Archive for the ‘Advent’ Category

4th Sunday of Advent 2011

December 24, 2011

When a Gospel text is very familiar, we have to put forth extra effort to be attentive and not tune it out. How well we all know the account of the Angel delivering God’s message to the Virgin Mary. How many times have we all used the Angel’s words in our own prayer: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” Precisely because we are so familiar with this Gospel, we need to stop ourselves from glazing over it and really meditate upon it with attention and devotion; the Church gives us this Gospel on this, the last Sunday of Advent, in order to stir up in our hearts joyful longing for the coming of Our Savior. The Church puts Our Blessed Mother before us in the Gospel today as a model of that joyful expectation that we are all to have.

It is easy for us to take for granted the way that the account goes: Mary says “May it be done to me according to your word” and the Eternal Son of God became one of us, in order to redeem us by His death and Resurrection. We know the way that the Gospel ends, and therefore we don’t always pay much attention to the details. Let us take a few minutes to really reflect upon this Gospel passage.

The Angel Gabrielle was sent by Almighty God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth. The word “Angel” means: “messenger”. Angels are pure spirits: they do not have material bodies: they can appear in a material form in order for them to convey their message to human beings, but Angels are purely spiritual beings. Gabrielle is known as an “Archangel”: an Archangel simply means an Angel (a “messenger”) with a very important message. Gabrielle is known as an “Archangel” because of the importance of the message delivered: in fact this is the most important of all messages for the human race: the Redeemer of the entire world, the Savior promised from the very beginning is about to come to earth. To us, this message is old news; that was not the case with Mary. When the Angel Gabrielle brought this message to Mary, she had no idea she was to be the Mother of the Eternal Son of God. All of the Old Testament looked for the coming of the Savior; all of the people awaited the One Who would come and set us free from sin and death. We can at times take His coming for granted, up until the time that the Angel spoke the words of today’s Gospel to her, Mary waited and longed for and prayed for the coming of the Redeemer, not knowing that her prayer and her desire would be fulfilled in her Holy Child. What must have been going on in Mary’s mind and in her heart while the Angel was delivering his message? Imagine the joy that Mary must have felt: at long last the Savior was to be born into the world; at long last the slavery to sin that had been the lot of the human race since Adam, was about to come to an end. The One Who would crush the head of the ancient serpent was coming into the world. Imagine the great hope that must have filled Mary’s heart as the Angel placed God’s message before her.

The message itself reveals much about Our Blessed Mother: remember that this Archangel is not bringing his own message: Angels deliver messages from Almighty God. God greeted Mary through the voice of the Angel Gabrielle and greeted her as “Full of Grace.” The original Greek word for “fullness” used there implies that Mary is already full of grace when the Angel greets her, and the tense of the Greek verb implies a constant and on going state or condition. The Angel also tells Mary that the Lord is with her; even before Mary conceived the Eternal Son of God made Man in her womb, the Lord is with her; and she has found favor with God. These lines of the Angel’s message speak to us of Mary’s holiness even before she conceived. Earlier this month we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception: this Solemnity celebrates the fact that God preserved Mary from all stain of sin right from the very moment of her conception. The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the official Teachings of the Catholic Church that many non-Catholic Christians have a hard time with, yet it only makes sense if we stop and think about it. If you were all-powerful, and all-knowing (as God is) and you had the opportunity to create your own mother . . . would you not make her perfect in every way? Would you not make your mother beautiful and virtuous and free of all imperfection? If we, who are so limited and imperfect, would give such gifts to our mothers if we could, why wouldn’t the Eternal Son of God make His earthly Mother free from all sin right from the first instant of her existence? The Church Teaches that He did and this Teaching is in continuity with the earliest writers in Christianity.

Another aspect of this Gospel that we can easily take for granted is Mary’s response: her “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Mary was free from sin from the first moment of her existence, which is to say right from her conception in the womb of her mother, but she still had a free will. Sometimes people ask: if Mary was without sin, could she really have chosen differently than she did? The answer to that question is: yes. She was created without sin, just as Adam and Eve were and although they were also created sinless, they abused their free will and turned away from God in sin. Mary received extraordinary graces and gifts from the Lord, but she really and truly cooperated with Him in bringing about our redemption. St. Bernard of Clairvaux has a beautiful passage in which he meditates upon the Angel awaiting Mary’s reply to the message he had just delivered. I would like to conclude by sharing part of Saint Bernard’s meditation with you. He writes: “You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us. The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life. Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race. Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word. Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive . . . Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.”

