Friday of the Second Week of Advent – Mt 11:16-19
In today’s Gospel, Jesus compares the different ways in which He and John the Baptist called the people of Israel to conversion. John’s austere discipline and preaching drew many, as did Christ’s more overtly joyful tone, but, in the end, many refuse to be drawn by either: they simply sit on the sidelines, rejecting both one and the other. Rather than convert, which is the call that both John and Jesus have given, these listeners only criticize, and those who don’t want to convert will always be able to find something to criticize.
However, a sincere Christian, one is really seeking to further Christ’s work of redemption, looks at things the other way around: once, during an interview, Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked, “Mother, what needs to change in the church?” Clearly the interviewer was hoping for an answer regarding doctrine or dogma. Instead, the saint simply replied, “You and me.” “You and me.” These are the options given in the Gospel: criticize or convert. There is no middle ground. The Gospel ends with a rather cryptic phrase: “But wisdom is vindicated by her works.” In other words, it’s not the critics who have the last say; complain as they might, in the end, it is the results that show who is in the right, and who is in the wrong. Grace and perseverance can’t be faked. We could complain all we want about things and people and the way things are done, but if in the end all we do is end up miserable and losing our vocations, or leaving the Church, then we see quite clearly that all we’ve really done is isolate ourselves from grace, and from the Source of Grace.
It’s a hard lesson to learn and to take to heart, especially when we see things that should be improved or cleaned up or fixed, and those things are there. However, the lesson hinges on what we think it means to love, and how we express that love. The Mexican mystic Venerable Maria Concepción Cabrera de Armida explained this clearly when she wrote that “To love the Church is not to criticize her, not to destroy her, not to try to change her essential structures, not to reduce her to humanism, horizontalism, and to the simple service of a human liberation. To love the Church is to cooperate with the work of Redemption by the Cross and in this way obtain the grace of the Holy Spirit come to renew the face of this poor earth, conducting it to its consummation in the design of the Father’s immense love.” “To love the Church is to cooperate with the work of Redemption by the Cross”: it means to suffer with Christ, to mourn with Him over all the evils that are taking place, but then also to work, praying and making sacrifices so that God might renew His church and the whole world. To love is not to complain, but to work through spiritual means to make things better, and the first thing to be made better is ourselves. We can ask ourselves what we’ve been doing this Advent in order to help the Church, to love her and her members, even when they sin.
Today, let us pray for the grace, through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Expectation, to follow Christ without reserve, knowing that even amidst the trials of this world, our Heavenly Father has called us to His Church and asks us to help Him in His work of redemption.