Archive for December, 2010

Gaudete Sunday

December 13, 2010

“Rejoice the Lord is near!”  The third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday; the word “gaudete” is a Latin word that means: “rejoice.”  Advent is a season in which we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ; it is a time to examine our hearts and rid them of all that is not pleasing to Our Lord.  Today marks the halfway point of Advent, which means that our celebration of our Savior’s birth is quickly drawing near.  The Church briefly changes our focus and sets this Sunday aside as a time for rejoicing in anticipation of the full joy that will surround Christmas.

One of symbols that the Church uses to reflect this change in focus is the color rose.  The color of the vestment that the priest wears for all of the other Sundays of Advent is purple.  Purple is a subdued color; it reminds us that Advent is a penitential season: a season in which we are called to turn away from our sins and repent.  This Sunday the vestment is lighter: it is rose.  That lighter color is meant to represent the lighter character of Gaudete Sunday.  It is not the joyful white color which will be worn at the Masses of Christmas, yet it is lighter than the purple that is worn throughout the rest of Advent.

It might seem strange to have a day of rejoicing in the midst of a season in which we are to focus on preparing our hearts by ridding them of sin.  The truth of the matter is that we cannot have real joy unless we cast sin out of our hearts.  God and sin cannot abide together.  Jesus said it like this: we cannot serve two masters: either we will love the one and hate the other or hate the one and serve the other.  The more our hearts are sinful and attached to this passing world the less room there is in our hearts for God.

God’s plan for us is to be happy; He created us to be happy.  God wants to bestow upon us every good thing: Saint Paul says that He bestows upon us every spiritual blessing in the heavens: only we have to have hearts that are open to receive His gifts, which means that we have to have hearts that are free from sin.  Only when we eradicate sin from our hearts are we able to find the way to happiness in this world and perfect happiness in the next.  The happiness that God offers to us is not the temporary, superficial happiness that this world offers, but the true happiness that comes from really knowing and truly loving Him.

God wants us to be joyful.  Saint Paul urges us to rejoice in the Lord always.  To those unfamiliar with the Catholic Church, joy is not the first thing that comes to their minds when the Church is mentioned.  Many in the secular world view the Catholic Faith as nothing more than a complicated set of outdated rules which restrict freedom.  Our Church’s primary focus is not on enforcing rules; Jesus Christ established the Church so that it could help point out the way for us.  The purpose of the Church is to help us to draw ever closer to the Lord.  The point of our Catholic Faith is not rules or morality; the purpose of the Church is to help us encounter Jesus Christ in authentic, personal way.  The problem is that we cannot have that intimate and personal encounter with God if we are steeped in sin.  God and sin cannot dwell together in our hearts.  We have to choose.  The commandment that Jesus gives to us is to put God first in our hearts: to love Him above all things.  We fall into sin whenever we put something or someone above God.  Morality helps us to live the way that God created us to live: in true love.  The rules helps us to order our lives properly.  Morality is not the goal it is only a part of our journey towards God.  We don’t just rid our hearts of sin: we rid our hearts of sin in order to make room in our hearts for God.

When we let go of sin, it is not that we are then left empty.  Jesus Christ came to earth in order that we might have life and have it in abundance.  Our God wants to share His divine life with us, but He will not force us to live in relationship with Him.  He invites us: we have to accept the invitation.  Jesus stands at the door of our hearts and knocks, we have open the door and let Him in.  He wants to reign in our hearts, but He will not conquer them with an army: we have to surrender to Him.  God wants to fill our hearts but we have to accept His gift.

The Church acts in much the same way that Saint John the Baptist did: the Church points us to Christ.  The Church announces Our Savior and like Saint John the Church calls us to repentance so that we can put our hearts in order and make room for the King of kings.  The Church points out the way and also assists us in our journey through the Sacraments.  Let us make good use of the remaining time of this holy season of Advent that we might prepare our hearts to experience the true and lasting joy that comes from encountering Christ.  Let us rejoice this day for Our Lord is near.


Immaculate Conception

December 13, 2010

The Blessed Virgin Mary was the recipient of many extraordinary graces and privileges.  Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception; today we celebrate that singular gift of God by which Our Blessed Mother was preserved from all stain of sin right from the very first instance of her existence: from her conception in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne.

In the first reading, we heard about the effects of Original Sin.  Because Adam and Eve transgressed God’s command suffering and death entered the world.  Due to the fact that Adam and Eve rejected God’s friendship by their disobedience, the entire human race lost that original state of holiness in which our First Parents were created.

Jesus and Mary being excepted, every human being since the Fall of our First Parents have inherited from their conception a fallen human nature.  We, as children of Adam and Eve, are heirs to the consequences of sin.  The ordinary way that we are rescued from our fallen state is through the Sacrament of Baptism.  We are born with the stain of Original Sin upon our souls: we are born with the need to be purified from sin.  Jesus and Mary are the only two people that never shared in our fallen state.  They did not need to be purified because from the first moment of their existence they were preserved from sin.

Jesus, because He is both fully God and fully man, could never have been in a state of sin.  God and sin are completely at odds and incompatible with one another.  God is supremely holy.  He is without sin by His very nature.  When Scripture speaks of Our Lord becoming man it says that He became a man like us in all things except for sin.  He took on human nature, but it was an unstained human nature.  Like Jesus Mary also was preserved by God from the stain of sin.

