Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Better Plan


The Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
Old Year’s Night at Rosary Monastery-St. Ann’s
31 December 2009

“When the appointed time came, God sent his Son…”
            One of the things which figure big on New Years is the or are the “countdowns”: ten… nine… eight… and so on down to midnight or whatever. Fun! If we’re a second off or twenty seconds off, early or late, it doesn’t really matter; it is the fun of the thing – counting down.
“When the appointed time came, God sent his Son…”
Jesus’ Birth of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, is different. There’s no countdown involved, but there was as St. Paul tells us in our Second Reading an “appointed time”; it was the fullness of time. The Saviour could not have been born sooner or later; He could not have been early or late. We find ourselves before the mystery of our God made visible in time. We see before us Jesus, true God and true Man, the Victor over sin and death. As the celebrant prays at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, blessing the Easter Candle: “Christ yesterday and today the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega; all time belongs to him, and all the ages; to him be glory and power, through every age for ever. Amen.” Hold that thought right through midnight and for the year to come!
            Today is our Octave Day since Christmas on December 25th; it is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God and it is one with the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord. Today on the eighth day, as St. Luke’s Gospel puts it: “they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception.”
Mary’s Feast coincides with January 1st and the beginning of another calendar year. By rights, I suppose, as far as these great mysteries go we should just ignore the countdown to midnight as nothing more than simple fun, an arbitrary cutoff or starting point. As we know, our liturgical year in the Church begins with the first Sunday of Advent; any number of ancient calendars, whether solar, lunar or stellar start on other days of the year. For us, January 1st however is January 1st and whether we pop corks, shoot fireworks or bow our heads in prayer, we acknowledge this moment in time. It is no less important because it happens approximately every 365 days, leap years duly taken into consideration. The challenge is to understand how New Years connects with these great and high holy days of the Christmas Season or how to use our sentiment at calendar flipping to draw closer to Christ our Light and Life.
Lots of people make resolutions today or tomorrow on January 1st. They mark the New Year with, yes, good intentions but which rarely go beyond the classic “New Years Resolutions” like once again for the umpteenth time to give up smoking, or trying again to cut calories, or this time hopefully to take three inches off somebody’s waist in time for Carnival. That is and it is not what the first of the year should be about. Instead of wishful thinking, January 1st ought rather to be for us the day, marking the beginning of another year, another decade, or as some of us experienced ten years ago a new millennium, the day to renew our own resolve to live a good and holy life, for our own sake and for the sake of the world in which we live.
I have heard tell that more Trinis come to church on Old Years Night than on any other day of the year; it would seem that on this Island there is a commonly felt need to thank the Lord for the blessings of the year ending and to beg the Lord for His favor and protection for the year ahead. These are good sentiments; they are something which should be. With such sentiments in our hearts we can easily understand the Church’s choice from the book of Numbers of the First Reading we just heard: “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.”
New Years is indeed a time to wish well and to bless, to seek God’s favor for ourselves and for those whom we love. It’s a great time to ask God’s guidance for all those men and women who, although they do not control our destiny, do certainly contribute to our welfare or woe. Our prayer at the beginning of another calendar year is not meant to coax God to be good or to do His thing for our sake, no, the sense of our prayer: “O God, be gracious and bless us” is that we and those with power over us might be well-disposed to cooperating with God’s plan for the salvation of the world.
            Since the time of Pope Paul VI today has also been for the Catholic Church the World Day of Peace. For this 43rd World Day of Peace our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has chosen the theme: If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation. Among other things the Holy Father writes: “The quest for peace by people of good will surely would become easier if all acknowledge the indivisible relationship between God, human beings and the whole of creation.”
            In a word, I guess you could say that the first of the year is a great day for us to get our act together. We can take stock; we can establish priorities; we can begin again. For us Catholics, all of this purposeful action is tied to the Mother of God and Jesus’ Birth and it should be carried out with an eye trained on how Mary lived her life. No doubt in the home of her parents, Sts. Joachim and Ann, she never experienced a New Years Eve party or even a countdown to midnight. Furthermore, I’d be willing to bet that Mary in her whole life never made a New Years Resolution.
I wouldn’t want to discourage you from such purposeful action or deprive you of the fun of ringing out the old and bringing in the new, but I think I’d like to suggest another and better way, not so much to begin another calendar year as to unite ourselves with the Saviour in His “appointed time” which was then and is now.
Take hold of the hand offered to you by Mary most holy, the Mother of this Child. For as much as we’d like a January 1st and preferably this January 1st to be the one where we free ourselves (read between the lines: by determined effort) from something, anything, everything, little or big, which may be holding us back or dragging us down, we have a better option. Hand in hand with the Mother of God, we can walk on together with the Wonder Counsellor, Father forever, God Hero, with the Prince of Peace.
 In the Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, a lot goes on and it would be a real pity if we limited ourselves to just one aspect of this great mystery. The same is true of life, of your life and mine. The power of positive thinking, bettering oneself through conscious effort, hard work: it is all right and good. In a sense, the fun aspects of celebrating a New Year pale by comparison with what we’d like to be progress, a personal effort moving ahead year by year. One of the best definitions of the Mass is that of the unbloody renewal of Jesus’ sacrifice once and for all upon the Cross. An important thing to remember is that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass always takes place with the presence and participation of the heavenly court, with the presence of the angels and the saints. Starting each New Year at Mass on the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, is terribly right because it brings home what is ultimately more important than resolutions, bubbly, firecrackers and countdowns. Not only do we start out right by offering Jesus’ Sacrifice for the life of the world, but we do it in good company; we do it in the best of company; we experience once again the flip of the calendar hand in hand with the Mother of God and all of the angels and saints. May Mary carry you through this night and may you walk hand in hand with her, close to her Son, Jesus, throughout 2010!
“Christ yesterday and today the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega; all time belongs to him, and all the ages; to him be glory and power, through every age for ever. Amen.”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Life to the Full


