He was 72 when the final stage of his life’s work began and, it was not as though the previous four or five decades had been easy.
During his long period of incarceration he had plenty of time to think, reflect and, pray. He faced two options; cultivate an ever-deepening hatred for those who caused such terrible suffering in his native land, or to begin to understand what it might mean to truly forgive, to seek reconciliation and, justice for all.
For Nelson Mandela, unlike many of us in the ‘developed’ world, the third option, that of apathy and disinterest was not a viable alternative. Mandela, as we know, chose the hardest course, that of love and peace. Although he left prison to a hero’s welcome, in theological terms he left through the narrowest of gates; the gate peace and love, the gate through which the kingdom of heaven comes to earth. Michael Burke the BBC journalist, who was refused permission to work in South Africa during the latter stages of the apartheid regime, has suggested that Mandela was ‘sanctified through suffering.’
It seems to me that although few of us will suffer Nelson’s fate, we all are faced with similar choices, in the face of suffering, disappointment, injustice (perceived or real) and pain. Do we choose to harden our hearts, or do we allow ourselves to be transformed into agents of peace and reconciliation. The second option is, of course, the disciple’s mandate.
So what has all this got to do with Advent?
Well maybe quite a lot, for Advent is a season of purposeful waiting, or anticipation. Mandela never stopped anticipating a better future, whatever new setbacks came his way he continued to hope. We must do the same.
Advent also provides us with the opportunity to reflect, in a spirit, of rigorous honesty on our own lives, in particular the orientation of our hearts. It is after all a ‘confessional season.’
Recently in one of the Celtic Daily readings I was reminded of the story of the novice monk, who was encouraged by his spiritual mentor to:
‘Go to your cell and your cell will teach you everything.’
Maybe, encouraged by Mandela, this should be our Advent challenge.
Maybe, we can accept the challenge encouraged by the Celts who affirm in one of the blessings that ‘patient endurance attaineth to all things.’
God bless, for the remainder of Advent,