Father Tom Curran, SJ, former president of Rockhurst University, often spoke to students about having one foot on campus and one foot out in the community. He wanted them to realize that the main purpose of their education is not just to secure a livelihood but to also enhance the livelihood of their surroundings. He wanted them to understand that our task as People of God and companions to one another is about making the world a better place by our education, talents, wisdom, and faith. He wanted to remind them that we are men and women with and for others. He wants them and us to grasp what it means to accompany one another, especially those who struggle in daily living.
This challenge applies not only to students but to all of us, especially Christians. We who are Catholic live our faith most fully when we have one foot in our church community and one foot in our city streets, when we strengthen our relationship with God in prayer and fellowship while also bringing it to those who scrape and scuffle for a better life. I am hopeful, as part of the outreach staff at Rockhurst, that we, as companions of Christ, live out this message in our city and beyond.
Advent is synonymous with journey—it’s a spiritual time to walk more closely with the divine. When Mary made the long journey to see her cousin, Elizabeth, they embraced as the first humans to share the Messianic secret; later she and Joseph made a similar pilgrimage to Bethlehem and then, as the Holy Family, they took a longer trek into Egypt. Their journey was harrowing but it helps us understand the plodding of our own feet. They remind us, like Bruce Springsteen did in his 1987 lament, One Step Up, that humanity’s movement is not always a forward motion. We get disappointed by obstacles we face, decisions we make, things we do, words we say, or how we reveal ourselves to others; with every “one step up” we sometimes take two steps back. For example, we want to welcome immigrants from the southern border who come here for a better life, not unlike our own ancestors did, but we’re rightfully concerned about dangerous and deadly drugs that infiltrate our communities by the same route. Walking in solidarity with the poor is difficult.
As Christians, we’re taught to err on the side of compassion more than caution. Our Advent challenge is to help those who endure major and minor setbacks to get back up and take a step onward and upward. We accept the challenge by standing with them and the Holy Family at the same time: one step on the road to Bethlehem and one step on Troost Avenue, one foot in our church praising the wonders of the incarnation and the other walking with suffering citizens among whom we distribute food, warm clothing, and Christmas cheer. We stride with the Lord when we give attention to those that are ignored or discarded. Of course, as Springsteen croons, even on our best days, it’s not usually in a straight line—maybe two steps up and one step back, or a spiral movement by which we meander down a road of promise. It is a lot to ask of anyone: protecting what we know while taking risks for what we are called to be, having one step in our daily routine while the other offers attention to improving our world, keeping one leg on safe and solid footing with the other looking out for, and taking care of, those in need.
Advent is a good time for us to grapple with and embrace Father Curran’s message, a good time to be reminded that we are all students of a higher learning.