As Christian believers continue to walk through Advent, this Sunday we reach a kind of midpoint in the liturgical season with Gaudete “Rejoice” Sunday.
Popularly called “Rose Sunday” (or “the day my priest wears pink”), the observance is meant to catch our attention and refocus our energies. Advent is moving to an end and we are led to ask, “Have I prepared for the coming of the Lord?”
The question is a personal one, but also a communal one. Whenever Christians ask, “Have I…,” they are also simultaneously asking, “Have we…”. United in Jesus Christ, the question of one becomes – in one way or another – the question of all.
The personal perspective has dominated in recent times, but it’s worth pausing and stepping back and asking the broader, communal question: “Have we prepared for the coming of the Lord?”
In the West, such an inquiry should be readily welcomed, since Western culture was created by the application and institutionalization of Christian principles, among which are personhood, dignity, freedom, and justice. It was the Christian faith that provided the groundwork and blueprint for the West.
And yet, in many ways, the West has forgotten this inheritance. The Christian faith, or any faith, has become eclipsed by an aggressive secularism that has stripped the founding principles of the West of their richness, transcendence, and beauty. In their absence, we have an empty public square, a raw will to power, escalating partisanship, and social institutions, laws, and cultural expressions that become puppets and play toys of the powerful and most influential.
The Church, however, is not only the West.
As the Western world battles for its soul, other portions of the universal Church thrive and embrace with boldness and innocence the full splendor and depth of faith in Jesus Christ. As many believers outside of the West are even willing to die as martyrs for the faith, they expose and convict the Western world of its compromise, overaccommodation to secular culture, and worldly vanity.
The universal Church takes up the question about the preparation for the coming of the Lord and is eager to answer it. The Church wants God.
As African, Latin American, and Asian believers answer for themselves, they also propose their answer to the West. The very cultures who once relied on the West are now its missionaries. Such believers show that the economic Third World is the spiritual First World, as they call the West back to a love for the Lord Jesus, back to first principles, back to personhood, dignity, freedom, and justice. Beyond clever machinations of words, redefined concepts of reality, and usurpations of institutions, such as marriage and family, the spiritual First World convicts the West of what it has lost and calls it back to its senses.
As the African human rights activist Obianuju Ekeocha says, what are sometimes dismissed as “African values” were once shared values. She continues: “Our grandfathers all agreed on these values. They were not only African. They were yours [in the West]. Our grandfathers lived them and defended these values.”
The voice of Africa, and the portions of the world that are the spiritual First World, show us what we once were in the West and they call us back to an innocence of faith and reason. They point us to higher realities, reveal to us the abundance of our own spiritual souls, and they remind us of our vocation as the children of God and the recipients of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Contrary to some popular condescension toward Africa, Latin America, and Asia, we need their voice of reason and faith. The West is in great need of a spiritual renewal and rejuvenation. We need to rediscover our first principles and show a willingness to defer and trust them, allowing them to become again the foundation and blueprint of our way of life.
The challenge can seem ridiculous to some, or overwhelming to others. The middle ground, however, is the observable reality of a life better lived in a spiritual, transcendental worldview. The reality and truth of a society bound by a shared sense of personhood, dignity, freedom, and justice, is one in which the common good has the possibility to flourish and prosper. This reality was the innovation and beauty of our historical Western civilization, and the spiritual First World is calling us back.
As the West entertains the Advent question in its communal form, “Have we prepared for the coming of the Lord?,” it is to our benefit to hear the voice of Africa, Latin America, and Asia as they invite us back to the richness of faith and the clarity of reason.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby