Advent’s Light

With the start of the Advent season also comes the glitter and sparkle of the secularized Christmas Season. Lights are put outside, trees are decorated; neighborhoods start to glow; all in the name of the ‘Holiday Season’. Some Catholics lament over the lost importance of Advent – and with good cause. Many of the faithful succumb to this secular season and give little, if any, regard to the importance of Advent. Some of these lamenting Catholics urge us to sweep aside these ‘secular traditions’ so we can bring back the meaning of Advent. There is some import in what they urge. This initial season of the new liturgical year is multilayered with spiritual realities; but it can be easily swept aside by the busy-ness, anxiety, and even despair (of varying intensities) that comes with this time of year. As it stands now, for many Advent is the lost season.

This evening I want to reflect on one of those important spiritual realities that can be missed in the blaring and glaring of the secularized season. So I ask myself and you: what comes with Advent? What comes with the beginning of the presence of our Lord in our minds and hearts?

Hope!

As Catholics we should be a continually hopeful people. In a very real way each day should start with the Advent of, the beginning presence of, hope. Hope should be the persona that everyone sees in us. St. Peter tells us in his first letter: ‘Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you…[1] He takes for granted that it is hope that people see in us. And why? St. Peter tells us that in his first letter as well: ‘By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…[2] We have hope; indeed, we are ontologically hopeful because God has given us hope through and in his Son. The Holy Spirit dwells within us – hope is part of our being.

Holy Mother Church’s celebration of Advent places an intense focus the two great hopes – one is eschatological and the other historical, but both are in the present; the final coming and the nativity. We are waiting for both; the former in anticipatory hope and the later with a retrospective hope. We are comforted with both; one because of a longed for homecoming and the other because of the realization of God’s love for us[3].

Brothers and sisters in Christ – let’s start this Advent season by prayerfully looking into our hearts and bringing forth the hope that God instills in us. Let’s reflect on our station in life and what the hope of Christ brings to us at this moment. Let’s pray for the ability to, as St. Peter urges; ‘make a defense for the hope within us.’ Let’s reintroduce ourselves to the hope of Christ.

Finally, in difference to those lamenting Catholics I mentioned earlier; this return to an Advent frame of mind doesn’t mean we need to shut ourselves off from the secularized atmosphere of the season. Our ability to fruitfully participate in the Advent Season doesn’t preclude us from participating in the secular glitter and tinsel of this Holiday Season. St. Paul in 2nd letter to the Corinthians wrote at length about living in the world, not of it. We are called to do the same. Christ’s last words on earth commanded us ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations[4] In obedience to His command Holy Mother Church throughout Her history went into the world and took what the local populations held as traditions and, if they could, they enriched these traditions with religious understanding – gave them their fullest meaning. This new evangelization, initiated by Pope St. John Paul the Great, not only calls us to reintroduce Christ to those who have forgotten His message – but to do this it also calls us to revitalize our secular traditions with divine intent.

So let’s put this into practice – let’s repurpose society’s celebration. As you drive down darkened streets and come upon one or two (or more) glowing houses – think of our heavenly home shining through the darkness of the world. Feel the excitement that we have for these colorful displays and elevate it to heaven where, as St. John writes in Revelation: ‘night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light[5] Look to the beauty and dazzling effects of a Christmas tree and the curious anticipation felt for the gifts under it and allow it to restore in us true hope for not only the celebration of Christ’s incarnation but our final homecoming. Allow the sights, sounds and energy of society’s celebration to enter our hearts so we can place a sacred meaning to them – a meaning that will enliven our hope given to us by Christ. A hope that will energize us to bring others with us on our journey in this new liturgical year.

———————————————————————

All bible quotes taken from RSV
[1] 1 Peter 3:15b
[2] 1 Peter 1:3-4
[3] St. Augustine: “Nothing was so necessary for raising our hope as to show us how deeply God loved us. And what could afford us a stronger proof of this than that the Son of God should become a partner with us of human nature?” http://www.ncregister.com/blog/dan-burke/an-augustine-christmas-10-comments-on-the-incarnation-of-christ
[4] Matthew 28:19
[5] Rev 22:5

Advertisements

The Mist

After last Sunday the readings at Mass have turned Eschatological; Holy Mother Church is now reflecting on the end of times. This of course continues to next weekend and the Solemnity of Christ the King; but it doesn’t stop there. Our meditation on the end-of-times continues into Advent, indeed the first three weeks of Advent are concerned with it.

Mankind has always tried to look forward to see what will happen – what is our fate. In his first Volume of Jesus of Nazareth Pope Benedict XVI opens with this consideration. ‘In every age, man’s questioning has focused not only on his ultimate origin; almost more than the obscurity of his beginnings, what preoccupies him is the hiddenness of the future that awaits him. Man wants to tear aside the curtain; he wants to know what is going to happen, so that he can avoid perdition and set out toward salvation.[1] We just want to know. With the horrific events in Paris this week this becomes even more pressing for us. What does the future have in store for us? We have seen once again how suddenly life can end; we are nervous about our future.

But, whereas mankind looks with uncertainty and even trepidation to the future, to eternity; and is preoccupied with knowing about it; this is not why Holy Mother Church takes five weeks or so to reflect on it.  There should be no worries.

The Jews of Christ’s time had a unique and healthy understanding of eternity. It doesn’t start with our death – it starts now. We too should embrace this understanding; we are already in eternity, we are already living in the Kingdom of God.  Though we know that eventually we all will see the final judgement; we know what is in store – Christ. Holy Mother Church offers us these weeks of reflection to help us embrace the true path; not to ponder where it leads.  Our uncertainty should be directed within; how are we living the life God calls us to.

When events such as those in Paris this week strike us to the heart, and doubt about our future swells within us, we should embrace eternity by embracing He who is the face of eternity – Jesus Christ; the one who tells us ‘Take heart, it is I; have no fear.[2] And then with open hearts longing for forgiveness and mercy, and the desire to be with Him we can be at peace because will know what lies in store for us – the mist of the future will separate pierced by the light of Christ.

——————————————————-
[1] Jesus of Nazareth Vol 1 pg 1 – Pope Benedict XVI
[2] Mark 6:50 (RSV)

Faith in He who never leaves us.

Today’s readings can be a little unnerving. In the First reading from the 1st Book of Kings[1] we witness Elijah asking a widow to give the last food she has.  She has already accepted her, and her son’s fate of starvation. God, it seems has left her alone; He is not helping her, they are abandoned. In the Gospel[2] today Christ points to a poor widow who gives up all the money she has. She is in the same state as the widow with Elijah. This is very contrary to the societal mentality of self-preservation. Living for today not worrying about tomorrow is just bad advice in the eyes of most – today and yesterday. Yes, today’s readings can be unnerving.

However, the common theme in both readings, explicit in the first reading and implicit in the Gospel is that we need to have total faith – it will suffice.  The widow who Elijah meets obviously has faith in God – ‘As the Lord your God lives,[3] she says; meaning as ‘God is my witness’ – she believes. Elijah replies with ‘Fear not;’[4] meaning ‘keep hold of your faith’. He tells her that if she trusts in God, God will not abandon her. In the Gospel Christ compares the rich and the poor woman and approves of her, not them; she is doing right in the eyes of God – her faith will save her. And this is true. The main point in today’s reading is that – faith in God. Not only a faith in words; but also putting our faith in action.

But today I was struck with a secondary point in these two readings, which is just as important; this faith is in a God who never leaves us. ‘And she went and did as Elijah said; and she, and he, and her household ate for many days.[5] we hear in the first reading. She does what is asked of her by God’s prophet Elijah, and as a result ‘she, and he, and her household ate for many days’[6] He – Elijah doesn’t leave her. And of course it is God Himself pointing out the sacrifice of the poor women to the disciples. This God would continue on and not only offer Himself for each of us but would make sure that we are participants in His supreme act in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He never leaves.

