Sunday, December 13, 2009

Third Sunday - Rejoice!

The Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is Latin for “Rejoice!”, and this is the Sunday we light the more festive rose candle.

Long periods of preparation can be draining. If you've ever prepared a field for a crop, or a house for painting, you know that preparatory work can be tedious and discouraging. Jobs like stripping paint aren't the “real” work, so aren't directly rewarding, but they have to be done if the final job is going to succeed.

It must have felt that way for the Israelites. They were promised a Redeemer, and as more prophecies came in a clearer picture of Him emerged. This wouldn't just be the Savior of Israel, this would be the Savior of the whole world! What a high and noble calling! But as the centuries dragged on, and the Jewish people suffered many setbacks, it probably got discouraging.

Advent can feel like that for us, too. It seems to be all about discipline and preparation, and can feel like it drags on and on (especially for children!) It's like spiritual paint-scraping: no fun at all, and just when you think you're making progress, you spot another patch that needs cleaning.

This is why the Church says to take a break. The Third Sunday of Advent reminds us to rejoice – to step back, relax, and refocus on the goal. Spiritual life isn't only about discipline and reform. Those things are necessary, but only as preparation for The Main Event: the redemption, joy, the full spiritual life that Christmas celebrates. The cheery rose candle brightens the array of somber purple. The halfway point is passed, and our vigil will soon be at an end.

From this point on, the burning rose candle will remind us that we've turned the corner and the goal is in sight. Like runners in a race coming within sight of the goal, let's not slow down, or stumble, or give up. Let's redouble our efforts – the very image used in Scripture several places, like Hebrews 12:1. Let's get even more serious about cleaning spiritual house in preparation for the Coming Lord.

The most significant way to do this is to accept the grace of the Sacrament of Confession. Don't pass up this opportunity for grace! Rejoice, your sins can be forgiven in Christ!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Second Sunday

Second Sunday of Advent – 6 December 2009 – The Centuries of Anticipation

Jesus once assured His disciples that “many kings and prophets longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear the things that you hear, and did not hear them.” (Luke 10:24) These words are as true for us as they were for the disciples. We can easily take the Sacraments, Scriptures, Church teachings, and our rich Catholic heritage for granted. We forget that for thousands of years all mankind, especially the Jews, anticipated and longed for the promised Redeemer.

Prophecies of the Messiah are found throughout the Old Testament. These are important for many reasons, such as reassuring us that God is in charge no matter how badly we humans stray from His way. Here are some of the Old Testament prophecies that spoke of Christ:

Toward the end of his life, Moses spoke of “a prophet” that would come after him, whom all Israel should obey (Deuteronomy 18:15-18). The prophet Nathan promised that King David would have a son whose throne would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:12-14). Both these prophecies were partially fulfilled by other prophets and kings descended from David, but only Jesus perfectly fulfilled them both.

As the time of Jesus' coming drew nearer, the prophetic “focus” became sharper. The Holy Spirit spoke extensively through the prophet Isaiah about the coming Messiah: that He would be born of a virgin (Is 7:14), that He would come from the line of David, walk in the power and wisdom of God's Spirit, and govern a worldwide Kingdom of Peace (Is 11:1-14), that He would destroy oppression (Is 16:5), that He would be called from His mother's womb to not only restore Israel but save all nations (Is 49:1-6), and that He would be abused and suffer to redeem mankind (Is 52:13 – 53:12).

Prophecies regarding the Messiah also came to Daniel, who saw a vision of one “like a Son of Man” being brought before the Father to receive everlasting worldwide dominion (Dan 7:13-14), and to Zechariah, who foresaw that the Messiah would come to His people riding a donkey (Zech 9:9-10) – symbolic of His humility and gentleness, and fulfilled on Palm Sunday. Zechariah was also told of One who would be known as The Branch, who would build the Temple and reign over Jerusalem (Zech 6:12-13). The last prophet of the Old Testament, Malachi, spoke of the Messenger of the Covenant who would come to His Temple to purify it, that true worship might be offered there (Mal 3:1).