3rd Sunday of Advent 2011

December 17, 2011

Today marks the halfway point through Advent. The theme of today’s Mass is summed up in the traditional title given to the third Sunday of Advent: Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin word which means: “Rejoice!” “Rejoice” was the first word of the antiphon sung at the beginning of today’s Mass. The liturgical color of the day is rose: today the rose colored Advent candle is lit, today is one of two days of the year on which the priest may wear rose color vestments. The Church, through the prayers and readings of today’s Mass, encourages us to rejoice: the celebration of the Birth of Our Lord quickly draws near.

The Antiphon of today’s Mass tells us to “rejoice in the Lord.” We, Christians, have a very specific reason for rejoicing: we are to rejoice in the Lord. Saint Paul, in the second reading today, tells us to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances. He goes on to say that this is God’s will for us. It is God’s will that we rejoice in Him. God created us to know Him, to love Him and to be happy with Him: not the kind of passing happiness that comes from the things of this world, but real, lasting, true happiness; that is what God created us for.

If that is why God made us, why do we have so many worries, fears, disappointments, and anxieties? The answer is simple: because of sin. Suffering and death were not a part of God’s plan from the beginning. Suffering and death entered the world as a result of sin. The purpose of our existence hasn’t changed (the purpose of our existence is still to know and love God; we are still destined to be happy with Him forever), but ever since the first sin suffering and death have been an inescapable part of human existence on this earth.

Even in our fallen human nature, we are still called to rejoice always. The only way that we can always find cause for rejoicing in this fallen world is by keeping our eyes fixed on God and all that He has done for us. Everything that we have that is good, comes to us from the hand of the Lord. Our life, our faith, our next breath, all of the material and spiritual goods that we have been blessed with are gifts from God and they tell us of His love for us. God has given us so many good things; there are many reasons to rejoice, if we only have eyes that are open to see.

As a result of all of the good things that God has given to us, we owe God a debt of praise. The new words that we say at the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer clearly tell us of that debt. The new translation of the response to “Let us give thanks to the Lord” is “It is right and just.” The priest then goes on to say “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation always and everywhere” to give God thanks. Because of all that God has given to us and done for us it is right, it is a matter of justice, we have a duty to give Him thanks. How offended can we get sometimes when someone does not show gratitude for the little things that we have done for them. How do we feel when a gift that we give to another is not appreciated? God has given us everything and He has given it to us freely: out of pure love. He was not compelled to create us; He did not have to send His Son to die for us; Our Lord did shed His Precious Blood for us against His will. God created us out of love; He sent His Son to die because He loves us and desires to pour out His mercy upon us. Jesus Christ poured out every last drop of His Precious Blood willingly. He freely laid down His life so that we might share in eternal, divine life.

How could we fail to thank God? How could we be so ungrateful as to not have heats filled with thanksgiving to God for all that He has done? When Saint Paul tells us to rejoice always, he says that even though he knew what it was like to go through difficulties in this world. In Second Corinthians Saint Paul says that he forty lashes on five different occasions because he preached the Gospel; he was beaten with a rod on three different occasions; he was shipwrecked three times; he was frequently in danger, and often had to endure hardship that we cannot even imagine in this day in this country. Saint Paul was put in chains for his faith in Jesus Christ and ultimately was beheaded. This same Saint, who knew well what it means to suffer, was able to say “Rejoice in the Lord always.” How could he say that when he suffered so much? Because Saint Paul knew that the sufferings in this life are as nothing compared to the glory that awaits those who love and serve the Lord. Saint Paul knew that as long as he was faithful to the Lord, there wasn’t anything in this world that could separate him from the love of Christ: and that was cause for rejoicing. Saint Paul asks: What can separate us from the love of Christ, anguish or distress, or persecution or famine or peril or the sword? None of those things could take away the joy that Saint Paul had, because none of those things could separate him from the Lord Whom he loved.

If God is in the center of our hearts, we have nothing to fear. Let us keep our eyes fixed on the Lord. Let us use this remaining part of Advent to prepare our hearts and focus on Christ. Let us bring our cares and concerns to Him and entrust them to Him; then let us give Him thanks for all the many things that He has done for us, and with hearts full of gratitude let us rejoice in the Lord always and give Him thanks.