Christmas Midnight Mass
Rosary Monastery in St. Ann’s

24 December 2009


            “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race…”
            “Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
These two quotes, the first from our Second Reading (St. Paul’s Letter to Titus) and the other from the Gospel of St. Luke, are earth-shaking words which break the bonds of the here and now. They beg all sorts of ultimate questions and draw us into a reflection on God’s Love and our final destiny.
            “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race…”
            “Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
Where do we find consolation in this life? What is our hope? When can I let my guard down, so to speak, and be at peace? When have I arrived in port, at my place of rest? Am I saved? Has my Saviour come? Has the darkness of this world really been scattered? Is heaven here at hand? Have earth and heaven been joined?
With all of the rushing around some of us do right into Christmas Eve a person almost has to come and shake us in order to draw our attention to the big questions posed by Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem. Even if I am calm, cool and collected, ready to appreciate this Holy Season, my contemplation of this lovely young couple, Mary and Joseph, with the beautiful Baby Jesus, accommodated “no frills” in a stable, offers no guarantees that I would necessarily bring these ultimate questions to mind. But Christmas is about the most important things. The Birth of the Messiah divides time forever into a “before” and an “after”. The wonder of the Incarnation marks the fullness of time and a whole new way of looking at the world. With the Nativity business as usual or drudgery went out the window.
It is not uncommon to hear us older folk talking about enjoying life. We’re supposed to be on a diet; we’re supposed to be doing this and avoiding that. And it is not uncommon to hear someone say, “Well, you can’t expect me to give up everything! There’s got to be a little enjoyment to life!” That’s an everyday exclamation and not a commentary on time and eternity. Granted! Both types of expression have their place in our lives. And although we cannot be expected to always talk about ultimate things and there must be matters which are immediate and everyday, so to speak, our lives must also have some purpose or goal beyond today and tomorrow. This life (diet or no diet) cannot be the be-all and end-all of a Christian’s life. Life is not a space walk; we cannot just free-float doing our best not to bounce too hard off the walls which contain us, while struggling to avoid breakables and sharp objects. The message of this holy night recounts a blessing and reminds us that we have a destiny beyond the limits of the cradle and the grave.
Of late, one of my more productive meditations on how our lives should be lived as a result of the Birth of the Saviour has been my reflection on Purgatory, of all things! Purgatory may not sound very Christmassy, but bear with me!
The Catholic doctrine on Purgatory has always seemed right to me ever since I was a child, but up until recently it has been a concept, kind of out there, like some of those things at school that we memorize for examinations, but perhaps don’t really comprehend. In my case, I can’t say as I had previously come to an experiential understanding (an appreciation, let’s say, which touches me personally) of the why and wherefore of what is meant by temporal punishment due to sins which have already been forgiven in confession. Dealing with temporal punishment is different than making restitution, paying back what we might have stolen or trying to make reparation for having damaged somebody’s reputation. I always took the notion of my liability for temporal punishment after forgiveness as a tribute to my personal dignity and therefore responsibility for my actions and omissions before God. Basically, even as a child I guess I could understand that forgiveness was not yet healing and that penance was a remedy for harm done to myself, to my soul, through sin. Even so, I don’t think I’d really ever pondered enough what that particular judgment at the moment of my death, me standing alone before the Throne of God, would bring for pain – purgation – as my eyes were opened to eternity and I fully understood how things really are: what impact my sins had had on me and on the life of the world. Purgatory involves seeing clearly the consequences of acts or omissions for which we sought forgiveness, admitting or knowing they were wrong, but without a full appreciation of all the implications. The suffering we might undergo in Purgatory is what didn’t get done here; it is an after-the-fact sharing in what Sacred Scripture is talking about when it speak of us making up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.
