Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Advent Series -- Part Three

By Sister Francine Dempsey, CSJ

This is part one of an Advent series prepared by the Commission on Peace and Justice, which was printed in The Evangelist.

On Advent’s third Sunday we are called to “rejoice always.” Jesus is soon to be born. But where? In the poorest of circumstances. In the dark of a stable, surrounded by the dirt, smell and sounds of animals. Mary and Joseph are alone, far from any support of friends and family.

Most of us who read The Evangelist were, we must admit, born in much richer circumstances than Jesus. And in anticipating Jesus’ birth, almost upon us, we rejoice, Isaiah reminds us, not just over this about-to-be-born babe but also over the mission that is integral to Jesus’ life among us, integral to our life with Jesus.

“Rejoice," Isaiah says in this Sunday’s first reading, because the Lord has anointed and sent Isaiah first, and then Jesus, and then each of us, “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners.” Once again we rejoice that Love has come among us; once again we are called to live the mission of Jesus in our own lives, our own world.

A child is born in a broken-down shack in Haiti, the poorest of countries. Adeline is her name. Seven younger siblings are born. The family’s only income is from their mother’s begging. Sometimes they go for a week at a time without lighting a cooking fire. When Adeline is 14 her mother dies.

Rejoice. More than 2000 years after Jesus’ birth, his love, his mission reaches even the remote region of Haiti where Adeline lives. She is invited to participate in Chemen Lavi Miyo (Pathway to a Better Life). The volunteers who work with Fonkoze, this program’s sponsors, have a mission of love in the form of a ministry called ”micro-financing”. Fonkoze empowers very poor people to pull themselves out of poverty, using traditional skills and entrepreneurial instincts, with small loans to start, establish or expand very small self-supporting businesses. Fonkoze focuses on rural women who use the profits they make to send their children to school and improve their living conditions.

Rejoice. Adeline receives extensive training in the care of goats and chickens and also receives seven chickens and three goats, assets that give her the potential for a small business.

Rejoice. Adeline receives coaching in business methods and lessons in nutrition, health, and literacy. A stipend of $1 a day frees her from begging and allows her time to care for her animals and attend school. She saves $1.50 each week to further develop her business stock and earn a sustainable income. She and her siblings are now able to eat a meal each day. Slowly, she repairs their home.

On Advent’s third Sunday we are called to rejoice and rejoice again. The reading from Isaiah says, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord;” in the Psalm, Mary, pregnant, sings out, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior;” and in his letter Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters, rejoice always.” Finally, in the Gospel, speaking some thirty years after that first Christmas, John the Baptist proclaims that Jesus’ public ministry of love is about to begin.

We need not puzzle over this inclusion of John’s announcement of Jesus’ public ministry as part of the Advent season, as part of our preparation for the birth of Jesus. We know that we can rejoice in anticipating Christmas year after year only if we also recognize that Jesus’ new birth is simply another call to all of us to bring good news, glad tidings, to the poor and unfree year after year after year. Rejoice.

To make a tax-deductible gift to cover the cost of teaching a market woman how to read and write or learn arithmetic and basic business skills, a check can be made out to Fonkoze USA and sent to the Commission on Peace and Justice, 40 N. Main Ave., Albany NY 12203-1481.

Sister Francine Dempsey, CSJ is Professor Emerita of American Studies at the College of Saint Rose and a member of the Commission on Peace and Justice.