2nd Sunday of Advent 2011

December 4, 2011

This is the second Sunday of Advent; Advent is a period of four weeks that has been set apart for us to prepare our hearts to celebrate the Birth of Our Lord. Advent is a time for us to be shaken awake. As we journey through life, we can easily fall into daily routine and slowly lose focus on the things that are truly important. Advent is a time of the year in which we are called again and again in the readings and in the prayers at Mass to be alert, attentive, awake and watching.

Advent is a time for us to be shaken out of complacency, it is a time for us to examine our hearts and honestly ask ourselves: have we fallen asleep in our spiritual lives? Have we turned on the “auto-pilot,” have we allowed our faith to become a mere routine? Our Catholic Christian Faith demands something from us: our Faith is to be lived; we have to profess our faith both with our lives and with our lips. Being an authentic Christian takes more than just saying: “I was Baptized when I was an infant, therefore I am a Christian.” Christianity is not merely a social club and it is not a cultural label. Being a Christian means following Jesus Christ. What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ? It means to be in a relationship with Him; it means modeling my life on Him and on His teaching.

How do we deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ? First, we have to know Him. We have to know things about Him, but more than that: we have to know Him. We know about Him by studying Sacred Scripture and by studying our Faith. We come to know Him by spending time with Him in prayer, by praying with Scripture and not merely studying it. We cannot be in a relationship with someone we never spend time with. And the most important relationship that we will ever have is our relationship with God. We deepen our faith by putting it into practice. Our Lord said that when we do or fail to do something for someone else, we have done or not done it for Him.

Advent commemorates the historical reality that from the time of the fall of our first parents, God has promised the human race a Savior. Christmas is the celebration of the promised Savior’s birth. But this time of year is also more than a recalling of history. It reminds us also of our current situation. Just as the Old Testament people looked for the coming of the Redeemer into the world, we are called to watch and wait for Christ to come. We are to do all we can to help build of the Kingdom of God on earth; we are to spread the Gospel; we are to allow God’s love to flow through us to those around us: by what we say and by what we do we are to help others to see God in us and come to know and love Him.

In Advent we also call to mind the fact that we are still waiting for Christ to come. In the Preface that we will pray in just a few minutes, we hear that at His first coming Christ assumed the lowliness of human flesh, but when He comes again, He will come in glory and majesty. In the Creed that we pray together each Sunday, we confess our faith that Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. Our culture’s favorite Scripture verse is: “judge not.” It is true: we cannot judge the heart of another, yet we can judge actions. Our Lord says that if someone sins, we should correct them. We can judge actions, but we cannot judge hearts. The reason that we cannot judge hearts is because God alone knows what is in the heart of someone else. The thing that our culture seems to forget is: we cannot judge others because all judgment is reserved to Jesus Christ. “Judge not” does not mean that there will not be a judgment, it means that judgment is not ours to make: Christ alone will judge the hearts of all.

Advent looks back to the historical first coming of Christ, and looks forward to the Second Coming which will be the end of all history. Christ’s first coming and His promised Second Coming both call for a personal response from each one of us. Advent is a time to be shaken awake: it is a time for us to reflect on His first coming, and to remember that He will come again. When He came to earth the first time, He came as Savior: He came to reconcile fallen human beings with God, and to show us the way to the Father. When He comes again, in glory, He will come as Just Judge. That thought should help us all to be shaken into alertness. We will each be called to render an account of how we have lived our lives. Each one of us will be judged one day on how we have followed Jesus Christ, how we have cooperated with His grace, and what we have done with the gifts that He has given to us. Let us be awake and watchful, let us use the gifts that we have received to build up the Kingdom of God so that when we go before Christ we will worthy to hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant; come and enter into your master’s joy.”

Fourth Sunday of Advent

January 1, 2011

“Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall name Him Emmanuel, which means: God is with us.”  All of the Old Testament points forward to the coming of Our Savior, Jesus Christ.  The line in our first reading from Isaiah is perhaps one of the most famous Old Testament prophecies concerning the Birth of the Lord but the Old Testament is full of prophecies that foreshadow the coming of Christ.  The advent of Our Savior was foretold from the beginning; immediately following the Fall of our First Parents God promised us a Redeemer.  Again and again throughout the Old Testament God renewed His promise until in the fullness of time He sent His Only Begotten Son to fulfill all that He had promised.

Many scholars believe that Saint Matthew wrote his Gospel to a Jewish audience.  The reason for this supposition is that Saint Matthew often alludes to Old Testament Scriptures in his Gospel and he seems to have taken for granted that his readers would be familiar with those allusions.  There are many places in his Gospel which are similar to what we heard in our Gospel reading this morning: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the Prophet.”  Saint Matthew wanted to show, in a particular way, how Jesus Christ fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament.  Our first reading is, of course, the place to which Saint Matthew was referring to in today’s Gospel.  The Prophet Isaiah lived several years before Christ, yet God spoke through him to foretell that Jesus would be born of a virgin.