What does Purgatory have to do with Christmas? In a sense, I guess, it has everything to do with Christmas, that is, if we remember that the Incarnation of the Word of God, God become Man, Jesus born at Bethlehem ends the stalemate between sinful or unredeemed humanity and our loving God. From the time of Adam’s sin people died and were buried; the B.C. (Before Christ) world still had some things to work through with God’s help (His choice in Abraham of a People, the giving of the Law through Moses, the mission of all the Prophets) before the fullness of time could come and God could send us a saviour. God Himself didn’t need a time-out or cooling off period, but human hearts had to be prepared to embrace the life with God which Adam and Eve had cast off so lightheartedly. Thanks to Bethlehem we live A.D. Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord.  “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race…”
It is important to keep in mind that there is life and there is life: life comfortable, life healthy, life to be enjoyed, and there is life: life unbounded, filled with lasting joy, life constant and faithful, life everlasting. I want to say something about Christmas and life, small-l, yes, to be enjoyed. I would also like to push a bit this Christmas the notion of Life, capital-L, which through the manger and the Cross leads to joy.
Life on the surface, regulating our behavior based on appearances, is part of the disobedience of our first parents: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.” (Gen. 3:6) Our world is all too full of people we could simply tag “Don’t Tread on Me” or “Leave Me Alone” or “I will not serve” – “If it feels good, it must be all right”.
One of the great things about knowing better, about living after Bethlehem is that even if we gravely or mortally fail, God’s grace in His Church is available to help us turn around, to restore us to life with God. We can be forgiven; there is a remedy even for big sins and banishment from the face of God; not the old man but Christ, the new Adam rules the scene. Step One! We have a Saviour! It truly is God’s world.
Step Two! One of the great things about living since that night in Bethlehem is that a defenseless Infant, a beautiful little boy, a fine youth, an extraordinary Man, Jesus, one like us in all things but sin, has come on the scene, offering us forgiveness from our sins, victory over the grave, but imposing nothing, leaving it all up to us and our free will in response to His Truth spoken in love:
“After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:66-69)
May this Christmas be for each and all of you a great celebration of life, small-l. Beyond enjoyment, however, may this anniversary of the Birth of Our Saviour at Bethlehem bring you joy, the ultimate ingredient to the celebration of Life, capital-L. As the expression goes, “We are somebody, somebody in no less than God’s eyes”. What a joy!
The English Christmas carol, God rest ye, merry gentlemen, is a bit antique and perhaps hard to understand or relate to, but it bears the full message and also mine to you this evening: Let nothing you dismay! Oh, tidings of comfort and joy!
“Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Read Wisely and Widely!

Approved Authors
Two books I read just recently, which have nothing to do with each other, reminded me of the old wisdom which, over the course of history and once again today, many groups in the Church have formulated into a hard and fast rule and namely, that we should only read approved authors. Maybe I need to specify. Not only are we to avoid suggestive, amoral or immoral literature, but we need to seek out approved Catholic authors for our educational enrichment and general edification. We need to read healthy, in other words.

Educational enrichment is something different from recreational reading, which, I would contend, should still be edifying for us serious people who have set our hearts on the world to come. The so-called “beach novel” or reading-material-for-the-airplane should be viewed with a critical ecological eye. We cannot afford time wasted on trashing our minds and producing paper pulp while heaven is waiting and forests are dying.

In our visual, media-driven society, quiet time with a book comes at a premium anyway, all the more reason for choosing wisely what little we do read. Personally, I love reading. In my own estimation, I don’t really do enough reading and I marvel at those rare individuals I meet whom I would class not only as voracious readers but as people who retain and draw upon what they’ve read to illustrate or explain life. The life-long student is somebody I gladly place on a pedestal.

That said I’d like to recommend one old title and nix a new one.

