Cloud By Day and Fire By Night

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Yahweh will come and rest/ on the whole stretch of Mount Zion/and on those who are gathered there,/a cloud by day, and smoke,/and by night the brightness of a flaring fire./ For over all, the glory of Yahweh/will be a canopy and a tent/to give shade by day from the heat,/refuge and shelter from the storm and the rain.

Isaiah 4: 5-6

 

During the coming days of Advent we shall hear much talk of signs of the coming of the glory and the holiness of the Lord. Central to the Advent liturgy is the Prophet Isaiah, who reminds a degraded and threatened civilization of the truth of its continuing call to holiness, to obedience to and love of the One who has chosen them, and whose glory ultimately, albeit mysteriously, will prevail. God’s presence, says Isaiah, will be recognized by those who are “gathered” on Mount Zion as the very source of their brother and sisterhood. It is the glory and the holiness of God that both creates the gathering and is, in turn, manifested in it.

Today’s gospel reading from Mathew teaches us of how, in Jesus, the gathering of the loved and chosen is not limited “by tribe or tongue or people or nation” (Rev. 7:9), as it is the Roman Centurion who is declared by Jesus to be the model of faith. “I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 8: 11) The holiness of God is not confined to “our own,” but may well be most radiantly seen in those who are most alien to us.

As we enter into this year’s celebration of Advent, where do we see “the cloud by day and the fire by night” that signals the glory and holiness of the Lord? Advent reminds us, for all our emphasis on what we must do to “build the Kingdom” and to “bring God’s love to the world,” that God’s love and holiness is always also being revealed and coming toward us. In the common and the ordinary of our everyday lives, can we recognize where it is that God is “shade by day from the heat, refuge and shelter from the storm and the rain”?

Yesterday as I headed back into my car after my workout at the gym, I noticed that what must have been a very large bird had left me an unwelcome “gift” all over the back window and trunk of the car. So, despite my continual hesitation to spend money on a car wash, I decided I had best do that as soon as possible. So, I stopped at a car wash near home. The car wash employed many young people whose task was to dry the car after it had come out of the automatic wash and to clean the inside. Many, if not most, of the young people working were likely immigrants from Central and South America. There were several cars coming through the wash at the same time, and yet, these young people were extremely careful and diligent about their work with each. As I moved fairly quickly to reclaim my car and to hurry home, one of them gently stopped me and asked me to wait until they could make sure that they had done their work well. I then paused and saw a young woman taking time and significant effort to remove by hand washing some road tar that had built up on one of the doors. In good capitalistic fashion, I couldn’t help but wonder why she would be so careful and diligent, given what I am quite sure is her minimal salary.

Our English word diligence comes from the Latin diligere, meaning to love or take delight in. Human diligence is always, for me, one of the great manifestations of the holiness of God. While my own inner attitude at the time was one of haste and carelessness, this young woman was focused, deliberate, and care-full. She was giving all her attention and care to the single task before her, however menial it may have seemed to me. She was not rushed by my attitude; she was not negligent or neglectful due to the paucity of her salary or apparent insignificance of her task. In that common and even inconsequential task, this “alien” other was for me the cloud by day and fire by night, the manifestation of the care, love, and holiness of God whose advent is an omnipresent reality.

Diligent attention to the task before us is always, at the same time, an act of care, for another and for the world. If anything distinguishes life for us in the “developed” world in our day, it is carelessness. Our basic stance, be it to the trivial and common task at hand or to the others we encounter each day, is one of self-absorption and carelessness. The fruit of multi-tasking is that we give partial attention to every particular work and person before us. While their focus was on completing their work well and carefully, the young people at the car wash were, likely unknowingly to them, caring for me. The theologian John Dunne, CSC, writes that “if we could love anything with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, we would be loving God.” God is truly the “God of all.” When we exercise from our hearts and our minds and our souls love and care for that which is directly before us, we are loving and caring for all.

Adrian van Kaam says that we are related to the world or global pole of formation by means of the situation pole. Our potency to be “a sign of God’s love and care” and to be “a brother and sister to the world”, as the Fundamental Principles say, is actualized when we give our heart in care to the one task and person before us. As Charles Schultz has Linus declare: “I love humanity . . . it’s people I can’t stand.” We cannot at once love the world, while hating the one to whom we are now in relationship. In Advent we prepare to welcome in memory the coming of God into our world in the person of Jesus; we anticipate the coming of God in loving and merciful judgment at the moment of our own death; we also hope and pray that we may awaken to the glory and the holiness of God who is with us in the summons to care that comes with the presence of each person and each situation of our common and ordinary daily experience.

A living memorial for the Church’s awareness 

7. The first ministry that Brothers develop in the Church as religious is “to remind the baptized of the fundamental values of the Gospel” and “the need to respond with holiness of life to the love of God poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5)”. All other services and ministries offered by the various forms of consecrated life make sense only when rooted in this first ministry. 

This purpose, of being a sign, recognized by the Second Vatican Council and repeatedly underlined in the Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, is essential to consecrated life and determines its orientation: it does not exist “for itself”, but as a part of the ecclesial community. 

Religious consecration itself, which presents life as a witness to the absoluteness of God, and also as a process of openness to God and people in the light of the Gospel, is a call to all the faithful, an invitation to each person to orient his or her own life along a radical path, in different situations and states of life, open to the gifts and invitations of the Spirit. 

The fraternity of Religious Brothers is an encouragement for the whole Church, because it makes present the Gospel value of fraternal relationships of equality in the face of the temptation to dominate, to search for the best place or to exercise authority as power: “You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, for you have only one Master, and you are all brothers. You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father who is in heaven. Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ” (Mt 23:8-10). 

Communion is proposed today in the Church as a particularly pressing challenge in the new millennium, so that it may be transformed into the home and school of communion. Brothers are active inhabitants in this home and are both students and teachers in this school; that is why they make their own the urgency that the Church proposes for itself, to live and promote a spirituality of communion. 

CICLSA,  Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church, ¶7

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