Saint Ignatius College Geelong

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    Faith Matters - Flight

    Article by Mr Brendan Nicholls

    Faith Matters - Flight

    As we enter into the season of Advent we are drawn to consider what we can do to prepare for the coming of Jesus. Last Wednesday, the 28th of November, the College participated in Red Wednesday; a day of solidarity for those persecuted for their faith. This day becomes more important each year as the number of people living in countries where religious freedom is not respected continues to rise. Currently it’s estimated that 61% of the world’s population live in situations where religious persecution is common. What might be made of these facts as we prepare for the coming of Jesus?

    When we consider the story of Jesus’ birth we experience great joy. In our secular and pluralist society Christmas is the most prominent celebration. Our entire society looks forward to Christmas each year with great anticipation for many reasons. At His birth however the only people who celebrated his coming were outcasts and three mystics known as the Magi. The contrast to our celebration and the reality of Jesus’ birth is in fact astounding. Our celebration of Christmas is excessive and overwhelming. His birth was in truth worse than any we could imagine by our standards. There was no hospital, no bed, no clean water, no doctor. Only Joseph, a stable and the animals.

    Considering these contradictory experiences, we might in light of Red Wednesday consider how fortunate we are in Australia. In our country we are guaranteed religious freedom and have no fear of being persecuted. Sadly, our society does however discriminate against people from other religions. Globally religious freedom is for many not a right and being persecuted is part of their daily life. In preparing for the coming of Jesus we consider how the Holy Family were also persecuted and were forced to become migrants. Today there are over 65 million displaced people in the world. Many of these people make the decision to leave what is known and safe, and journey in an attempt to find peace and safety in another place.

    As we prepare during Advent we view news reports daily that offer images of Central American migrants becoming more and more desperate as they seek asylum in America. When we consider the flight of the Holy Family we contemplate the fate that may have befallen them if Egypt stopped them at the border. During Advent consider how the Christmas narrative might inform the actions of countries who have the ability to offer protection and welcome to those in need? 

    Currently in the Netherlands a refugee Armenian family are set to be deported after nine years living in the country after all legal avenues for asylum have been denied. Inspired by the Christmas story a local church (Bethel church) has offered protection to the family by holding an ongoing service (at the time of writing the service has been going for over 800 hours!). Dutch law prohibits police from entering a place of worship whilst a religious service is in progress. Reverend Axel Wicke plans to continue the service indefinitely so that the family might be welcomed, protected and have the ruling overturned. Contemplating this situation in light of Advent we would do well to consider how we use our faith to love and protect others. What can we do this Advent to share our love with others in a way that challenges injustice and upsets the status quo?

    In this way we might prepare for the coming of Jesus. We may find profit in contemplating how individually we may be able to welcome others and fight against discrimination and persecution. St Ignatius inspires us to “find God in all things”. Considering Red Wednesday and Advent we may contemplate what Jesus and his family might have looked like if he was born today.

    The Holy Family in the modern world can be seen in those born without the possessions or opportunities we are fortunate to have. We can see them in families living in cars, ‘couch surfing’ with friends or in shelters. We can see them in migrants, both in the news and those who we do not see in detention on our behalf in isolated islands near and far. We can see the Holy Family in the people we discriminate against in thought or through exclusion in our own context. We can see them most vividly in people at the margins.

    During Advent we are called to see the world through new eyes. By calling upon the Holy Spirit we may become better able to discern who is in need of love and how we may help bring an end to persecution, isolation and rejection. During Advent we might view the Christmas story in new and profound ways by setting aside traditional images. In finding new images that challenge us we may be able to enter more deeply in our preparation for the coming of our Saviour.

    St Ignatius asks us to consider “the birth of Jesus Christ comes to be born in extreme poverty and after so many labours, after hunger, thirst, heat and cold, outrages and affronts, he dies on the cross, and all of this for me”. The coming of Jesus requires us to reconcile the joy of his birth and horror of this torture and death. During Advent we can do this by entering into the suffering of the other and offering love as He did; especially to the marginalised. Viewing Advent and Christmas from a different perspective may help us achieve what Ignatius asks of us.

    The following icon is a modern depiction of the Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:12-15) by Kelly Latimore called Refugees: La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family). This image offers us great insight to how we might be inspired during Advent to prepare more deeply for the coming of Christ. Rather than the ‘Disney version’ we traditionally associate with Advent and Christmas images like La Sagrada Familia confront us.

    Some are offended that the Holy Family are depicted in such a manner. Influential Christians like Paula White, ‘spiritual advisor’ to President Trump, deny any correlation between the Holy Family and modern day refugees. The leaders of our Church, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, disagree and ask us to embrace the reality of Jesus’ life and how people today experience the same forms of injustice and rejection. Our faith is challenging to society and the status quo.

    The Magi are often depicted in Christmas images as being exotic and wealthy Eastern wise men. An image that may be more correct and insightful for us to contemplate during Advent would be an image of three tired and dirty learned mystics, who had travelled for many miles across dangerous terrain to see the one who had been promised. The Magi in our modern world may resemble Pride of Australia award winner Deng Adut. Deng is a Sudanese refugee and former child soldier who came to Australia seeking asylum, studied law and now takes on pro bono cases where justice or fairness might otherwise be denied. Alternatively a modern image of the Magi might be Mr Hicherson, who welcomed Deng into his life, took him in and offered him the opportunity to achieve in our society. Or maybe an image of the Magi this Advent might be Zola a 25 year old volunteer at Barwon Prison who is able to see past stigma and stereotype, to see the true person she encounters during her work with the inmates. 

    As we journey through Advent we prepare for the coming of Jesus. We are challenged by the situation experienced by so many people around the world who live in isolation, lack freedom or are persecuted. Contemplating the Christmas story, we may observe the contrast of between our joyous experience of Christmas and the sorrow of people who experience the same persecution Jesus did. During Advent we might enter more deeply into the season by challenging what we know and is comfortable. In replacing traditional images of Advent and Christmas with modern depictions we may encounter in a profound way all that the festive season offers. In doing so we might be inspired to act and work to change things that cause injustice in our lives, in our communities or the world more broadly. Through this we may become more whole and might claim to be the ‘contemplatives in action’.

    I wish you well as you journey through Advent and prepare for the coming of Jesus. I pray that you are able enter deeply into the narrative and identify allegorical connections between injustice and persecution in our world. I hope that in doing so you are inspired to love more and share your peace with those in need in your life and those whom you are yet to know.

    Yours in Christ,

    Brendan Nicholls  Liturgy Coordinator


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