An Advent Reflection Inspired by Pope Francis

We don’t know much about St. Joseph and his role as a father to Jesus.  Most of his story can be left to the imagination—and I imagine that as he held his infant son, born under inauspicious circumstances in a stable surrounded by smelly, noisy animals, the whole world melted away for him.  I imagine that he gazed at this child in awe, marveling at the miracle (in more ways than one) of his birth, at the smallness of his little hands, at his peaceful, innocent slumber and his helpless, hungry wails.  I imagine he cuddled this tiny baby and felt more love than he knew existed.

And this spirit of awe and wonder and love perfectly captures what the Christmas season is all about.  In a recent interview with Vatican Insider, Pope Francis noted that “Christmas is joy, religious joy, God’s joy, an inner joy of light and peace.”  And let us not forget hope!

As the Pope said, “When God meets us he tells us two things. The first thing he says is: have hope. God always opens doors, he never closes them….The second thing he says is: don’t be afraid of tenderness.” Just as Jesus’ earthly father surely loved him and opened his heart to his son, our heavenly Father does the same for us—we need only be open to that love.  The Pope expounded on our understanding of a tender, loving God, explaining: “The Book of Deuteronomy says that God walks with us; he takes us by the hand like a father does with his child. This is a beautiful thing.”

It truly is a beautiful thing. When we are open to the tenderness and love of God, it draws us into being more tender and loving to those around us.  The pope asks us to be inspired and animated by the love that surrounds this joyous season: “Give food to those who are hungry! May the hope and tenderness of the Christmas of the Lord shake off our indifference.”  We must open our hearts to others, allowing God’s tenderness to shine through and illuminate the hearts of those who are hurting and suffering around us.

One way that indifference can prevent us from being open to those around us is through a blind faith in our economic system.  Later in the interview, Pope Francis specifically faults the theory of trickle-down economics to solve the problems of the poor in our world:

“The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the ‘trickle-down theories’ which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor. This was the only reference to a specific theory.”

In this Christmas season, I pray that we can rest in the tenderness of our Lord, and, renewed, find the strength and energy to actively seek out with love the hungry in our communities, and work for justice for them.  This means changing not only our own behavior, but working to undo the structural injustice that stands in the way of the kingdom of God, which first broke into the world on that first Christmas.