As I look out my office window, the snow is coming down quite steadily on this first Monday of December. This morning as I was returning from a workout, I came upon a car stuck and spinning its wheels on Montgomery Street. It was hard to get traction but another passerby and myself were at least able to help get the vehicle “parked” curbside and out from blocking traffic.
It made me pause and think that sometimes even when we want to, it is not always easy to accompany people on the road of life. At times, despite our willingness, it seems that there are obstacles that remain beyond our control. However, does that mean you and I don’t attempt at least to make a difference the best we can?
In his Letter to the Romans, Chapter 15:4-7, St. Paul writes: “Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
This past weekend, I was with the parishioners of Immaculate Conception Parish in Fayetteville as it celebrated its 150th year of foundation. At its origin, 110 families gathered to encourage one another in the living out of their Catholic faith. Today, the families which comprise this parish are over 2,000. On Sunday, December 8, the Second Sunday of Advent, as well as the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, this parish community re-dedicated itself to being “a voice that cries out in the wilderness” and “to magnifying the Lord” where it finds itself in the Lord’s vineyard. They committed themselves anew not only to dreaming God’s vision of welcome that was found in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah (11:1-10) where,
“the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair”
but even more to let it come alive by the living out of their own baptismal commitment where they are called to welcome others “as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom15:7) and to fill the earth “with the knowledge of the Lord” (Is 11:10).
I can imagine the reader of this column at this moment must be wondering if this bishop has been sniffing too many holiday-scented candles. What I have written seems a pretty “high” expectation. But is it? After my weekend in Fayetteville, I returned to our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for the Immaculata Awards ceremony. There 113 individuals from 84 parishes were honored for their service to their parish communities. They were recognized for their involvement in the life of their local Church and for what they were doing for the glory of God and in welcome to others. Many of the recipients when I handed them the award were so humbled at the moment because they felt what they did was just an “ordinary” part of being a disciple — a follower — of Jesus Christ.
For me, that is what means to live in a “season of accompaniment.” That our outreach to neighbor is just an “ordinary” way in who we are, but it has “extraordinary” results in the lives we touch. Think of the scene that follows that of the Annunciation of the Lord’s Birth to Mary in the Gospel of Luke. It is that of the Visitation. In it Mary, having learned of her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy, goes to her to see if she can be of help. When she arrives not only does Elizabeth have the joy of the assistance of her younger cousin, but the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy because of the nearness of God’s saving presence. Every time you and I approach Holy Communion who is it we carry in us but the living God!
How, then, can you and I be of better presence to one another in the ordinary wear and tear of daily life? That is a good question for you and me to ponder as we continue our journey to Bethlehem and seek the coming of the Lord into daily life.
A last note: I don’t know about you, but I know that I certainly come up short in my own accompaniment of others in daily life. I have to confess to God daily the things “I have done and left undone” that do not help to welcome or encourage others, to say the least of showing to them the glory of God. That is where the “Light is On” for us in the beautiful, strengthening, and healing Sacrament of Penance. This sacrament is a wonderful occasion where you and I cast away the darkness of sin and allow the light and love of the Lord to fill us again. Don’t miss the opportunity this Advent to participate in this Sacrament of Healing and to re-dedicate yourself to our common baptismal mission of letting the glory of God be experienced through us. If you haven’t been in awhile don’t be afraid — the minister of the sacrament will lovingly guide you through making your confession. If you still have doubts, come and see me at the Cathedral Monday afternoon where I will be celebrating the Sacrament of Penance with individuals who seek it.
Again, know that my prayers accompany you on your Advent journey of accompaniment. Have a good week!
Editor’s note: Find a guide to the Sacrament of Reconciliation o