The disastrous summertime rains in Kentucky not only affected that state’s coal mining region, they also had calamitous results of Biblical proportions in another area. The celebrated life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark just south of Lexington is in litigation with an insurance company for ironical damage done during this flood! Jesus makes reference in this coming Sunday’s Gospel to Noah’s vast ark which literally saved ancient civilization from destruction amid the primeval waters. The ark allowed Noah and his family and the animal world time to re-group while the antediluvian pagan world went to its watery destruction.
There are some today who believe the Christian world is in need of a new ark to preserve the faith from the tide of secular, sexual and sectarian misinformation that is presently engulfing the Church. Author and sometime Catholic Rod Dreher, rightly alarmed by the culture wars that immerse the Church community on liturgical, moral, political and environmental levels, has published The Benedict Option, a book in which he advises, “These are the days for building strong arks for the long journey across a sea of night.” A number of devout parishioners from greater Washington, DC, have been picketing the residence of the Vatican’s papal nuncio these weeks since Pope Francis’ unsympathetic treatment of the old Latin Mass has threatened their liturgical refuge from the hedonistic world swamping them.
Pope Benedict as well discerned a need for the believing community to avert its eyes from the missteps and miscues of the modern world and face more directly at a new world to come. The retired pontiff greatly supports the sometime liturgical practice of facing East during the Church’s solemn ceremonies, facing that far horizon when the challenges of today’s world will be overwhelmed by the arrival Christ, the Sun of Justice. As St. Paul writes to the Romans in this Sunday’s second reading, “Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Pope Benedict would have worshippers face the Eastern light of the rising sun at every Mass as a respite from the challenges of this world and as a pledge of fulfillment in the next world.
Yet as the Catholic world begins a new liturgical year on this First Sunday of Advent 2022, the Church wisely balances the grim words of St. Paul and the ominous words of Christ himself heard in this coming Sunday’s readings with the buoyant and spirited thoughts of Isaiah found in the first reading, quoted here in full: “In days to come, the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; many peoples shall come and say: “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”
A society that defends the horror of abortion and celebrates the lunacy of transgenderism and shamelessly exploits the environment has little resemblance to the lofty mountain that Isaiah foresees as the future of the believing world. It is little wonder that some of the faithful prefer the solace of arcane traditions or the promise of eschatological fulfillment rather than take on the challenges found in today’s secular world. Pope Francis however embraces Isaiah’s hopeful perspective when he writes in Evangelii Gaudium, “Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil. The evil spirit of defeatism is brother to the temptation to separate, before its time, the wheat from the weeds; it is the fruit of an anxious and self-centered lack of trust (EG n.131).”
Advent, the re-start of the Church’s year, is a call to re-store the Church’s confidence in her present scriptural, sacramental, and spiritual resources with which she has been well equipped.