expectation to see one we love, even if she is doing less than well, but still happy to be with her? Do we, in the end, let our nighttime endeavors dictate to us how we respond to the dawn, or do we choose how to spend our nights so that the brightness of the rising sun is welcome, long expected, a cause for delight?

Advent invites us to consider again how we are spending our nights, not the nights when the sun cannot be seen (although that may be as good a place to start as any!), but the nighttime of our lives. There is much that has been dark, is dark, and looks to be dark in our lives. We may well find our souls drawn to anxiety, or desperate distractions, or heartbreak and despair, and so curse the dawn or ignore it altogether. Or, we can choose to live in hope. We can choose to see in this darkness not the final word, but the last gasp of a passing rebellion, and live in confidence of a world of new possibilities, of new joys, of new realities far exceeding even the most extravagant of our nighttime dreaming.

It is now the hour for us to rise from sleep, because now our salvation is nearer than when we came to believe.