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Handle God’s People With Care
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, December 16, 2012
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The people coming to hear John the Baptist in Luke’s Gospel live in a kind of exile from the community, but they, too, have heard the call to conversion. They are people who need to be encouraged, who need to be healed. They approach the desert prophet with a question, wanting to know if this message he preaches makes sense of their lives, wanting to know what it will demand of them. John handles them gently, compassionately. He is realistic without compromising his message. He understands that people grow slowly in faith, that they’re easily frightened, easily discouraged.

Advent is a time of coming home, of reconciliation. When our lives are uncertain, we need to be able to hold on to something. We’re called home through simple traditions, through memories, through prayer. We’re welcomed home by those who tell us the promise of the Good News again and again until we believe it. We need people who can stay with us in our confusion, people who can remind us of the promise, who can believe in us when we struggle to believe in ourselves. We need one another to help us discover the unique gifts we have to offer to a broken world and to a Church struggling to become God’s promise to all people.

Many of the people who celebrate Advent and Christmas liturgies in our midst have fallen away from communities where they felt no welcome. Some have run from an image of a demanding, unbending, and unemotional God. Some have drifted from what at times seems like an institutional tangle of rules and rituals. We ourselves may be confused about what the Church and the Gospel ask of us.

We come hesitantly into the circle of the community. We come with questions and defensiveness. We’re excited, yet apprehensive. We anticipate, but we also doubt. At times we’re overwhelmed by fear. We need to hear the message John speaks to the soldiers and the tax collectors, the rich and the poor—a message of personal integrity and honest, human relationships. The soldiers and the tax collectors didn’t need to be told once more that they were part of an unjust and oppressive system. And we don’t need to be told that our lives are chaotic, misguided, or sinful. We know this. We need to hear a realistic challenge to transform those lives to reflect the coming of the kingdom.

Just as John gently leads his disciples to conversion, Zephaniah speaks words of encouragement and reassurance to his people. He shows them a vision of God rejoicing over them, renewing them in love, singing joyfully because of them. This intensely personal and intimate awareness of God’s presence in their lives tells them they have no further misfortune to fear, held as they are in God’s love.

The conversion to which we are called is a change in attitude, an awareness of our fellow human beings as persons, not objects for exploitation. This will do more to bring about the kingdom than all the empty talk about salvation and being chosen, than all the spectacular feats of prayer, fasting, and other rituals. Be aware of your neighbor’s needs and do all you can to live your life in such a way that the message of God’s love can be heard.

The Lord is near to us—he is Emmanuel, God with us—and this gives us the integrity we need to live the promise according to our means. The Spirit of the Lord will lead us into the ways of the kingdom.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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