Brothers and sisters, we need to remember every time we are tempted to doubt our faith, when we are afraid to act on our faith; that we are never alone, abandoned by He who are faith is based on. He is always with us. We can hold our hearts still with the confidence that, come what may, He is right there. He is our most intimate advocate, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes in today’s second reading.[7]

With these thoughts in mind today’s Collect explodes with additional import:

Almighty and merciful God,
graciously keep from us all adversity,
so that, unhindered in mind and body alike,
we may pursue in freedom of heart
the things that are yours.[8]

———————————————————————-
[1] 1 KNGS 17:10-16
[2] MK 12:38-44
[3] 1 KNGS 17:12
[4] 1 KNGS 17:13
[5] 1 KNGS 17:15
[6] ibid
[7] HEB 9:24-28
[8] Collect 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

‘Family Time’

I don’t know about the rest of you but I always look at the Solemnity of All Saints as the winding down of the ‘School of Discipleship’ – Ordinary Time; only four more Sundays and then its Advent. We have Thanksgiving coming up in just four Thursdays. We are coming very close to the most ‘family oriented’ of times – Christmas.  I can almost feel the additional pounds just waiting for me.

But if we look closely, Holy Mother Church starts ‘family time’ today and tomorrow. The Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls) tomorrow are intense celebrations of our Christian family.

Solemnity of All Saints.
Today we look to heaven, to those of our family who have triumphed in their journey and made it home – the saints.  They have lived a life in pursuit of God’s design. They have taken the words of Christ proclaimed in the gospel today as meat to live on, and the Ten Commandments as guideposts to lead them.  They weren’t always perfect, they struggled and they were tempted and every so often failed; but they continued to offer themselves to the Father through Christ. Or as Dr. Peter Kreeft writes: ‘The saints, too, had wandering minds. The saints, too, had constantly to recall their constantly wandering mind-child home. They became saints because they continued to go after the little wanderer, like the Good Shepherd.[1] They knew who they were and who they needed for strength and help. They overcame their weaknesses by submitting to the mercy of God and receptive to His will.

Their lives are something we should always and everywhere reflect upon. Saint John Paul the Great wrote: ‘All the saints have ever been, and are, poor in spirit, meek, afflicted, hungry and thirsty for justice, merciful, pure of heart, peacemakers, persecuted because of the Gospel. They have been these things in varying degrees. We have to be like them. “God’s will” is our sanctification.[2] They are our big brothers and sisters who, by their examples and prayers, will help us home. They are the ones we should look to for intercession and guidance.

Our celebration today of All Saints isn’t really for them, they don’t need our praise. St. Bernard in a homily said: ‘The Saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs…. But I tell you when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.[3]  It is a celebration to remind us of their value in our lives as example and help. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘Saints spend their lives in this world loving God and other people, imitating Jesus Christ who “went about doing good.” And when they get to heaven, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (no. 2683), they “constantly care for those whom they have left on earth… Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.[4]

All Souls
But this is not the only dynamic in this family of ours.  We are guided and helped by our big brothers and sisters; but, as in any family we are responsible for each other. Tomorrow, the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls) is where we take these gifts we have received and pass them on.  We are called to help those around us. It is easy to see the need among our living family members; but what of those who have preceded us from this part of the journey?  Do they need our help? Most likely.  Obviously, if a soul is in hell then no prayer can help; if a soul is in heaven then no prayer is needed; but a soul in purgatory can be helped by our intercession. How do we know who of our departed family needs help? Let’s pray for them all. In 2nd Timothy St. Paul writes about his recently deceased friend Onesiphorus, who was a model christian: ‘may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day.’[5] As Christians we are commanded, and as family we are obligated through love, to help each other; and for our departed that is through prayer – let’s pray for them all.

Brothers and sisters, I can’t help but wonder about the day of my judgement when Christ asks me about how I helped our family.  I have this picture in my mind that behind Him will be our big brothers and sisters eagerly waiting to see if I lived up to their example. Will they be proud of me?

———————————————————————————————————————

[1] Dr. Peter Kreeft, Prayer for Beginners
[2] Prayers and Devotions 365 Meditations
[3] Disc 2, Opera Omnia Cisterc. 5, 364ff
[4] http://www.josemariaescriva.info/article/the-intercession-of-the-saints
[5] 2 Tim 1:18