Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Advent Week #1 Reflection

As I sit here writing my thoughts, in the season of Advent, I can’t help but wonder if Advent is more of a season of waiting for Christ or more like a season of allowing the Spirit to form us to see Christ anew. In this academic year of seminary formation, I am assigned to the Catholic Community of South Baltimore, an urban community made up of three historic parishes. It is a community of young and old, but mostly young with three times as many baptisms as funerals. Every month I see more than a handful of babies baptized into the Body of the Church. It is truly a time of recognizing Christ anew in helpless infants. Just prior to the start of Advent, we celebrated the feast of Christ the King. I can’t help but recognize that "King" far more differently than any artistic rendering. The King, in my recent experience, cries a lot, spits up, and is held by parents with love. For me, this is a beautiful image of the Christ.

            In my assignment, I also teach 4th and 5th grade religious education, as well as sometimes leading conferences for adults participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA). On my way to the parish on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, I stopped at a red light. There, like every Sunday, I saw an older man walking the median back and forth while asking for spare change. I hoped, this particular day, that he would not reach my car before the light changed. Searching for change, pressing the button to roll down the window, and interacting with another human being this early in the morning seemed like too much work. In short, he was going to reach my car before the light changed. So I searched my cup holder full of change, moving the pennies and nickels out of the way in order to find a handful of quarters.

            As he approached my car, I pressed that button to roll down my window, stuck my hand filled with quarters out of the car, and waited for him to limp over to me. I gave him all I had and said, “Take care. Have a good day.” He looked at me and responded with something I could not understand. I gestured to show that I could not hear him. He said it again. Still, I could not hear him. Finally, he raised two fingers into the air in the shape of a V. “Peace,” he said. “Peace,” I said with the first smile of the day on my face. The light changed and I drove away.

            The man: older, limping, hands swollen and red, mumbling the same word from a mouth that could not be seen as it was covered from a long unkempt beard. As I drove away, I broke down into tears. It took me a moment to recognize what was happening inside me. I had an encounter with Christ—not just in an intellectual, theological way—a real encounter with Christ. My tears were not only in gratitude for the encounter or in awe of an experience to which I could not fully give word, but in sadness that Christ still has to reside in such conditions. The theme for my RCIA class changed that morning as we instead discussed how Jesus’ ministry shows us the Father in ways that we sometimes wish were not true—in ways unfit for God.

            To celebrate Christ the King after meeting Christ in the poorest of the poor baffles the mind. This is Christ: living in absolute poverty, in need of medication, unable to be understood (or even fully seen for that matter), shuffling from car to car at a random intersection wishing drivers “Peace”? How amazing! From that experience, I had to ask, is Advent a season of waiting for the coming Christ into our world, or is it a season of recognizing Christ already present and standing right in front of us?

Bill Beechko is a seminarian for the Diocese of Scranton. 

He is from Mayfield, and is a member of SS. Anthony and Rocco Parish in Dumore. 

He is in Third Theology at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Bill is pictured (center) at his Rite of Admission to Candidacy for Holy Orders Mass with his father (left) and Bishop Joseph C. Bambera (right).