The Advent of Resilience
Dear Family and Friends,
Advent, robed in purple, holds up before us the heaviness of pain.
Advent, robed in rose, holds up before us the yearning for Eternal Peace.
Purple is the heavy darkness of life under gang rule in Haiti.
Rose lights up the small victories over gang rule, like making it through another day, or freeing someone vulnerable from humiliating bondage.
Purple dominated last week’s celebrations of the “Day of Disabled Persons”,
when I was summoned by a notorious gang leader to meet him in the scrublands for “something urgent.”
I imagined some stressful scenarios. and I was uneasy for reasons too numerous to mention.
As we drove off road, once again the power of the rosary kept me centered.
We were instructed to stop in an isolated area, and his heavily armed vehicle raced up to mine on the dusty unpaved road, in intimidating fashion.
Although worried, I stood to meet the car with my chest out, my arms crossed and my face set like flint in his direction. I was as ready as I could be for “something urgent.”
The door opened, and to my surprise the gang leader was not even in the vehicle.
Instead, two men blind from birth were helped out of the car, and were led to me.
Out of fear, they live together with ten other blind people in one house, since Port-au-Prince has became so terribly dangerous.
They explained to me they were evicted from the house for inability to pay another years rent, and they had heard this gang leader speak on the radio about “Viv Ansam,” which kind of means “all for one and one for all.”
They decided to find him, and ask him to pay their rent.
With their white canes, they walked into these scrublands, heavily controlled by gangs.
The walked slowly and confidently into the place where the police cannot enter, where army tanks avoid, where even angels dare to tread.
Arriving at the compound of “the godfather,” they asked for his help.
Totally astounded, he had them sit down, offered something to eat, and listened intently to their story.
He said he could help them by putting them in the hands of someone who could help them.
And there I was down the road, and he was right, and the clouds changed from purple to rose,
A bad man turned a good deed for people who claim they cannot to see, and yet who have never lost sight of hope.
They live together in fear, and yet faced a notorious criminal with courage and the words, “we heard your good words, and we believe you will help us.”
The disabilities in this story vanished for a moment, both moral and physical.
The bandits and the blind were suddenly out of their habitual roles, and light broke in through the cracks.
The Scriptures are full of such surprises, and most of these stories are about an ascent from pain.
The pain of things that happen to us because life is life.
The pain inflicted on us by the cruelty of other people.
The pain of our self loathing which becomes habitual.
The pain of suffering the consequence of our destructive choices.
The pain that leaves us empty of meaning, as we ask over and over again why is this happening?
Personal suffering can also be part of the heavier darkness of the pain of a whole Nation, where atrocities are rampant and in flagrant violation of human rights.
The list of nations and communities in torment today is not a short list.
You are probably aware, there will be no Christmas in Bethlehem itself this year, for reasons that are tragic.
The Advent lessons on pain continue:
Enduring pain can be dangerous and destructive.
Enduring pain can be creative, leading the heart into the merciful Governance of God, who is
“Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”(Isaiah 9:6)
The Advent Liturgies propose that the dark clouds of pain are similar to the darkness over the waters in Genesis, out of which God created life, beauty, goodness and truth.
We are invited to bear the darkest suffering with the fiercest hope.
The iphone can’t do this for you.
There is no App for it.
The starting point is to accept the reality of your spiritual nature,
and with openness to Grace,
to discover (not define) who God is
and how God is working in your life.
The people of Haiti are living a very dark phase of history.
The gangs and their criminal sponsors accumulate their fortunes by stealing relentlessly from the people and from public institutions, and accumulate their power by keeping guns pointed and everyone terrorized.
The prophet Daniel astutely describes the abomination of power based on corruption, violence and destruction.
He interprets the dream of an enemy king, who has a vision of a massive, terrifying statue.
The head is gold, the chest and arms are silver, the thighs are bronze, the legs are iron,
and the feet are made of cheap clay.
The gangs in Haiti forge their power and impose a menacing presence by the “gold, silver, and bronze” of their ransoms and extortions, and violent crimes against humanity.
Their iron weapons slaughter the rich and the poor alike, they force kidnapped victims into hell holes and exact ransoms that bring families to their financial ruin.
They force tens of thousand of internal refugees, some of them the poorest people on earth, to flee from their homes, time and time again, in sheer terror. Many run from them to their death.
Gang rule destroys all social fabric, all economy, all civilized ways of living.
As the king looks in fear at the abomination, an invisible hand throws a stone at the feet of the statue.
The clay breaks to pieces, the precious metals of the powerful body crash to the ground,
and the smashed bits are blown away like dead leaves without a trace of anything to be found.
Then, the stone thrown by the invisible hand becomes a great mountain, and fills the earth.
Who will throw that stone?
If the “who, when and which stone” are not guided by God, we will just be adding to the barrenness and rubble.
There will be no great and holy mountain after the blow. Only more destruction.
For most of us, our vocation, is not to deal the definitive apocalyptic blow to evil.
We are to manage the “in between” times, according to the blueprint of the Kingdom Jesus taught and lived.
We are to bear darkness as that befalls us with courage and hope, and move the darkness toward light.
We are to seek the most humanitarian and civilized ways to effect justice, reconciliation, peace and wellbeing.
It’s a huge job, and we are, after all, just clay.
But rather than becoming the clay feet of huge but impressive falseness,
we can be moulded by the Potter’s hand into useful vessels to God’s glory,
as we are spun around and around on the difficult wheel of life.
Have a slow read of the Book of Wisdom, Chapter 17.
God really understands.
The luminous work of God continues unimpeded, with or without us,
but God wants it to be with us, by bringing light to darkness and being agents of hope.
Our own work here continues also, but greatly impeded.
But our commitment does not waver, and the fruit of our work is not small.
“As they pass through the bitter valley, they make it a place of springs.” (Ps 84:6)
I wish for you and your families the practical wisdom of this Holy Season,
and every blessing at Christmas and in the New Year.
As always, we thank you for generous donations, which are real lifelines for people in anguish.
Fr. Rick Frechette, CP, D.O.