By BISHOP BERNARD E. SHLESINGER, Commentary | Published December 10, 2020 | En Español
The issue of confinement appears to be not only un-American but also antithetical to freedom. However, if you were to ask a monk or a cloistered nun whether their experience behind the grille or monastery walls is too confining, they would remark “NO” and may even quote St. Paul: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable of all.” (1 Cor 15:19).
I have met prisoners, some even on death row, who in their confinement remain hopeful and have a more profound understanding of freedom than others who claim to be free. While knowing that there may be no resolution to extending their life beyond the concrete walls, barbed wire, and the iron bars, they have come to experience the love of God which has lifted them like a father or mother who lifts their child and helps them see beyond the wall of temporality and into an eternal horizon.
As a nation, we have learned to be independent and pride ourselves in freedoms which have been won and preserved through great sacrifice. We expect to be unshackled from most external constraints and have been eagerly anticipating the development of a vaccine for COVID-19. Indeed, because of original sin, we find it difficult to be told what we should do and how we should do it. Obedience to God or to others can be a struggle for us as it has been throughout human history.
The much-awaited vaccine will bring hope to those who feel socially constrained and who wish to return to those activities once enjoyed. Nevertheless, even with a return to an independent lifestyle, many will fail to see the true remedy for the problems facing the world. Although people may indeed be more independent in their outlook and activities, we may wonder if they will be more dependent on God and interdependent on each other.
During this season of Advent, let us look beyond simple hopes for a better temporal future such as a vaccine, better economy, or a BB gun. Our hope in Advent must spring eternal beyond the temporal. The saints have witnessed to this eternal hope in the midst of temporal trials while facing persecution or death.
We can look at the witness of St. Toribio Romo, a priest martyred in Mexico at the time of the Cristeros, or to St. Maximilian Kolbe who encouraged those sentenced to death in the starvation bunker at Auschwitz to sing for joy. There is also St. Josephine Bakhita, the once African slave who came to know that she had a master who loved her and who himself had been beaten like her. “Love for life did not deter them from death.” (Rv 12:11).
Like these saints, let us be ever watchful in Advent that our hope is beyond temporal realities and always springs eternal.