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From time to time, calls will come into the office from persons who surprise me when they tell me that they are in their 70s, 80s or even 90s. They want to know what they can do to help the Church in whatever public policy issue is brewing. They tell me how difficult it is being a witness to their families at times, and they ask for information that they can send along to their children, grandchildren or other relatives and friends. They are part of what my teachers in school used to refer to as the “Church militant.” Still on duty, with weapons of love, caring and faith at their side, they remain at their posts, soldiers for new heavens and a new earth.
This quiet but persistent service, joined by the efforts of people of all ages, is a powerful sign that God is still at work in the world, notwithstanding all the disappointments that life may bring.
The national and liturgical calendars at this time of year, joining Thanksgiving, the Feast of Christ the King, and Christianity’s New Year’s Day ? the First Sunday of Advent ? can also help those weary of the battle by offering new reminders of God’s providence and of the many reasons we have to be grateful. While it is more difficult to say and to believe when spirits are low, it is nonetheless an enduring fact that all people of faith must and will rediscover: God is good, all the time.
When I was in first grade, to my everlasting embarrassment for the many times that family members kept bringing it up afterwards, I wrote a Thanksgiving story that finished with something like “and the turkey was killed, the end.” Yet those memories of my family laughing about that story bring back also the feelings of being loved, of being part of a household that shared deep joy along with playful ribbing.
Also in my Indiana youth, our diocese celebrated the Feast of Christ the King by inviting all the Catholic school children to the city’s sports arena for a Mass. I remember how awed I was, in my new yellow and red and green striped shirt that I picked out at the store just for the occasion (and, alas, it became another source of ribbing), to see such a large crowd of people gathered to praise the King.
The memory bank also retains images of Advent, emphasized in our home as well as in the Church as a time of waiting. No tree, holly or carols until Christmas eve?which of course deepened the hungry anticipation for whatever gifts might be found in the family room on Christmas Day.
Recall is a gift because what is brought out from memory’s storage is textured, colored and modulated by so many different factors not of our own doing. Reminiscing is sacramental because the combination of time, distance, and perspective sharpens the outlines of the holy and the profane. Looking back enables one to see the glory of the Lord more clearly, even among the Advent purple and candlelit shadows.
As the mile markers of age speed by, and more of the map lies behind than forward, I am discovering how it might be that those who remain so strong even so late in life find their strength and keep their focus. God offers the past as the way forward. Divine interventions missed completely when they first happened or caught only as blurs on the road’s margins, reveal themselves slowly as if time was an Instamatic and only now can we see all the details filling in. God is good, at all times.
Difficult moments lie ahead. Within the economic and political worlds, and within the Church and community, there will be challenges, as there always have been. I thank God for the grace of being shown the resolute witnessing of so many who have worked longer and harder than I have in anticipation of new heavens and a new earth. I thank Him for the season of Advent with its replenishing calls to remember in gratitude and wait in hope.
Daniel Avila is the Associate Director for Public Policy & Research of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference