Last week during our staff meeting, Marcy, Anita and I were talking about Christmas. We commented on people’s demeanor, and agreed many of the people we are encountering are just not in a good mood. There are fewer smiles, fewer expressions of “best wishes,” and just an overall, “Let’s get this over with” approach to the season.
It makes me wonder: When did Advent go from being a season of hope to a season of hostility? There’s been enough nastiness this year, in words and actions, to convince us hostility is outpolling hope.
Worse, it’s frightening – especially when there are Catholics are among the hostile instead of the hopeful.
We have either done an inadequate job of conveying the message of Advent and Christmas, or the hostile have failed to embrace it, or it’s a combination of both.
This year I rediscovered the Psalms. Not sure how or when it happened, but at some point they broke into my heart and became a force in how I try to live my life. One that gives me hope, and that helps me make it through every day, is Psalm 55:22: “Cast your troubles upon the Lord and He will sustain you.”
As people of hope, we embrace those words. We know that no matter how terrible life becomes, how overwhelming Advent, Christmas and the rest of the year may be, we can take our fears, challenges, grief, anger and doubts to God, and he will take care of them.
But what about the hostile, some of whom may be sitting in church with you each Sunday? They might not admit to being hostile, but if they read and listen to Scripture, if they read and listen to the words of Pope Francis – particularly what he said during the Year of Mercy, they might realize they aren’t living those words.
In order to ward off hostility that might try to supplant hope in my life, I pray Psalm 95:7-8: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.” I pray that for others, too.
I don’t expect an instant softening of anyone’s heart. As I noted above, the Psalms “broke into my heart.” It took a while, probably decades of spiritual jackhammering, for that to occur. But it happened.
If you are someone who is hostile, if you have a nasty streak that causes you to disparage individuals and groups, please pray Psalm 95:7-8 for your own conversion. Pray it before you say, “Those people ought to…” or a similar refrain. Eventually, when you pray it and mean what you pray, your heart will soften; you will move from the hostile to the hopeful.
My prayer this Advent and Christmas season for those who are hostile, for those who say and do things that are not aligned with Scripture and the teachings of our church, will hear the words of the psalmist.
There’s still time during Advent and Christmas for us to see more smiles, hear more “best wishes,” and for people not to want to get through these seasons so quickly; there’s still time for hope to overcome hostility.
Brian T. Olszewski