John Henry Cardinal Newman (soon to be Blessed!), “Loss and Gain. The Story of a Convert”. This marvelous little book fell across my path almost by accident. After struggling through “Apologia pro Vita Sua” as a young man, I had written off Newman as an un-tasty vegetable for which other greens could easily substitute. Maybe I’ve matured, but maybe too “Loss and Gain” is the crown jewel that I somehow missed. At any rate, to my mind the Servant of God outdid himself in this character study of a young Oxford student’s journey from Anglicanism to Catholic faith.

Truth to be told, the book has served me well in trying to understand what makes young Catholics today tick, those who are hopefully on their way to finding for themselves and fully embracing the faith in which they were baptized as infants. If you are a Newman fan or fanatic and haven’t yet claimed this prize, do so at your earliest convenience. It is great literature and offers some powerful insights into the adult awakening of faith (I read it on Kindle, also purported as a wonderful way to save trees!).

Let me nix a new title, which to my knowledge is not even out yet in English. I have a French edition from October 2007 and just saw a newspaper review of the Italian edition from 2009, Edizioni Piemme. No doubt the English translation won’t be far behind. Olivier Le Gendre “Confession d’un Cardinal”. A friend who was unduly impressed by the novel asked me to read it and give him my thoughts. Here it is in two words: “pulp fiction”! Thank goodness none of my Euros went to pay for that paperback! If it hadn’t been for my friend’s earnest and honest query, the book would have been trashed by chapter 3.

Le Gendre, a layman, cloaks himself in the character of a fictional, over-80 and retired, composite cardinal: a liberal, Italian, confidante of John Paul II, who lives the better part of the year in Thailand… Not only is there no such, but I can’t imagine any cardinal with such an impoverished ecclesiology. The perspectives illustrated might be those of an unthinking and uninitiated, but I’d seriously question the existence of such ignorance of the Faith or the possibility of such a thoroughgoing rejection of the Creed on the part of anyone within the College of Cardinals (not even the doorman!).

With this book, Le Gendre has made himself spokesman for a computer forum, which one must be screened to enter (www.sarepta-org.net). There is no way of knowing if anyone who is a practicing Catholic under 70 years of age may be a member of the forum, but despite denials the overall impression is one of a rather weak-kneed conspiracy on the part of a coterie of relativists to undermine sound teaching and genuine Catholic faith.

Le Gendre’s thesis is that the Church has failed in its encounter with science (Galileo, surprise!), democracy (the Piedmontese Royal Family in 1870 and Garibaldi), and is in the process of losing out on the globalization process for want of the ability to cut itself loose from Creed and Catechism to sort of free-float, while holding hands with the dying destitute, prostitutes and other victims of Western imperialism in an Asia which Le Gendre would probably leave Buddhist or anything but Catholic firmly rooted in the Tradition.

I think that two things may have convinced Piemme to produce an Italian edition: animosity toward our present Holy Father and espousal of some vague type of Gnostic agenda. It could be that the proof reader didn’t get beyond the title, much as was the case of my poor old auntie, decades ago, who thought that “Valley of the Dolls” was a children’s book.

Enough said! Le Gendre fails to get my Nihil Obstat. The book criticizes a perceived euro-centrism in the Church and fails to get beyond a sad set of European clichés, French ones to boot!

Approved authors, please! Even when it comes to novels, I am betting that few who may read these lines will have exhausted G.K. Chesterton, John Henry Newman, Evelyn Waugh and a couple other greats before the pulley falls into the well, your eyesight dims or the Trumpet sounds. Feed your mind as well as you watch your nutrition!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hastening the Coming of the Day of God


