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The late Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner developed a theory that is grounded in a description of what a Christian should strive to be based on the meaning of advent. He held that there were two halves of his theory: the advent person and the utopian person. See which one you are – or want to be. Advent is a time to make this decision. Rahner held that these two ‘types’ of believers are represented in Christianity as a whole but since he was speaking to Roman Catholics, he specifically outlined how these believers add to or detract from the real message of Jesus’ appearance within that faith context.
The utopian person believes there is an ideal world of faith in what exists. He will never question the content or rules of religion. He sees his faith as the one, true faith and anyone not part of it cannot enjoy the fullness of eternal life. The utopian is happy with a faith’s content that is clear, rigidly followed but the slightest change rocks his happiness, charges his battery of anger shedding sparks that become bonfires of mistrust and sometimes alienation. Hence, this person might join a spin-off parish that offers the Latin Mass, requires head coverings for women, insists on tightening the locks of the doors to gays and transgender believers, the divorced, and so on. You get the picture. As Rahner inferred: All would be fine if everyone did everything the way the utopian thinks it should be done. No room for questioning or thinking and absolutely no room for tolerance.
At their core, utopian believers cannot accept brokenness because they think God made everything perfect to begin with. God made a paradise for us to live in and we blew it. There is a lot of truth to this belief, but the utopian gives it as reason to stop the advance of an evolutionary faith; there is little understanding that the Holy Spirit was given to us so that we could understand and manage God’s creation and our faith by simply doing God’s Will. Don’t question or research the inquiries of theology. Just follow the rules – even if they are hurtful and push others away from the church. Too bad, says the utopian. You have made your choice. For the utopian, God’s will is only in doctrine, devotion, literal interpretation of the Bible, esteem of the hierarchy, and anything pre-Vatican II. The utopian thinks that the ideal world is created by conformity.
The advent person is happier than the utopian person. She sees the present as so beautiful and God-centered that she knows it has a future, an eternity of love. This is because Love created everything and Love wants to reclaim it all in the final Parousia, the sweeping up of everything into eternal bliss. She doesn’t despair of the sin and flaws that corrupt our world and our time because she realizes that the grace of redemption unfolds in individuals over time. She is good at waiting. The advent person may have doubts and disappointments, but she sees the flawed world as capable of welcoming God’s joy. She knows that God watched the birth of Jesus like parents watch their children thrilled on Christmas morning. God was absolutely delighted to give this gift. God stood back and watched the gift take shape and enter this world, just like parents whose eyes might even be more starlike than their children’s when they observe the moment of unwrapping gifts. The advent person looks for the good in change and assists this Body of Christ to grow in our faith. The advent person puts energy into studying proposed changes and even in creating them. She is inclusive and accepting of all persons; she recognizes suffering and attends to those overwhelmed with the weight of doubt.
The advent person can sit in quiet prayer, a soul elevated in hope, even as despair nips at her heels and tears fall in anguish. She does not give up. Nor does she plan for what God should do. She only asks to be faithful. Whereas the utopian invests for a dictated perfection in the legalities of religion, the advent person invests in hope and reaches out to some unknown universe knowing that out of this darkness Christ can come again.
Which one am I? The advent person or the utopian person? I think the essential advent person is the Mother of God, Mary. She is a model that anyone can relate to. A utopian person would say Mary had no doubts; she knew God’s will immediately and surrendered to it. An advent person says she was too young to understand the message that came to her, but she knew it had to be of Yahweh. She accepted the message but had no idea where it would lead. Almost immediately we see the tension between the utopian believer and the advent believer, the former believing the assurance of a faith that is literal and rigid and the latter believing in the faith that is challenging and mysterious. The former would be the faith of security propelled by the bindings of temporary, human made laws which a utopian person says miraculously, and even comfortably, accompanied the birth of our Savior. But the latter would be the faith that is challenging and mysterious, the faith of the advent person who sees in Mary a very common adolescent who assumed a lifetime of wondering what her son was doing. She nursed him, trained him, supported his probable Temple education, followed him on occasion and finally accompanied him during his death. She must have had doubts. She struggled to understand. But that is exactly why God chose her. Like us, she struggled to understand, and, in the duration, she gave her all.
We might take time to reflect on Mary as a model of the advent person. To be an advent person, one must assume the character for life. We can never stop being an advent person, infers Rahner. Does Mary suddenly become real to you while meditating on her as an advent person?
There is no scriptural support of Mary from the time of her Annunciation when she accepted the role God was asking of her to the birth of Jesus. You might want to start by reading Luke 1:26,45. Notice how open she was at this announcement. Notice how willing she was despite not knowing everything but trusting in God’s guidance. Are you?
May you reflect with peace as you enter the final days of advent. May you discover how to be an advent person, as was Mary: unsure, struggling, but always hopeful.