The season of Advent is a time set aside for preparing our hearts for the coming of Our Savior.  For the past few Sundays, the Church has had us focus on the forerunner of the Lord, Saint John the Baptist and his message to prepare our hearts and make straight the path.  This Sunday, the Church turns our attention towards the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The time to celebrate the Birth of Our Savior draws near; today’s Gospel puts the Blessed Virgin, already with Child, before our mind’s eye for our meditation.  Mary, with the Child Jesus in her womb, is an image of that expectant hope that we are to have in our hearts.  All of the Old Testament Patriarchs and Prophets longed to see the coming of the One concealed in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  From the beginning, Mary was chosen to be the Mother of the One Who would come to crush the head of the ancient serpent and set us free from sin and death.  Mary took on a great mission when she said “yes” to God’s will for her life.  Through Mary, the Eternal Son of the Father, Who is equal and co-eternal with the Father, became a man and dwelt among us; the Child born of Mary truly is Emmanuel: God with us.

This season of Advent, which is quickly drawing to a close, is a time to prepare our hearts and to watch and wait with expectation.  It can be so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of preparing for Christmas in a merely materialistic way.  Many of us undoubtedly still have much that needs to be done in order to prepare for Christmas and those preparations for family celebrations are important.  We ought not forget, however, the most important part of preparing for Christmas: preparing our hearts.  May we not lose sight of the purpose that we celebrate Christmas in the first place.  Christmas is first and foremost the celebration of the Birth of Our Savior.  At Christmas we give gifts to one another as a reminder of the greatest gift ever given; the gift that God gave to the world: the gift of His Son.  Let us make use of the remainder of this Advent season to prepare our hearts and make room for Him Who is coming soon.  Let us, together with Mary, wait in joyful hope for the coming of Our Savior.  Amen.

 

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.

 

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.

 

November 28th

November 28, 2010

This weekend marks the beginning of a new liturgical.  The Church’s liturgical calendar starts with the first Sunday of Advent.  Advent is a season the Church gives to us to commemorates and renews our expectation; Advent is a season dedicated to expressing our longing for the Savior who is to come.

The focus of the season of Advent is twofold: we both recall the expectation of the Redeemer during all of salvation history leading up to Christ’s birth and we also renew our expectation and longing for Christ to come again.

Advent is a time to prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas.  Advent is also a time to prepare our hearts and rid them of all that is not pleasing to God.  During Advent we recall in a particular way that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead and we need to be ready to meet Him when He comes.

We were not made to live in this world forever.  This world and everything in it is passing away.  Our life in this world should be a preparation for the life of the world to come.  We ought to examine our hearts often and make sure that they are prepared to meet Our Lord.

One of the questions that we can ask ourselves during Advent is: “Do we desire Christ’s coming or are we afraid of it?”  The early Christians prayed longingly for the coming of Christ: “Come, Lord Jesus!”  Do we make that prayer our own?  Can we claim that we love Jesus Christ if we are fearful of His return in glory?  Let us use this holy season to rid our hearts of sin and all inordinate attachments that we may be ready to meet Our Lord when He comes.

An Advent Prayer: “Lord, help me to keep this holy season of Advent in my soul, that is, help me to keep a continual longing and waiting for this great Mystery wherein You, O Word, became flesh to show me the abyss of Your redeeming, sanctifying mercy.  O sweetest Jesus, You come to me with Your infinite love and the abundance of Your grace; You desire to engulf my soul in torrents of mercy and charity in order to draw it to You.  Come, O Lord, come!  I, too, wish to run to You with love, but alas! my love is so limited, weak, and imperfect!  Make it strong and generous; enable me to overcome myself, so that I can give myself entirely to You.  Amen.”

God bless,

Father White

First Sunday of Advent

November 28, 2010

Yesterday, the Church’s liturgical year came to a close.  Last Sunday, we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King; the daily Masses of last week had readings that focused on the end of time and the second coming of Christ in glory to judge the living and the dead.  Yesterday evening marked the beginning of a new liturgical year and the beginning of the Season of Advent.

This Sunday’s readings pick up and continue in the theme of preparing our hearts and waiting for Christ’s second coming.  It might seem strange that our liturgical year begins and ends with having us focus on the Second Coming.  Yet the fact that Christ will come again is a central point of our Faith.  God became man, died and rose from the dead to save us from sin; ascended into Heaven and will come again in glory.

