Today’s Gospel sounds like the world is falling apart, there is disintegration in the heavens and on the earth and in the lives of people. Jesus talks about distress among nations, environmental disasters and anxiety among the peoples. Some of these descriptions can be true of every age. Personally there can be times when we feel our own lives are falling apart. Have you ever heard someone say, “my world ended when my spouse died,” “my world ended when I was told I had cancer,” “my world ended when I lost my job.” We see things as so precarious, unstable. We may even dread what tomorrow will bring. If we watch the world news we see instability everywhere. We see the collapse of the world’s economic systems, and civil unrest in the Middle East and Africa and rigid ideological stances in politics and religion. We know things are not right in our world. There is a growing awareness of the unfairness of our financial systems. We are aware of the growing gap between the haves and the have not’s of our own country and in the world around us.
When I watched the TV coverage of the fire in that clothing factory in Bangladesh that cost so many men, women and children their lives and livelihoods, and saw row on row of blackened sewing machines all I could think of was these poor people, whose escape routes were locked, were making a pittance in wages while working more than twelve hours a day making clothing with fancy labels for which we pay big bucks. Exploitation of people is a harsh reality in the lives of millions of people – people we will never know but people who are our brothers and sisters as members of the human family.
Things will have to change economically and socially if we are going have peace in our world. As Pope Paul V1 said ‘without justice there is no peace. You know my favorite quote, “we did not weave the web of life; we are a strand in the web and what we do to the web we do to ourselves.” We do not live in isolation. What happens around the world has its impact of us. Watching the news on TV or reading articles in the press can be depressing. We can be overwhelmed by the complexity of the issues, we feel things are beyond our control and they are except in our own little corner of the world. As followers of Jesus Christ we cannot allow indifference dull us to the reality of other people’s sufferings. We may not be able to change the world but we do our best not to let the world change us, we’ll do our best not to buy into the value systems greed, selfishness and consumerism society offers us.
There are important words in today’s gospel, words we all need to hear. Do not let your hearts be weighed down by the worries of this world, be alert, be conscious of and responsive to what is going on around us. Pray that we have the strength we need to make a positive contribution to make things better. Pray we all have the strength not to turn a blind eye to what is happening in our own city – men, women and children living in poverty, homeless and hungry families, young qualified men and women unemployed or under employed . They are in our face, what do we do?
On Friday there was a news item about a New York City Policeman, Lawrence Diprimo. His beat was Times Square. He saw a man sitting on the sidewalk who was shoeless. He stopped and talked with the man and took him to a nearby shoe store and with his own money bought him a pair of winter boots. The whole thing was caught on a camera by a tourist and the picture has gone viral. What impact it will have on the lives of others – who knows? But this policeman was alert, aware of what was going on around him, he didn’t buy into the indifference and preoccupation of the crowds of tourists in Times Square and his random act of kindness sent ripples of awareness throughout the world.
Maybe the action of the Policeman sums up today’s scripture. Our opening prayer calls us to prepare for the coming of Christ with righteous deeds. Jeremiah calls for justice and righteousness in society. Paul calls us to abound in love for all and Jesus knows we can be weighed down by our own personal concerns. But He calls us to be vigilant, alert at all times, not about future events but about our present way of living in the here and now, a way of living shaped by his teaching and example which can be summed up in his own words, “whatever you do to one of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do to me.” May we keep His words in mind as we begin this season of Advent and always be alert to His coming into our lives at the unexpected times, in the most unexpected circumstances.