When I was younger, I often found myself scandalized by the actions of other people. I grew up with a very legalistic morality which sees rules and laws as black and white imperatives. On the one hand, there is a benefit to seeing the value of rules and laws which—when just—help to guide society in the right direction. On the other hand, a legalistic morality fails to see others with eyes of compassion and mercy, the same eyes through which Christ sees humanity and through which he asks us to see as well.
When we see people as a compilation of their successes and failures, we do not see the whole person and only focus on what they have done or failed to do. This mindset was often exemplified by the Pharisees who clashed with Christ, as demonstrated in the story of the woman caught in adultery. When the Pharisees brought this woman before Jesus, they did not expect him to respond with compassion. In this passage, the Pharisees and scribes remind him that the law of Moses commands her to be stoned. In response, “Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger,” and said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:1-11). Christ reminds us to see with eyes of compassion, but also provides a mirror with which to examine ourselves and our own sin. This is not the only time that Jesus presents us with this challenge. In the Gospel of Matthew, he says, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” In both cases, Jesus invites those listening to a profound self-examination that leads to conversion rather than self-righteous judgment.
In the story of the adulterous woman, we learn that Christ does not allow us to continue wandering aimlessly in our sin but gives us a new directive: “go and sin no more.” The eyes of compassion with which God sees us, and through which we are called to see others, are not blind. Compassion does not mean that we can do whatever we want even if it is detrimental to ourselves, others, or our relationship with God. What God is asking of us is a contrite heart that continually returns to his infinite love. When we sin, we separate ourselves from our neighbor, from God, and from the depths of his infinite love. When Christ says to sin no more, as he did to the woman caught in adultery, he is also telling us to love more fully. To see with eyes of compassion sees this reality and doesn’t mistake our sin as simply breaking a rule. Eyes of compassion allow us to walk with the other person and be walked with ourselves in order to overcome the sins that weigh us down. Today, let’s choose to look with the eyes of compassion and mercy as we strive to follow Christ’s call to “go and sin no more.”
Luke 21:34 states, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy.” As we prepare to kick-off the season of Advent 2015, Christ implores us to be alert to the dangers of a drowsy heart. I was flabbergasted when I walked into a store the week after Halloween to hear Christmas music floating through the air. I absolutely love Christmas music and, when the time comes, will listen to it right up through the celebration of the Epiphany. However, I find it humorous and a bit befuddling that it seems that we begin to hear Christmas music earlier and earlier each year and yet, on December 26th, it becomes a scavenger hunt to find the familiar, heartwarming tunes on the air and in stores. As Catholics, we have not even celebrated the visit of the magi yet and the Christmas airwaves have gone silent.
The holiday season is notorious for its stress, anxiety and drain on our time and energy. Our Advent calendars become filled with shopping excursions, parties, decking the halls and busying ourselves in the kitchen. All of these are wonderful ways to express our love for the season and our love for one another. However, I find that the older I get and the more responsibilities I gain, it becomes harder to latch onto, and maintain, the wide eyed childhood wonder and awe of the Christmas season in its entirety. By the time December 26th rolls around, my heart is drowsy. In the midst of the hustle and bustle, the Word speaks to us again. Proverbs 4:23 states, “With closest custody guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life.”
Let us take a moment to reflect on what has arrived for us as Catholics as we begin this season of Advent. Our salvation was made visible with the birth of a child. Isaiah 9:5 proclaims, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” The dancing harmonies of Handel’s Messiah begin to reverberate through my mind. The prophet Isaiah is speaking to each one of us. A child is born to US. The salvation of the world, the salvation of sinners was born to us as a helpless, dependent infant made of flesh and bone, nerves and muscle just as we are. Physiologically speaking, a newborn quickly learns to experience life and receive sustenance through one of the highest density of touch receptors in its wonderfully created body; the lips and tongue. As Catholics we are able to receive life, power, and renewal through the highest concentration of touch receptors in the body each time we receive the Eucharist.
What happens when we make an effort to guard our hearts and offer our bodies as “weapons of righteousness” to open ourselves to fully experience the breadth of receiving the flesh of Christ, the power of Christ? What kind of change would that create in us? What kind of change would it create in our families, our communities and our churches? How would this change affect our experience of the Advent and Christmas season? This power can seem frightening, but Scripture speaks to us through 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” We have arrived. This is our Advent. It is time to prepare our heart, mind, body, and soul to celebrate the arrival of our Wonder-Counselor.
For more resources on this Advent season, please visit our Advent Resources page.