O Radix Jesse: O Root of Jesse, who stands as a sign for the people, and before whom rulers are silent while the nations pray: come to save us and do not delay!
The “O Antiphon” for 19 December begins “O Radix Jesse.” While some translations use the word, “flower” for the Latin “radix,” I prefer the more literal “root” because it signals clearly the Mystery being invoked in this prayer. The point of this ancient antiphon is to identify the coming Messiah as the very root and foundation of creation and covenant. Our connection to Christ and to the world is not a superficial grafting onto a minor branch of the family tree, but to the very root itself. We are grounded, connected and vitally linked to Christ.
As ministers of the Church’s charity, justice and mercy, we deacons (this is, after all, a blog focused on the diaconate!) must lead in our concern for those who find themselves cut off from society and church and perhaps even cut off from that very Root of Jesse. Pope Francis, in Evangelium Gaudium condemns anything which contributes to such isolation of human beings. Even concerning economies, for example, he condemns any “economy of exclusion and inequality. How can it be that it is not a news item when as elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock mart loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrwon away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality” (#53). We are to be a people of INCLUSION AND EQUALITY, not exclusion and inequality.
Inclusivity and encounter continue to be themes of the papacy of Pope Francis. In his homily opening the Holy Door for the Extraordinary Year of Mercy on 8 December, he reminded us that he selected the date deliberately to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. Read this remarkable conclusion to his homily:
Today, here in Rome and in all the dioceses of the world, as we pass through the Holy Door, we also want to remember another door, which fifty years ago the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council opened to the world. This anniversary cannot be remembered only for the legacy of the Council’s documents, which testify to a great advance in faith. Before all else, the Council was an encounter. A genuine encounter between the Church and the men and women of our time. An encounter marked by the power of the Spirit, who impelled the Church to emerge from the shoals which for years had kept her self-enclosed so as to set out once again, with enthusiasm, on her missionary journey. It was the resumption of a journey of encountering people where they live: in their cities and homes, in their workplaces. Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel, and the mercy and forgiveness of God. After these decades, we again take up this missionary drive with the same power and enthusiasm. The Jubilee challenges us to this openness, and demands that we not neglect the spirit which emerged from Vatican II, the spirit of the Samaritan, as Blessed Paul VI expressed it at the conclusion of the Council. May our passing through the Holy Door today commit us to making our own the mercy of the Good Samaritan.
The pope’s message is quite clear and, when considered as part of our Advent reflection on “O Root of Jesse”, particularly on point. As Christians we thrive when we are grafted to the Messiah, the source of life. Our mission of mercy is to serve to graft others to the Messiah as well. Our faith is not merely expressed in a text — no matter how vital those texts are in themselves — but in the concrete encounter of one person with another. The pope even dares to use an expression often mocked by certain Catholics, the “spirit which emerged from Vatican II” and equates that spirit with the spirit that drove the Samaritan, the Samaritan who is our model for the mercy of God.
In my own life and ministry, do I keep the fundamental truth of the “Root of Jesse” in mind? Do I seek to find ways to include all persons equally in the life of the church? What structures and attitudes exist which are exclusionary and unequal and need to be changed? Do I live in “the spirit of the Samaritan?”