Advent Meditation
Church of the Holy Cross
6 December 2009, Santa Cruz

            “Properantes Adventum Diei Dei” (Hastening the Coming of the Day of God) is my bishop’s motto. It is from 2 Peter 3 and I would like to read verses 10-13 to you: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire! But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
            It may be a little different perspective than what we are used to thinking about when we talk about Advent but 2 Peter and my motto are part of what Advent is about as well: waiting for and trying to hurry up the coming of the Day of God. Advent is expectation, but it is also action.
Catholic teaching is clear with regard to this beautiful season which begins each year over again the liturgical cycle of feasts of our Lord. Advent we learned at home and in catechism, and as we hear each year on the 1st Sunday of Advent, is about Christ’s coming, about His two big comings and His one little coming for a total of three comings of Christ: 1. Jesus came into our world, born of Mary the Virgin, in the glory of the Incarnation, God become Man to save us from our sins; 2. (and this is the little coming we talk about) Jesus, the Risen Christ, Who comes into the hearts of all believers by grace and the Holy Spirit; 3. Jesus’ coming again in glory at the end of time to judge the living and the dead: that’s what our passage from 2 Peter 3 is talking about. “… waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!”
            This first season of the liturgical year, Advent teaches us that Jesus’ coming in glory at the end of time must be celebrated with an eye to the manger in Bethlehem, otherwise we might faint dead away out of fear before the One Who is to judge both the living and the dead. In Advent, Jesus’ great Second Coming is the one for which we prepare by remembering His First Coming among us as a Man. Advent is very much about preparing our hearts. Each year we use Advent to recall Jesus’ First Coming; it is a privileged time of active preparation for the Final Judgment, which we will all have to face. By striving for holiness or godliness we prepare and at the same time we can hasten, we can hurry up, the coming of the Day in which this world’s works will be tested by fire in the furnace of God’s burning love.
            How do we best keep or celebrate Advent? A little parang here a little Christmas fete there, being nice instead of naughty, because you better watch out… No, that is fine as far as it goes, but it is not even half of what Advent is all about. In Advent we can’t really just keep it light. As sweet and lovely as the sentimental can be, Advent is much more. Beyond all others this is the Church season of the heart, the noble heart, the tender and real heart. Advent focuses on the person of Jesus and His love for us. It focuses on Jesus’ heart and the thoughts of His heart which are sacred beyond all measure. The things of our hearts too and our relationship to Jesus, born at Bethlehem, a Man like us in all things but sin, are likewise at the top of the scale when it comes to importance. No other season, really, gives us such ready access to the person of Jesus and His unbounded love for each and every one of us singly and by name.
            Advent is to be celebrated as much at home as it is here in church. Advent folklore and tradition, its customs and joys come in great part from central Europe. Just think about the Advent Wreath or those neat Advent Calendars with a different window to open for each day of the season! Wreath or no wreath, special countdown calendar or no calendar, Advent is family time; it is time for family prayer.
I have all kinds of sympathy for folks who have a hard time with family prayer. At my house we always prayed before meals, but as I remember we had a rough time organizing most everything else. We could never have made the cover of a magazine for the family rosary or honestly been chosen to be put on a poster at the entrance of church to promote that devotion. When it was time for the family rosary, it always seemed as though some one of the babies was already over-tired and shrieking or somebody not so small was protesting, objecting or messing around instead of praying, making Dad’s blood boil, if nothing else. With the one little prayer used to light each week’s candle on the little Advent wreath we kept on the supper table we always seemed to do better. Perhaps because we were a larger family and harder to organize, individual time and prayer with each child went better, like the help from Mom with our bedtime prayers. Later in Advent, also a big hit was the appearance in the living room of our little crib scene (cardboard barn with straw glued to the roof and a drop down front with all the brightly painted plaster of Paris figurines glued to it and Mary, Baby Jesus and Joseph with the ox and the donkey inside).
Advent: O come O come, Emmanuel! Advent is at once profound and easy. To make a good Advent just takes a couple minutes at home away from other things: a couple minutes for Bethlehem with an eye to eternity; a couple minutes to open our hearts to Jesus to let Him into our lives today and better prepare for eternal life with Him in Heaven and for the arrival of new heavens and a new earth when He will be all in all. Advent is practice on how really to live my faith, with a little song, a little light, with lots of love and, above all, with a contemplative, that is, thinking awareness of who Jesus is for me and my life, day by day and for all eternity.
Advent is more than simple reminiscing. For a Catholic the work or activity of remembering is never as simple as recalling the past. When we set down roots and recall history, we are always laying the foundations or establishing the basis for further growth. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth and childhood, no less than His teaching during the three years of His public ministry leading up to His suffering and death on the Cross are not a matter of simple lessons to be kept in mind; they are a foundation; they provide our vantage point for living and being today. Recalling Bethlehem is not a trip down memory lane or a simple history lesson, but rather a source of light to help me situate myself in this world with my heart set on the world to come.
