From the evening Jorge Mario Bergoglio stepped onto the balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome after his election, we learned that the pontificate of Pope Francis was to be focused on the care of and outreach to "the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned" (Mt 25:35-36). Even in the choice of artist for the Holy See's commemorative postage stamps for Christmas, it is an inmate from Milan's Opera Prison, Marcello D'Agata, who communicates the hope which Christ brings by becoming one with us.*
In his homily for Christmas Midnight Mass last year, Pope Francis spoke again of those on the peripheries:
"In the Child of Bethlehem, God comes to meet us and make us active sharers in the life around us. He offers himself to us so that we can take him into our arms, raise up and embrace him. So that in him we will not be afraid to take into our arms, raise up and embrace the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned (Mt 25:35-36)."
In the language of the Society of the Sacred Heart's 2016 General Chapter, we see this same priority in the call to reach new frontiers. It is described this way:
"To go out, to ‘set sail’ as a Society and go with others to new geographic and existential peripheries to accompany the life that is emerging there, to defend justice, peace, and the integrity of creation in response to all those who are searching for meaning in their lives, those who have been wounded, displaced, and excluded because of poverty, violence, and environmental degradation (p. 18)."
Perhaps then, the invitation of Advent might be seen as the attentive waiting for the God who comes to meet us. More than that, Advent might be seen as a call to step back from ceaseless activity and to choose a discipline of spacious silence, where transformation of sight, of understanding, of heart is offered, ... where God is then found waiting for us even in a prison inmate and his art. And we might wonder how the immense solitude of prison helped create the visio divina in this artwork depicting the mystery of the incarnation in the stamps above.
Sacred Heart's wholly contemplative, wholly apostolic spirituality helps us discover and make known that by being with Love itself in silence and being with Love itself in others and in creation are one and the same movement. The Society's Constitutions in #62 say: "Our union and conformity with the Heart of Jesus widens our capacity to love and to let ourselves be loved." And in Sacred Heart education, we see that Goal I [personal and active faith in God] and Goal III [social awareness which impels to action] mutually inform one another and merge as one [Goals and Criteria for Sacred Heart Schools in the United States and Canada].
Silence, God's primary language, leads to love and love leads back to silence.
Could the Advent-Christmas invitation be summarized in these words: "to reach new frontiers, to live more humanly, to create silence and to be and act as one body" (2016 General Chapter, Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pp 18-19)?
Reflection by Paul Parker, Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart
Image by Marcello D'Agata