We can see evidence of God’s plan to preserve Mary from sin right from the very beginning.  In the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve sinned, God said that He would put enmity between the woman and the serpent and that the woman and her seed would crush the head of the devil.  The woman and her seed that would crush the head of the devil clearly refer to Jesus and Mary.  From the beginning of the human race, God planned to send His Son to die on the Cross in order to save us from sin and death.  From the beginning, God promised to put enmity between the woman and the serpent.  That enmity implies total separation: Mary and the ancient serpent have nothing in common.

This revealed Truth of our Faith can be further seen in our Gospel reading.  When the Archangel Gabriel first appeared to Mary he greeted her with the words: “Hail, full of grace.”  Grace is the very life of God; in other words it is the indwelling of God in the soul.  We receive grace into our souls for the first time at Baptism.  One of the effects of Baptism is that it gives grace (divine life) to the soul.  The Archangel recognized Mary as one that is already completely full of grace even before the Incarnation was effected.  God and sin cannot abide in the same place.  When we commit mortal sin, we drive God from our soul.  Through Reconciliation that grace is restored.  For Mary to be completely full of grace, she had to be completely free of sin.  Grace, the divine life of God, cannot fully abide in a place that is not fully without sin.

This revealed Truth of our Faith makes sense if only we stop and think about it.  The Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity came to earth through Mary.  By the power of the Holy Spirit He was conceived within her.  From her and from her alone Jesus Christ received His human nature.  For nine months He remained hidden in her womb.  How could our all-holy God dwell in a less than holy tabernacle?

From the Fall of our First Parents God planned to send His Son into the world.  Right from the beginning Mary was part of the plan of Redemption: she is the woman whose seed has crushed the head of the devil.  God preserved her from all stain of sin in order to make her worthy of the awe-inspiring task of becoming the human Mother of His Eternal Son.  God completely filled her with grace, from the first instant of her existence, so that Our Lord could become Incarnate of her.  These remarkable gifts given to Our Most Blessed Mother ought to inspire our hearts with wonder and gratitude to God for all that He has done for Mary, the Mother of Our Lord and Our Mother.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.


Second Sunday of Advent

December 13, 2010

Today’s Gospel draws our attention to Saint John the Baptist.  This focus on Our Lord’s Precursor fits perfectly into this holy season of Advent.  Saint John’s entire mission focused around preparing hearts for the coming of the Savior.  Advent is precisely a season in which we are to prepare our hearts.  Saint John was the messenger sent to prepare the way for the Lord: he was the voice crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.  Saint John the Baptist called his hearers and he calls us to turn away from sin and to make of our hearts a fitting dwelling place for Christ.

When our God came down to dwell among us as a man almost two thousand years ago, He was not well received, by and large.  Scripture says that He came to His own and His own received Him not.  He was born in a stable and placed in the manger because there was no room for Him in the inn.  The only ones there to greet Him besides Mary and Joseph, were the animals and then later the shepherds and then the magi.

If we meditate upon that manger scene, it ought to make us just a little bit sad.  Yes, the birth of our Savior is a joyous event: it is one of the most important Feasts of the entire year: second only to Easter.  There will be great rejoicing when we celebrate Christmas in just a few short weeks; and yet at that first Christmas, when Our Lord was born, there were not many there to celebrate.  He came to His own and His own received Him not.  Christ’s first coming was humble, lowly, and quiet.  There was no room for Him in the inn.

It is scandalous, if we stop and think about it, that the Creator of the universe would not be welcomed by His own creatures.  It can be easy to find fault with those who failed to receive Christ at His first coming.  Yet we ought to remember that even now Christ stands and knocks at the door of our hearts.  Of course if we are in the state of grace God dwells within us, but Christ wants all of our heart not just part of it: He wants to possess our hearts entirely and completely.  He wants us to love Him above everything.  If we are honest with ourselves, we know that there is part of us that we have not yet surrendered to Christ.  If we are not saints, it is only because we have not given God all of our heart; if we are not saints, it is because we are holding part of our hearts back from the Lord.

God calls each and every one of us to be holy, His desire is that we all become saints.  If we are not saints it is only because we do not want to be.  God loves us completely, with all that He is, and He patiently waits for us; He calls us to respond to His love and give our hearts completely to Him.  God will not force us to give Him our hearts: we have to freely surrender them.  He wants us to let Him reign in our hearts: we have to allow Him into every part of our lives.  We must rid our hearts of all that is not pleasing to God: that is what Saint John the Baptist meant when he called us to make straight the paths and prepare the way for the Lord.

The person of Saint John the Baptist ought not only call to our minds the need to prepare our own hearts, but his example also ought to remind us of our duty to be witnesses to our Christian faith before others and by so doing help them to prepare their hearts.  Saint John the Baptist is a heroic witness and model for us.  He was fiercely devoted to his mission of bearing witness to Christ and yet at the same time he was very humble.  Saint John bore witness to the truth, even though it cost him his life.  He did not back down, even from the man that had power over his life and death.  Saint John was such a faithful witness that Christ declared him to be the greatest of those born of woman and yet Saint John saw himself as unfit to even untie the sandal strap of the Lord.  Saint John knew and lived his mission to bear witness and prepare hearts for Christ.

We have to ask ourselves: do we imitate the Baptist in our courage and in our loyalty to Christ?  Are we witnesses of Christ in the world?  Do our speech and our actions help others or do we hinder others from preparing their hearts by our example?  Let us strive to prepare our hearts for Christ.  Let us bear witness to Him in our words and in our deeds.  May we do all that we can during this Advent season to prepare the way of the Lord, and make straight His paths.  Saint John the Baptist: pray for us!  Amen.