Advent is a season of expectation.  The theme of Advent is twofold: it is a time of preparation and it is a time for watchfulness.  During Advent, the Church has us look back in history and forward to the end of time itself.  We look back to the time before the first coming of Christ: to the time when the whole world awaited its Redeemer.  Since the Fall of our First Parents, God has promised us a Savior, and in the season of Advent we remember and we wait with expectant hope for the celebration of Our Savior’s Birth.  We also look forward: we know that Christ will come again and we watch and wait in joyful hope for His glorious return.  Advent is a season that is set aside for us to call to mind and meditate upon the fact that we profess every week in the Creed: Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead.  At His first coming, Christ came in the silence of night; He was born into poverty: He was laid in a manger because there was no room for Him in the inn.  When He comes again He will come in glory and at that time every knee shall bend and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!

During Advent we pray for that second coming; the prayers of the Mass speak of our watching, our waiting and our hoping for Christ to come again.  In order for us to pray those prayers sincerely, we need to have hearts that are prepared to meet Christ.  If our hearts are attached to this world and to sin, we will fear the time when Christ comes as Judge.  In order for us to pray as the early Christians did: “Come Lord Jesus,” we have to make sure that our hearts are prepared and worthy to encounter Him when He comes.

To say that we are to be detached is not to say that we do not care about this world.  It is to say that we are to use the things of this world in proper way, in a way that keeps eternity in view.  We can live very comfortably in this world.  It can be difficult, at times, to remember that this is not our homeland: we were not made for this world but for the next.  We are on pilgrimage in this life; the short time that we are in this world is a preparation for the life of the world to come.  So many people in our society live for this world alone, and by doing so, they miss the very point of our existence as human beings.  We were not made for this world; we were made for God.  This world was made for us, and we can enjoy the good things in this world but we should always remember from Whom we have received every good thing.  And we need to keep watch over our hearts in order to make sure that we don’t begin to love God’s creation more that we love Him.  God alone can satisfy our hearts.

In Advent, we are to focus on preparing our hearts to meet Christ at the end of time; remembering that our deeds have eternal consequences is a helpful motivation for turning away from sin and living the way that we know that we are called to: loving God above all things and others as ourselves.  If we live lives that put true love ahead of selfish pursuits, we will have nothing to fear when we meet Christ our Just Judge.  Let us use this season of Advent to prepare our hearts in order that we might be enabled to truly wait in joyful hope for the coming of Our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

Fourth Sunday of Advent (C)

December 23, 2009

Today we celebrate the fourth and final Sunday of Advent.  The Church gives us the season of Advent as an opportunity to prepare our hearts.  All year long, we should be preparing our hearts.  Our entire life is really a preparation for the next life.  This world is not our homeland.  This life is a time of testing; it is a time of preparation.  Our ultimate goal, of course, is Heaven.  We were made for union with God; we were made to be with God forever.

In order to attain to our goal, we have to remain faithful to the Lord.  Sin is a slippery slope; the more we sin, the more we want to sin.  Saint Thomas Aquinas said that attachment to sin is the first punishment for sin.  Once a sin is committed, it is easier to commit that sin again, and again, and again.  Eventually the sin becomes a habit, and habits can be very hard to break.

We know that sin never makes us happy.  Sin separates us from God, Whom we are to love above all things.  Sin also damages my relationships with others.  Nothing good comes from sinning, and yet once started down the path of sin, it can be very difficult to break free from sin.  Sin enslaves.  Our culture will tell you that laws and rules keep you from being free.  Just the opposite is true.  Only Truth can set you free, and Jesus Christ IS the Truth.

Only by having a real relationship with Jesus Christ can you ever find fulfillment in this life.  Only by following Jesus Christ, Who IS the Way, will you ever find your way home to Heaven.  Jesus, Himself, told us that the road to perdition [Hell] is wide and that many go there.  Why do many refuse to follow Jesus Christ?  It is much easier to buy into the lie that is temptation.  Sin offers immediate gratification.  The problem is, after we have sinned, we are miserable.  Remaining faithful to God can be difficult; especially in the midst of a culture which is hostile towards our Catholic Faith.  Everywhere we look in the media, we are bombarded with images and ideas that are contrary to our Faith.  It was not without reason that John Paul II called the culture in which we live the Culture of Death.  The culture not only promotes death, it leads to everlasting death.

