From Guilt to Responsibility

BY WILL RUTT | December 17, 2018
Sunday’s Readings

I’m tired, and not just because it’s the end of another busy semester of teaching, service learning, graduate school, and countless extracurricular activities. I’m beat down. Amidst the deep wounds caused by the sexual abuse scandal in the Church, increased vitriolic and xenophobic actions and rhetoric, and the institutional marginalization of so many people, I feel disoriented and paralyzed. This is all compounded by the fact that my privilege allows me to keep so many of these injustices at an arm’s length.

As I consider this Advent season, specifically the readings for the third Sunday, I can’t help but notice the theme of hope sourced in joy. The readings challenge us to center ourselves in the strength of the Lord, and in the joy of building the kingdom. Over the past year I have been pushed to examine my privilege (white, educated, U.S. citizen, cisgendered, male, to name a few), and many times I have found myself in a state of desolation—desolation that flows from insecurity and manifests itself in guilt. This guilt is a choice of hopelessness. It causes paralysis and makes me afraid to go where it hurts; to have difficult conversations with my students about race, gender, and immigration; to love those I disagree with. It causes me to become defensive and to listen to respond, rather than listening to care for.

The author (left) with Brophy College Preparatory students at the 2017 Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice Advocacy Day. [Brophy College Prep via Flickr]

Advent promises a different way, a different source. It promises that God “will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.” Renewal is a remedy for tiredness, hopelessness, and guilt. Trusting in our goodness transforms guilt into responsibility. We need only look to John the Baptist for a model of responsibility. Rather than lamenting the circumstances, John the Baptist understands his role. He understands his goodness as God sees it, allowing it to be used for preparing the initiation of God’s reign. Trusting where God has placed me, as well as in the goodness of my desire to build the kingdom, I can leverage my privilege to spread God’s love. In doing so, I am able to sit with the pain of my students with empathy, confidence, and strength. From there, I am able to lovingly challenge them to choose compassion over competition, and to sustainably stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed. Together, we are able to hope in the alternative reality God offers to all of us in Jesus.

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