Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Advent

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 / Luke 3:1-6

On December 21, 1511, the fourth Sunday of Advent, Antonio de Montesinos, O.P., preached the following sermon to the colonists on Hispaniola:
I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. In order to make your sins known to you I have mounted this pulpit, I who am the voice of Christ crying in the wilderness of this island; and therefore it behooves you to listen to me, not with indifference but with all your heart and senses; for this voice will be the strangest, the harshest and hardest, the most terrifying that you ever heard or expected to hear….
This voice declares that you are in mortal sin, and live and die therein by reason of the cruelty and tyranny that you practice on these innocent people. Tell me, by what right or justice do you hold these Indians in such cruel and horrible slavery? By what right do you wage such detestable wars on these people who lived mildly and peacefully in their own lands, where you have consumed infinite numbers of them with unheard of murders and desolations? Why do you so greatly oppress and fatigue them, not giving them enough to eat or caring for them when they fall ill from excessive labors, so that they die or rather are slain by you, so that you may extract and acquire gold every day? And what care do you take that they receive religious instruction and come to know their God and creator, or that they be baptized, hear mass, or observe holidays and Sundays? Are they not men? Do they not have rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourselves? How can you lie in such profound and lethargic slumber? Be sure that in your present state you can no more be saved than the Moors or Turks who do not have and do not want the faith of Jesus Christ.
 We find ourselves today no less haunted by these words than we were five hundred years ago. Can we say, without dishonesty, that our comfort, our way of life, is not grounded on the drudgery of others, whose toil and labor make morally and physically, if not theoretically, impossible the living out of the life of the Gospel? When we demand the convenience of shopping at any hour we desire, when we seek out low-cost, high-volume goods for ourselves, when we demand an economy that guards the right of every citizen to have access to WiFi and imported, niche blends of tea, do we even think of the men, women, and children compelled to spend their lives and lose their souls for our dreams of a fair and equitable balance of resources and opportunity? Are they not men, those who work for our comfort? Do they not have rational souls? Are we not bound to love them as we love ourselves?

If the words of Montesinos leave us ill at ease, those of the prophet Isaiah, the heart of the preaching of John the Baptist, should strike us to the core: every valley shall be filled: and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways plain: and all flesh shall see the salvation of our God. Do we imagine, congratulating ourselves for being among the ninety-nine per cent, that, not being mountains, we can remain comfortably lofty hills at the coming of the Lord? From what other place but the leisure and plenty we enjoy to our detriment will come the earth to fill in the valleys of the slaves who work across the globe to maintain the lifestyle we demand?

There is, of course, hope. We are perhaps not so bad as we might worry. Or, we might on the other hand be precisely the crooked that shall be made straight, the rough way to be made plain. One or the other, our task is not now to parcel out guilt, not to point fingers and congratulate ourselves for being on the side of right while others, the wicked few, we can safely condemn without fear of hypocrisy. As Paul reminds us: I am not conscious to myself of anything: yet I am not hereby justified, but He that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore, and here is the key, judge not before the time, until the Lord come.

In these last days before we celebrate the birth of Christ, we would do well to set our lives aright, as we can and as we know how. The raining down of the Just and the budding forth of the Savior we know is a work of God's and not our own. We may be ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God, but we do not orchestrate the hidden counsels of the Almighty. What we can do is seek forgiveness. What we can do is stop, here and now, in doing what we know takes advantage of those who have neither the time, nor the money, nor even the heart to celebrate Jesus Christ as Lord and King.

Come, O Lord, and tarry not: forgive the sins of Thy people!

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