We need to be vigilant and remain close to Christ every day of our lives.  We need to constantly be on our guard against temptation; and we need to go to confession as often and as soon as we fall into serious sin.  The Church, in her wisdom, knows that it is difficult to be on guard always.  That is why the Church gives us specific seasons in which she calls us to renew our efforts and recommit ourselves to working to root sin out of our lives.

During this Advent season, the Church calls us to focus on getting sin out of our lives and thus preparing our hearts for the celebration of the Birth of Our Savior at Christmas.  The greatest gift that God gave us is the gift of His Son.  The gift that we give in return is the gift of ourselves.  We are all called to give our whole heart to God; we were made to love God.  We are all called to be Saints.  Advent is a time set aside for us to examine our hearts and rid ourselves of whatever it is that comes in the way of our union with the Lord.  Let us use the remaining days of Advent to prepare our hearts for the Lord.

Third Sunday of Advent (C)

December 15, 2009

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again: rejoice!”

These are the words of Saint Paul which we heard in our Second Reading this evening.  Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is a letter that is full of love, full of peace and full of joy.  The interesting thing to note about the tone of this Letter is that Saint Paul was writing it from prison.  He had been beaten multiple times, he had been in a shipwreck, he had been almost killed several times and then he was put in prison because of his faith and he still told others to rejoice in the Lord always.  Saint Paul was so united to Christ that nothing could disturb his confidence or his trust in God.  He had placed all his hope in the Lord.

As Christians, we can be full of consolation and hope even in the midst of struggles and sufferings.  We know that the sufferings and struggles of this life will not last forever.  We know that although we are currently walking through a valley of tears which will eventually pass away, we have a Heavenly homeland which will last forever.  We know that happiness in this world is fleeting; we also know that we were made for something greater than this world.  We were made for union with God; we were made to be happy with God forever in Heaven.  As long as we are in this world we have to continually strive for next: keeping our eyes on the goal.

After instructing us to rejoice, Saint Paul further tells us that we are to have no anxiety at all.  Saint Paul was sitting in a first century prison (not likely a very pleasant place), waiting for word from the emperor to find out if he would be set free or killed for his faith.  Yet he wites: “Have no anxiety at all”.  “The Lord is near”, Saint Paul says.  His awareness of the nearness of God was the source of his strength.  We, too, are to cast all our cares on the Lord.  This is not to say that we are to be idle or indifferent.  It is human nature to have worries and anxieties, but as often as they come up, we should turn them over to the Lord.  We should bring all our cares and concerns to the Lord.  Our Heavenly Father wants us to bring all that is on our hearts to Him.  It should bring us great consolation that we have a God Who loves us so much.  If we turn to Him with all our needs, Saint Paul tells us that God Himself will guard our hearts and our minds.  It was because of Saint Paul’s great trust in God that he was able to be without anxiety and even joyful even as he was in prison and was faced with the uncertainty of a possible death sentence.

Our First Reading also focused on joy.  The Prophet Zephaniah told the People of God to: “Shout for joy . . . sing joyfully . . . be glad and exalt with all your heart.”  Why were the people to rejoice?  The Israelites were to rejoice because the Lord was in their midst.  We have even more reason to rejoice: not only do we have the Lord in our midst in the Holy Eucharist; we are able to be united with Him in Holy Communion every time we come to Mass.

The third Sunday of Advent focuses us on the joy that we are to have as Christians.  We are to be joyful at the nearness of Our God.  The readings are about rejoicing; the color of the priest’s vestment changes from purple (a color of penance) to rose which is a color of subdued joy.  We are now halfway through the Advent Season: Christmas is quickly approaching.  We know that our time of waiting and preparing is almost over and so we rejoice.

Our joy comes from our union with the Lord.  We were made for God.  The more we love God, the more we follow His commandments the happier we will be.  If you want to be happy, draw closer to the Lord.  Sin separates us from God.  Temptation tells us that sinning will make me happy.  Temptation is always a lie, of course.  There can be no real happiness apart from God.  If we stay united to Our Lord, we can experience peace, hope, and joy, even in the midst of difficulties.  Love, joy and peace are fruits of the Holy Spirit.  The fruits of the Holy Spirit are a result of the Holy Spirit dwelling within our hearts.

Let us continue to make use of this Advent season to prepare our hearts for the coming of Our Savior and Our King.  Let us all work to root sin out of our lives, that we may more fully experience the joy that comes from faithfully following Jesus Christ.  Amen.