Thinking Anew: Advent – a time for openness and courage

Do we all fall victim to the culture in which we find ourselves?

Homonyms, especially for those whose English is not their first language – words having the same spelling or pronunciation but different meanings – can cause confusion, embarrassment or even laughter. Tomorrow’s Gospel (Matthew 3: 1-12) talks about how the Old Testament prophet Isaiah describes John the Baptist as “a voice crying in the wilderness:/Prepare a way for the Lord,/ make his paths straight.”

John the Baptist too is a prophet. What do we mean by a prophet? Has the word any links with profit? I doubt it, indeed, the two words are in many ways diametrically opposed to each other. Or are they? When I think of prophet I think of a wise person, one with the ability to read the signs of the times and apply their knowledge to the situation in which they are living so that we are all enhanced by their insights. No doubt those who make profit can also be wise people who are agile in making money. Back to the Biblical characters, Isaiah and John the Baptist. They speak about a wisdom that they believe is linked to God. In the first reading (Isaiah 11: 1- 10) Isaiah writes that the Lord does not judge by appearances, " he gives no verdict on hearsay,/ but judges the wretched with integrity,/ and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land”.

Elsewhere in the passage we are told that, “on him the Spirit of the Lord rests”. These are ideals to which we aspire.

It’s so easy to write these words but living them is an altogether different matter.


How much does our environment influence how we behave? Do we all fall victim to the culture in which we find ourselves?

It’s highly unlikely that every Russian who supports Vladimir Putin is an evil person. Are they simply misguided? Have they fallen victim to propaganda. Have I fallen victim to propaganda? What is truth?

I’m a Catholic. Can I be an à la carte Catholic, picking the aspects which I choose to believe? I’m suspicious of any organisation that sounds imperious and speaks with assumed authority.

I’m nervous of people who are obsessed with secrecy and constantly believe they know best. I saw two great examples of that last week. Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ's Prime Time interviewed Masoud Eslami, the Iranian ambassador to Ireland, and that same evening Victoria Derbyshire interviewed the Russian ambassador to the UK, Andrei Kelin, on BBC’s Newsnight. I thought both men exhibited breath-taking arrogance and refused even to consider what they were being asked. Or was that because I have a different opinion than they? Was it that the party line had to be adhered to under all circumstances?

Though it was startling to hear the Russian ambassador not call it a “special military operation” but rather a war. That might not help his career.

And is that not the rub? How many leaders, people in positions of authority simply mouth the party line and the last thing on their minds are integrity and all those sentiments expressed by Isaiah? It’s refreshing to hear the person who bucks the trend.

The Iranian women demonstrating across the Islamic Republic of Iran certainly are staking their lives on their beliefs. Prophetic?

It’s difficult to strike a balance between the free flow of ideas and keeping the ship on course so that it can seek out the truth, support the weak and allow for openness, courage, even risk. A safe pair of hands might well be the last thing any organisation needs. Isaiah and John the Baptist were not safe pairs of hands.

No, it’s not hopeless. John the Baptist tells us that the one who follows him will baptise us with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Advent is an opportune time to do some serious – outside the box – thinking about what we believe and then acting out our convictions.