From the Bishops Advent: Black Friday Turned Inside Out

Tragic. Sad. Lamentable. Despicable. No one word can describe the Black Friday death of a 34 year-old Haitian man. Despite dire predictions based on an economy in crisis, shoppers spent more than $10.6 billion. They braved the early morning darkness to line up in front of stores for holiday sales. In Valley Stream, Long Island, an impatient crowd of 200 shoppers rushed the doors of a store. In their zeal for bargains to make their own lives more comfortable, they stampeded to death a young man merely trying to earn a living. It all took place just before 5 AM on November 28, 2008.

Certainly, not one of them valued a single bargain more than a young man’s life. But their actions showed otherwise. Certainly, no one intended to kill the young man. But they did! Moments of such gross self-absorption should make us stop and think. Is this an isolated incident? Or, is this symptomatic of our age? Has the pace of life today spun us into a whirlwind of self-centered impatience that blinds us to those around us?

There is no doubt that we live at a faster pace than our parents. An international study recently tested 70 people in 35 cities and concluded that people are actually walking 10% faster than ten years ago. We are a people in a hurry. We gulp our soda. We devour our food. We bolt for the door. Most Americans eat one of every five meals away from home. Four out of 10 meals not eaten at home are at fast food places. Fast foods are more popular than ever. Instant coffee. Instant soup. Instant pizza. The microwave is not just a convenience. It is a symbol of life that keeps accelerating each day.

Even the way we communicate with each other is on rapid fast-forward. Emails. Cell-phones. Instant text-messaging. In an ordinary face to face conversation, we average about 160 words per minute. But, TV and radio commercials attack us with 210 per minute. Time is money. No word wasted. Fast, rapid speech is just another example of how we hurry from one thing to the next.

People who walk fast, eat quickly, speak fast do not like to stand in line and wait. We are accustomed to instant satisfaction. We are impatient. How much profit, therefore, we can gain by truly entering the Season of Advent! Advent is the season of patience, human and divine.

After Adam and Eve sinned, God did not become impatient and immediately wipe them from the face of the earth. "The Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger" (Ps. 145:8). God’s slowness to anger is His patience; His mercy translated into deed. Even before He expelled them from the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve the first promise of salvation. He announced to them that one day the Savior would come to destroy the enemy who had led them to sin. He told the devil, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He (i.e. the Son of David, the Messiah) will crush your head" Gen 3:15). God is patient with his disobedient children.

From the promises made to Abraham to the message spoken to the Virgin Mary, God again and again stirred up hope for the coming of the Messiah. Centuries passed. People waited. Hope burned deeply in their hearts. The time before the coming of Christ at Bethlehem was the world’s first Advent. In all this, there is a divine patience guiding the events of our salvation. "The Lord …is patient…, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pt 3:9). God’s patience is His mercy leading us to turn from sin and to open ourselves to the gift of His love in Christ.

During Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ in history, our eyes stretch beyond the horizon of time. We patiently wait for the glorious return of Jesus. The Lord is coming again to bring to completion the unfulfilled longings of all creation. As Paul reminds us, "…all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; …we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies" (Rm 8: 22-23).

Creation still groans for redemption in every Black Friday where the self-absorbed trample beneath their feet those who stand in the way of more material comfort. However, we are a people filled with hope born of Bethlehem. By living the Advent Season, we are turning every Black Friday inside out. In the light of Christ’s first coming, we see the true image of God in each of our brothers and sisters. We remain one with them, as with the Lord himself. We neither walk by another in need nor walk over those in our way. With eyes fixed on the Lord, we imitate his love and walk patiently with one another in justice and charity. Thus, the light of Advent already dispels the darkness of every Black Friday.

Reprinted with permission of The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

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