The following message from Fr. Michael Brunner to members of the St. Anselm Parish in Creve Coeur was shared in the church's weekly bulletin:
Anticipation and reality can be somewhat different.
I was a Junior in high school when Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was appointed Bishop of Rochester, NY, my home diocese. That name might not mean much to most of you under 60 years of age, but he was a television superstar who out-polled the great comedian Milton Berle who was on during the same time spot. He was also the widely known head of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the central fundraiser for the missions. The city was ecstatic at his appointment. I remember going downtown to the War Memorial Coliseum for his civic welcome ceremony, and actually saw him in the back seat of his limousine as he drove past down to the stage entrance.
When he made his entrance on stage, I thought there must be a mistake, although when he began to speak there was no question that it was Bishop Sheen. He was however, surprisingly short, and very short at that. On TV, the camera must have been at about waist height and so had to look up at him. On TV he looked very tall indeed.
That was not the first disappointment, of which there were several. Bishop Sheen was very dynamic and progressive, with lots of ideas and plans, but Rochester was not ready for them nor for a superstar, and he was not used to people disagreeing with him. He was there only 3 years. He was disappointed with Rochester and Rochester with him, although the Jewish people really loved him. Later, under another Bishop, most of his ideas became a reality.
For us, the anticipation of the Advent season reaches its peak in this coming week. We begin to pray using the titles of the Messiah derived from the Old Testament prophecies.
As you look at those titles, and their magnificence, you can get some sense of the real expectations that the Jewish people had for their Messiah. It seemed clear to them that his kingdom would be of this world, and the more educated and pious one was, the clearer it seemed.
But reality was definitely different from anticipation. Most did not even recognize him as the Messiah. It wasn’t that he was too short or anything like that. He just definitely could not be the one they waited for by any measure. So, some still do not recognize him or are still waiting, while others have given up looking and believing.
We know better; we know it really is He. But if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that we’d feel better and we think maybe things would go more smoothly if Jesus were a little more kingly in human terms, a little more glorious, and maybe even a little more realistic. He has such big ideas and plans. That forgiving enemies 77 times or more, turning the other cheek, being generous to the poor (who might well deserve to be poor,) that all seems over-the-top idealistic. It truly does. Jesus wants us to lift up our eyes and being from an earthly to a divine horizon.
So we basically have this week, nine more days, to get ready for that big celebration. It would be very easy to celebrate Christmas with not a thought about the real Jesus Christ, what He came for and what He expects of us.
There will be lots of parties, new movies coming out, gifts to buy and exchange, lots of decorating and Christmas songs. No one stops to think what possible connection Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer has with the real Christmas, or any of those other things, and that Christmas snow is only relevant if you’re on top of the world and not at the bottom.
According to the Gospels, the only people who knew what was happening that first Christmas were the poor shepherds. And only with an attitude like theirs can we be ready for Christmas, for the reality of it: Poor in spirit, meek, mourning, hungry, merciful and forgiving, peacemakers, persecuted. It doesn’t sound very attractive, does it?
But within that readiness is the key to genuine, eternal happiness and freedom and the recognition of the One who sets us free. We can make that attitude and reality appear attractive by the way we live it, with purity of heart, that is single-heartedness.
May our last nine days of anticipation make us more ready for the real thing...