            I really think that those Fathers and Doctors of the Early Church had it right, who put the emphasis for this season on preparing well our hearts to receive Jesus at Christmas. Just as Bethlehem can reassure us to face the Last Judgment, so inviting Jesus to come into our hearts and finding Him there can also make us want to hasten the coming of the Day of God.
            Advent is not Lent. How specifically in Advent do I prepare my heart for Christ to come and enter there? In Lent we are encouraged to pray more, to fast (give up eating so much), and make sacrifices for the poor – almsgiving/charity. How is Advent different from Lent? The liturgical color, purple or violet, is the same, but the intensity, the duration and the focus are different. Lent is meant to be more intense than Advent and it is meant to center first and foremost on renewing the grace of our Baptism within us. In Advent, we don’t look so much to the hill of Calvary as to the cave at Bethlehem: we gain a vision from Bethlehem of human and family life in abject poverty, stripped of all show, reduced to its most essential. Advent is a meditation on how an extended family circle of believers (cousins: Elizabeth, Zechariah and their son, John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph) prepared for the coming of the Messiah, the Savior of the World.
In Advent, real life is caught up into God’s great mystery. Regular folks, like Elizabeth, Zechariah and Joseph, are invited by God’s special messengers, His angels, to cooperate in His plan to restore the sons and daughters of Adam to grace and communion with the Heavenly Father in and through the Incarnation of His Son, Jesus. Zechariah, the Old Testament priest, struggled with this good news but after a period of enforced silence came around and received his voice back at the birth of his son John, so as to be able to prophesy about the Messiah of whom John would be the precursor. Not everyone among you may need to seek out some self-imposed silence, like in the case of Zechariah, such that the mystery of God’s plan for each of us individually might sink in, but finding some quiet time each day is a healthy idea for bettering your Advent in preparation for Christmas. In Advent, real life is caught up into God’s great mystery. Seek some distraction-free space for yourself and let Bethlehem sink in; let our individual importance in God’s eyes and in His plan, as evidenced in the coming among us of His Son, have its effect on how you live and move.
Joseph struggled a bit too over the mysterious pregnancy of his highly respected fiancĂ©, but by the grace of God Joseph’s faith, hope and love conquered and this Old Testament man’s faith became the legendary pattern for every Christian layman, husband and father. Joseph had carpentry work to do; he had all the concerns typical of a man in the world trying to get ready for marriage; Joseph still found time for prayer and thereby was able to find answers to his puzzlement and anguish. Advent is meant as a privileged time for sorting things out and helping you get ready for eternity. Seeking God and His Will for my life in prayer at different moments in the day is a necessary compliment to Mass each and every Sunday.
Mary is crystal clear and receptive to God’s call through the archangel Gabriel to become the Mother of God’s Son. She is Advent in all its beauty and we look to her to see how we should celebrate these four weeks so as to receive Jesus and from our hearts and lives manifest Him to a waiting world. Letting Christ in and carrying Him in our hearts is the way, the best and only way, to prepare ourselves for heavenly glory. A consciously lived Advent, a contemplative Advent, will not make you anyone’s guru or sage, but it might make Baby Jesus and His destiny more a part of you; it might give you the confidence to live daily with a smile. An Advent with the Blessed Virgin Mary might make you as eager as she was on this earth to be close to her Son in the joy of heaven.
Advent is a good time to go to confession. How is an Advent confession different from a Lenten one? There may be no difference, because confession is about sin, about wrongful acts or omissions. Nonetheless, if I make my examination of conscience in an Advent spirit, I might have more to say to the priest about shortcomings and failings in my duties to family, whether I be the father and husband, the wife and mother, or the child, the brother or sister. Thinking of the crucible of Christ’s burning love and the Last Day when I won’t be able to fake or hide anything anymore, an Advent confession might even have a chance of being more complete than my best Lenten one ever thought of being. St. Ephrem the Syrian trembled out of eagerness but also out of fear when thinking of the Last Judgment. He would certainly have known how to make a good Advent confession. Let me quote one of his famous passages on genuine contrition for sin: “Frightening and terrible is the day of your judgment, O our Savior, when secret sins will be revealed. Therefore I tremble, O Lord, and am embraced by terror, for my sins have exceeded all bounds. Be merciful to me according to your compassion, O good and kind-hearted One!”
As I said at the beginning, Advent teaches us that Jesus’ coming in glory at the end of time must be celebrated with an eye to the manger in Bethlehem, otherwise we might faint dead away out of fear before the One Who is to judge both the living and the dead. Open your heart to the Baby Jesus, receive the Man and thereby know your God in the Person of Jesus Christ! Advent: we celebrate His Coming to test the world by fire in the crucible of His love. “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!”
“Properantes Adventum Diei Dei”
(Hastening the Coming of the Day of God)
That is my bishop’s motto. I know I need to try harder to live by it. That’s my Advent project. I’ll share it with you this Advent as an aid in your efforts to better wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.