I am re-reading with delight The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. In the early part of the first book, The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo, a humble and happy hobbit, is lamenting the darkness of the time that he lives in, wishing that it were not so. Gandalf, the wise wizard, offers a gentle correction stating that it is not for us to decide which time we live in, adding, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” With these simple, strong words Gandalf encourages Frodo as he faces the lonely possibility of embracing the mission before him. He encourages Frodo to accept reality as it is, not as he wished it could be and so choose freely how to respond to the circumstances in which he finds himself.
There is so much depth in this short sentence for anyone and yet especially for one discerning God’s call in his/her life. This 2nd Sunday of Advent the Church proposes the person of John the Baptist as one who clearly knew how to live the time that was given to him. John’s whole identity was in pointing to the coming of Jesus. His singular witness remains an icon of religious life. For us in the 21st century it is a rather bizarre image of one who wore camel hair and ate locusts and wild honey! (Maybe he was from California or an archetypal founder of the CFR’s ?!) And yet mysteriously the Gospel tells us, “All the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him.” His prophetic witness was attractive because it was clear and authentic in a world that was afraid and confused. He knew what he was about. Jesus. He was a friend of the Bridegroom, listening for the Bridegroom’s voice so that he could announce joyfully to the world the coming of Christ-the desire of all nations (Jn 3:29).
Pope Francis put it simply. The role of religious is to “wake up the world.” And how our world desperately needs waking up from its spiritual lethargy. God is calling each of us to respond for our time. We cannot change the times we live in. Each of us can only respond as we feel led by Him. Even if like Frodo, we feel inadequate and small, each of us has a mission. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Advent is a time of grace given that we may do this. Let us not waste time but act manfully. May the intercession and example of St John the Baptist stir our hearts to respond wholeheartedly to the call of Christ and the needs of our time.
Fr Emmanuel Mary CFR