Open up the gates to let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith.
A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace; in peace, for its trust in you.
(Isa. 26:2-3)

Where is this nation on earth, today—just, faithful, trusting, firm in purpose and thus living in peace?

At this moment, the headlines might make us feel less like the hopeful and consoling Isaiah and more like the troubled Jeremiah:

They have treated lightly
the injury to my people:
“Peace, peace!” they say,
though there is no peace. (Jer. 6:14)

Yes, the nations dress our wounds lightly. Politicians say little that is not platitudinous, or even condescending, whether the issue is high or low. Many nations are increasingly secularized; they—as a UK politico said a while back—“don’t do God.” Self-reliant, self-exalting, they put their faith in credentials and connections, their “wisdom” too often born of whatever is trendy and expedient. Their “firm purpose” is as malleable as warm taffy. Humility, if it exists at all, comes about grudgingly.

And there is no peace.

Of course, there are nations that do “do God,” but to an extreme degree, one that too frequently uses God as a cudgel—as an excuse to hammer its people into compliance. Humility is too often a concept used to oppress.

They are not in peace.

Even in our first nation, the domestic nation that is the family, we see this. Some families have no interest in teaching their children, or learning themselves, about God. They think God makes things harder, requires too much, puts a crimp on a superior lifestyle, risks too much socially, and even “makes people mean.”

Other families are so God-centric that they forget to teach their children that they will have to (as John Paul II said) “deal with the world as it is,” a place with varied people, carrying deep and varied wounds and frailties, all, all, deeply in need of the subtle, long-term healing that comes from practicing humility with each other. So busy are they trying to teach all the rules of religion that they lose touch with the spirit of faith, which should be too busy serving to be shocked, too aware of one’s own failings not to pray for the failings of others and commend them into God’s keeping as we move along.

The world in 2020 seems a bleak, ungenerous, and immovable place. Nothing is treated lightly except the uniqueness and delicacy of each human soul. The shades of grey that so often arise within the complexities and nuances of every human circumstance are being rejected for the sterile clarity and limited scope of black and white. In too many ways, on too many issues, we are being told that there is only one way to think, one way to act, one way to respond; that to think, act, or respond in any other way is to showcase one’s social or spiritual deficiency and therefore be identified as either condemnable or in need of repair, or both.

God is not in the either/or that is currently tearing the world apart; he is in the both/and that brings us together. It is no accident that Christ Jesus is at the center of the cross.

The God who is 100 percent love cannot be the bringer of hate or the maker of wounds. We do that, and often we blame God and the Scriptures for making us do it, or for allowing others to do it to us.

God is the Creator who cooperates with us, who trusts us enough to permit our cooperation with him, even as he became incarnate, and lay helpless before us, a vulnerable babe. He trusts us to relieve the poor and lift up the downtrodden and to do it justly, purposefully—and to do it with humility too.

Because without humility, good works become all about themselves, or a means of grandiosity; in either case, goodness becomes something relegated first into duty and then legislated into law, and then God, and heaven, and the Incarnation become pretty stories stored away, barely let out lest they remind some or offend others.

But we bless the lives of others when we remember, and when we choose to live within the great mystery of the Incarnation. That means replicating in the world what Christ Jesus himself did: setting his tent with the mere others—not the select, not the elect, not the “better” people—just the people who are nearest, and then living with them, serving where there was need, teaching of God but not despairing (or rejecting) when the message was not immediately heard.

In blessing the lives of others, we will be doubly blessed; for our cooperation, we will come more deeply to know God and work within the expansive (and rather subversive) freedom such living brings. The choice, as ever with God, is ours to make.

In the Mass readings for today, Jesus spells it out:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,”
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will
of my Father in heaven. (Matt 7:21)

In these days of Advent, shall we pray together?

Come, Lord Jesus! Come, and teach us anew by the example of your extreme humility, that we are better served by practicing humility, in cooperation with your will, than by seeking the exaltation of a volatile and vacillating world. Help us to keep our faith with a firm purpose, and to emblazon within our souls the words of your servant, Teresa of Kolkata, who said, “If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”

Come, Lord Jesus, that we each may be the adorer at your manger; the steadfast friend at your cross; the faithful witness to your Resurrection. Amen.