Pope Francis is considered by many to be a liberal but when it comes to balconies and armchairs he is a prohibitionist of the first order. No ifs and buts, balconies and armchairs are verboten for Catholics, particularly during the Advent and Christmas (apologies to Commissioner Helena Dalli) period.

Why, one may ask, this harsh attitude against balconies and armchairs?

In October 2017, while addressing members of the Vincentian Family, Francis said that the person who loves does not just sit in an armchair watching and waiting for the world to improve but, instead, he or she gets up and does it with enthusiasm.

During his Angelus address on this year’s first Sunday of Advent, Francis again said he was sad to “see Christians in the armchair”, paralysed by life’s mediocrities and asleep to the Gospel message.

Francis used the balcony metaphor on several occasions. One of the most powerful was when, in 2015, he addressed members of Italy’s Christian Life Community.

“Do I as a Catholic watch from my balcony?” He emphatically answered: “No, you can’t watch from the balcony. Get right in there!”

No surprise since activism is at the core of the Christian’s DNA.

Grinch that stole Christmas

There is logic to this prohibition. Christmas is the feast of the birth of Christ. He shared our humanity so that we humans now have the possibility of sharing in the divinity of God. Awesome, isn’t it?

There is nothing more than sharing the divine nature that enhances the dignity of each one of us. As a result of the Incarnation, Christ did not remain in the celestial balcony, observing at a distance the foibles, the strengths, the bad, the good and the ugly doings of humanity. He became one with humanity. He got involved, in the thick of things.

Neither did he stay in the comfort of an armchair playing the part of an armchair critic telling humanity what it should do or not do. He taught by example. Instead of an armchair, He chose a cross.

Christmas is not about alienation, rabid commercialisation or consumerism. The Grinch that stole Christmas is the treacle and artificial image of Christmas that had been projected as the norm by the consumer neo-capitalist society.

On the contrary, Christmas is based on the belief in a God who is so madly in love with us that He became one of us. Christmas is a great happening of cosmic proportions, heralding a paradigm shift in the way we should live our humanity and organise the world. It points towards a radical political programme that can achieve this.

Your Advent calendar should include two very important actions, which are part of the radical political programme that emanates from the belief in the Incarnation: hope and activism.

Foment hope

Many in Malta are losing hope. Most of our youths have had enough of, among other things, corruption, greed and the exploitation of the environment. As a result, they want to leave the country.

You can only celebrate Christmas fully if you stop moaning, get off your proverbial and start acting- Fr Joe Borg

Numerous persons my age are also losing hope. They are resigned to the belief that things cannot be changed. They have surrendered to the demons that spread the tale that all is lost. Thus, they are destined to sink into the quicksand of mediocrity.

Christmas is the antithesis of all of this.

Let us do something about it. Bishop Ricardo Valenzuela Ríos of Caacupé, Paraguay, just published a pastoral letter titled ‘Let’s organise hope’.

“We have an obligation to ‘organise hope’ in Paraguay in order to leave behind the effects of the pandemic and put an end to the national epidemic of impunity, because corruption also kills,” he wrote. 

For him, true hope means that no one lets him or herself be plunged into pessimism; translate it into concrete everyday action for the common good.

What concrete actions can you do to organise hope in your life and that of others?

Leave the armchair, become an activist

You can only celebrate Christmas fully if you stop moaning, get off your proverbial and start acting. Work to change structures not just people.

Some examples follow.

Our economy is doing well but wealth is not being fairly distributed. The gap between those who earn most and those who earn the least is widening. The number of the Maltese at the risk of poverty or social exclusion increased from 89,382 in 2016 to 100,712 in 2020.

Besides donating money, join an NGO fighting the roots of poverty and help in your parish Diakonia group.

Bishop Valenzuela Ríos’s reference to the epidemic of impunity and corruption that kills could be written about Malta. So much dirt is being revealed that many are now being desensitised to all this, almost considering it to be the natural order of things, albeit an unfortunate order of things. Resist this temptation. Join an NGO fighting impunity and corruption.

The throwaway culture is a core by-product of the capitalist mentality. Discourse about the throwaway culture is a leitmotiv of this pontificate. This is a culture in which unwanted items and unwanted people, such as the unborn, the elderly, migrants and the poor are discarded as waste. The throwaway culture destroyed the environment making planet earth among the weakest of the weak.

The protection of the rights of the weakest is what makes us human and the only way forward to build a humane and just society. Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi frequently said that “the rights of the weak are not weak rights”.

Do not become part of this culture. Fight it by joining a political party, a pro-life group or an environmental NGO.

Christmas is not just or mainly the time to be jolly. It is more the time to kindle hope and activism.

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