One of the guys down here at the Seminary shared a beautiful story with me about a pilgrimage he took the Holy Land. He said that he got to make his way down from the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus made his home and fell in love with his friends and neighbors and worked so many of his miracles and shook the world with his simple but profound love. So my friend traveled along the Jordan River, where John the Baptist was calling us all to look for the Messiah, to long for him and desire his coming. This journey that he took led him to the Dead Sea, so salty and toxic to life because it had no outlet. There is no place for all the salt and minerals that find their way into the sea to find a way out, so they’ve concentrated over time, so that no animal could live in it. This seminarian made the point pretty clear: no matter how life-giving the water that flows into our lives, if we make no effort to share that grace, to let it flow out of us to others, it will take the life out of us. We are made to receive God’s grace, but if we refuse to share it with others, we become selfish, we become lifeless.
Pope Francis calls us out in case we start thinking we can get along just fine without others, as if it’s all about “Jesus and me.” He says in his latest Apostolic Exhortation (it’s long, but so worth the read!), “The Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pains and pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction.” (Evangelii Gaudium, #88).
So I don’t know if there is anything more poisonous for a community of faith than for it to close in on itself, to act as if they are the only ones that matter, the only ones that count. We really get this challenge here at the Seminary. In my experience here, the place is practically bursting at the seams with a need and a desire to reach out, to break out of the walls and gates that surround the campus. We can hear it sometimes in any little silly complaints we might have here; I don’t think we complain because we don’t want to be here, but because we want to take what we live here, what we pray here, what we have to encounter face-to-face here, out to all of you. After all, the more grace we receive here and leave here and keep to ourselves, the more we become just another Dead Sea.
What a beautiful example of this I got to see on this last Monday! I got to celebrate the Immaculate Conception at the parish of a brother seminarian, which shares the name of this great Solemnity. One moment that really struck me in the middle of the hours of celebration, including Adoration, Mass, and a Eucharistic Procession through the streets, was not so much only what happened in the beautiful Church, but in the middle of the street, on a cold clear night, with hundreds of people following our Lord in the Eucharist and carrying a statue of our Lady. I was carrying the processional cross (we know from the Confirmation Mass this last year that I can get a little off track sometimes, ha!) and suddenly they told me to slow down and stop in front of a burnt down house just a block away from the Church. It turns out that the house belonged to a family of the parish; it had burnt down at 3 in the morning not too long ago with everyone in the house, but no one was hurt and everyone survived. So as a part of this celebration, this following of the Lord, we stopped outside this husk of a home and prayed and felt their pain and loss, their thanks for escaping with their lives, and we did it as a community of English and Spanish speakers, priests and seminarians and laity, “a face to face encounter with others.”
Yes, the Mass and Adoration were beautiful and so very important to our faith, but if that was where the night ended, then something would have been lost. So we took to the streets, candles and songs and rosaries, with our Lady and the Eucharist, and brought Jesus where we could, to let him do the healing we could not. We first let the life-giving water flow into our lives, only to literally bring it into the streets. And so it has got to be like this for what’s left of our Advent. We can keep on looking to Mary. As soon as she found out she was going to be the mother of God, she did not hide away and keep the secret to herself; she went “in haste” (Luke 1:39) to see her cousin Elizabeth. That’s right, she was like the first Eucharistic procession, carrying Jesus to others, making her Advent, her very own waiting for Jesus, a mission, a sea overflowing with life.