Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
December 4, 2006
Heed John Paul's plea for a new Advent
In October 1978, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope John Paul II. It was only eight years after the Americans had put the first man on the moon, four years after Richard Nixon resigned the U.S. presidency and still four months before the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It was a time much different than ours.
Yet, in some sectors of Alberta, one thing was the same as today - a deep distrust of the federal government and the rest of Canada.
In his first encyclical, The Redeemer of Man, Pope John Paul was already looking forward to the year 2000. He envisaged the years leading up to the new millennium as a "new Advent," a season of expectation in the life of the Church.
What were we to expect? The end of the world, Y2K scares?
The new pope called us to look deeper. In his encyclical, he turned to the Second Vatican Council's emphasis on Christ's incarnation to provide a hopeful note for the new Advent. "Human nature, by the very fact it was assumed, not absorbed, in (Christ) has been raised in us also to a dignity beyond compare," he wrote, quoting Vatican II's The Church in the Modern World.
A dignity beyond compare! This was the new Advent's hope that was to culminate, if not be fully realized, by the year 2000. The hope was that humanity would realize its great dignity in Christ and turn towards him in faith and love.
But Pope John Paul insisted that the Church must be vigilant in focusing on not only the eternal welfare of the human person, but also our temporal welfare. It cannot allow human dignity to be trampled by unjust political regimes, cold technological innovation or rampant consumerism.
The Church is not bound to any political system, but must be a sign and safeguard of the transcendence of the human person, the pope wrote.
He turned to the way we treat the natural environment - a great gift from the Creator - as a sign of our priorities. If we treat the environment as having no worth other than to serve our immediate desires for wealth and consumption, we demean, not only nature, but even the human person.
It is the Creator's will that man not be "a heedless exploiter and destroyer" of the environment. We should not be overwhelmed with euphoria at our conquests, but humbled by the gifts God has given.
All of this has resonance for Alberta and Albertans today. We exploit our petroleum resources as rapidly as possible, even plotting to divert rivers so that such exploitation may continue untrammelled. Is this respect for the Creator? Is this respect for future generations? Is this the new Advent?
With the late pope, we must ask, "Is man, as man, developing and progressing or is he regressing and being degraded in his humanity?"
What of our brothers and sisters? Are we growing in love and compassion for them or are we falling into "various degrees of selfishness, exaggerated nationalism . . . and also the propensity to dominate others"?
Should we allow two-tier medicare that gives quick relief to those who can afford it and leaves the poor on ever-lengthening waiting lists? Is our faith not denied by an ultra-provincialism that tends to draw us apart from people of our own Canadian nation?
And what of our eternal welfare? We have seen repeatedly that human dignity will not be respected if the supremacy of God is not recognized.
Pope John Paul saw "questions and points of anguished disquiet" in the situation of his day. The disquiet has not gone away and the new Advent has not been realized.
In Jesus Christ himself, the Church finds that an essential part of its mission is a deep concern for humanity and for its future on this earth. As Alberta Catholics, we should show this deep concern in concrete ways. We ought to take the small steps available to us to keep Pope John Paul's dream of a new Advent alive.
- Glen Argan
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