These are but a few of the prophecies regarding the Messiah that can be found in the Old Testament. It is important to know them because they shed light on Jesus' mission, and further explain what He came to accomplish. They also make clear that human history has always been in God's control; a control that continues to this day.

This Advent, let us study these Scriptures, so we can grow to appreciate the gift that we have been given: Immanuel, the God who dwells in our midst. We do not have to wait and wonder, anticipating the far-off day when the Messiah would be revealed. He has been revealed – at Bethlehem, at Calvary, at the Empty Tomb, and in every Mass we attend. Truly kings and prophets long to see and hear what is freely given to us every week – let's appreciate it.

I wrote these myself - honest!

Of late, my life has been consumed by the effort of finding, purchasing, fixing up, and moving into a new house - all in the span of just over three months. This while trying to make a living (with the emphasis on "trying"), stay involved in my parish, and keep the Right to Life involvement going. Needless to say, this has left little spare time for sharing thoughts here, though there has been no lack of subject matter.

So I won't let this effort totally languish, I'm posting a few articles that I threw together for a series on Advent which we're running in our parish paper. Though these weren't originally written as blog posts, I did write them, so I hope they count as content until I can get back to a more dedicated effort.

First Sunday of Advent – 29 November 2009 – The (nearly) Forgotten Season

Advent is a season which is easily be forgotten in our modern culture. It has largely been eclipsed by the commercial “Christmas Season”, which seems to start earlier and earlier each year. While Christmas music is heard everywhere and television is flooded with Christmas specials, all we might notice at Mass is different colored vestments and a wreath with colored candles. Some of us may remember Advent wreaths at home, and perhaps even “giving up” things for Advent, but even those practices have largely faded.

Meanwhile, many are concerned with “putting Christ back in Christmas”. One way to do this is by observing Advent, particularly in homes trying to raise Catholic children. In the Church Calendar, the Christmas season follows Christmas (the “Twelve Days of Christmas” begins on December 25th and ends on January 6th, the Epiphany.) The four-week season leading up to Christmas is Advent, which has its own rites and focus. One way to “put Christ back in Christmas” is to put Advent back into our lives

Advent is a major season in the Christian calendar. In fact, the Church Year begins with Advent, making the First Sunday the liturgical “New Year's Day”. The focus of Advent is not as much fasting (more appropriate for Lent), but simplifying and refocusing. While penance and self-examination is part of this, the themes of Advent are solemn but joyous anticipation and preparation. This can be hard to do amidst the press and bustle of the commercial “Christmas Season”, but it is worth the effort!

We'll be running a series of articles throughout Advent to assist with this effort. Here are some practical hints for families seeking to more fully celebrate this holy season:
  • Get a home Advent wreath. These come with four candles – three purple ones and one pink (rose). These can be lit during dinner or other family times – one additional candle for each week celebrated, with the pink one lit on the Third Sunday. This simple observance can help the whole family focus on this special season.
  • Another classic devotional tool is the Advent calendar. These colorful pieces of art count down through the days of Advent (usually beginning on December 1), with little doors that open and provide Scripture passages for the day. Some versions even have a little treat for each day! These are especially helpful with young children, but the whole family can enjoy them.
  • Simplify and focus your life by setting aside perhaps 15 minutes of television, Internet, or video game time to read Scripture and pray. Readings for each day are found in the bulletin – perhaps you could clip them out and use them all week.
  • Attend a parish or neighborhood Bible Study. Most area parishes sponsor them.
  • Do something “devotionally different” - perhaps a family Rosary or after-dinner Scripture reading, or have a brief family prayer time in the evening.
  • Encourage everyone in the family to attend Confession at least once in Advent.
As a parish, let's try to make Advent 2009 a special time of preparing for the joy of Christmas!