Sunday, December 5, 2010

An Advent Reflection

We have begun our Liturgical year. As defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Liturgical Year is "The celebration throughout the year of the mysteries of the Lord's birth, life, death, and Resurrection in such a way that the entire year becomes a 'year of the Lord's grace'. Thus the cycle of the liturgical year and the great feasts constitute the basic rhythm of the Christian's life of prayer, with its focal point at Easter.” The emphasis of the season of Advent is waiting, conversion and Hope. We can include patience and humility. We wait in a state of prayer - in the manner of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother – and we cry out Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus! Maranatha is an Aramaic word that means “the Lord is coming, or Come, O Lord.

When I was a child, I attended Catholic school, taught by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters – so I was aware of the liturgical season. Advent had a special meaning for me. Christmas was coming – and that means PRESENTS! Advent also hinted of the coming of winter. Soon it would begin to snow – and I loved the snow. When you don’t have to drive – snow is welcome everyday. In my Catholic grammar school, I rarely had a day off for snow. I remember wearing my galoshes, trudging through the snow to school. The hallway would be lined with boots. From my experience, I would say that most children today do not understand the “meaning.” of Advent. Still, the anticipation of Santa, presents, and snow are threads of “understanding” even at a young age. Children know that “something” is going to happen, something is coming.” – They will soon find out that “something” is “SOMEONE.” In Latin the word for Advent is “Adventus.” which means “coming.”

Advent is all about “ENCOUNTER.” Specifically two encounters. Our Lord’s first coming – the Incarnation, the WORD made Flesh - when God becomes man, the birth of Christ. And then Jesus’ second or final coming, or the General or Last judgment at the end of the world. The Nicene Creed says “He shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.”

Advent is a season to prepare us for both encounters. There is also an in-between encounter which we will speak of later.

So, our first encounter: The Incarnation. CCC 522 says "the coming of God's Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to “prepare” for it over centuries. He makes everything converge on Christ: all the rituals and sacrifices, figures and symbols of the "First Covenant".195 He announces him through the mouths of the prophets who succeeded one another in Israel. Moreover, he awakens in the hearts of the pagans a dim expectation of this coming. The Prophet Isaiah: Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. Preparations for the birth of Christ have taken place as far back as the fourth century, they are ancient. The Advent wreath (pg 6) and the lighting of the four candles. It is part of the spiritual preparation for Christmas. St. John says that Christ is “the Light that came into the world” to dispel the darkness of sin and to radiate the truth and love of God (cf. John 3:19-21). The History of Christmas Candle is linked with the Saturnalia festival of the Romans because during this festival tall papers of wax were offered to Saturn (an angel of God). With the spread of Christianity, the custom of placing candles beside the window gained people's acceptance. The Irish people believed that if a candle is placed near a window then the light emerging from the candle would be able to guide the Christ Child who on the eve of Christmas wandered from house to house. We also display the empty manger, symbolizing the period of waiting. Some still celebrate St. Nicholas day on December 6th – when each child puts out a shoe the night before St. Nicholas Day in the hope that the kind bishop — with his miter, staff, and bag of gifts — will pay a visit. These are all wonderful Christian traditions. But what are they really called to remind us of? Again using the words of St. John, that “God so loved the world that he gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” So we wait for the Christ child - born of the Virgin Mary, laid in a manger, a trough where animals feed. Jesus is now the food that will now feed the whole world. Three wise men, also known as the Magi, were seeking the one who would be King of the Nations. They brought the baby Jesus gifts of frankincense, Gold and myrrh. We also must bring the King a gift. And that gift can only be the gift of “unselfish love.” Some say that only “unselfish love” comes from God. But we are followers of Christ, called to imitate Him – to be like the teacher. So we must strive “To be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.”

CCC 524: When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. This is very interesting. Do we really have an “ardent” desire for the second coming of Jesus? Are we ready for that? This “second coming” or “final coming” is called the General Judgment, when, as Isaiah says, "the wolf shall live with the lamb.” the end of days. The belief in the general judgment has prevailed at all times and in all places within the Church.
At the end of time, Jesus the Christ will come to judge “the living” and the “dead.” Remember, there are two judgments, the Particular Judgment –when we die, and the General Judgment. (It is interesting to think that when we die, we leave the realm of time.” So do we experience the General Judgment immediately?)

As I said before, are we ready to meet Jesus at the Final or General Judgment? In last weeks Gospel reading from St. Matthew, Jesus says –“STAY AWAKE”!

If you knew your house was going to be broken in to, you would not sleep. Well, our house is being broken in to every day, every hour, and every moment. The evil one is a master locksmith. We must keep our doors locked! Change your locks often. How are we to keep ourselves safe and be ready to enter the Kingdom of God?

St. Paul has a few pointers in his Letter to the Romans: “throw off the works of darkness, put on the armor of light: Which means to put on Our Lord Jesus Christ – to put on His face. We must be the “mirror” of Christ to others. Do not think that you have to be a living saint to be that “mirror.” Catholic author from New Zealand, Brendan Roberts says: “Even if you feel like a broken mirror let others see the splendor and beauty of Christ in the shards. You may have to gather those shards together, for then the beauty will be greater than individual shards scattered from your heart.” People will know that you are a disciple of Christ by your ACTIONS! St. Paul says: “We should conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, promiscuity and lust, rivalry and jealousy.” These vices are attributes of our fallen human nature. So we follow Christ. And we build up our trust, our strength to overcome sin by persevering in PRAYER. Advent is the perfect time for us to renew our commitment to prayer. Conversing with God strengthens our faith, readies us for battle. It is a good time for us to embrace the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To return to that “friendship” with the Lord.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” To enter the Kingdom of God, we must recognize Jesus in all our neighbors, those who love us, and those who hate us. Blessed Mother Teresa took Jesus’ words into her own heart. Why did mother spend her life feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for her neighbor?

Mother Teresa understood that Jesus is the hungry, is the naked, is the lonely, unwanted and unloved. Mother saw Jesus in the most distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor – physically poor and spiritually poor. In Mother’s own words “You and I, we are the Church, no? We have to share with our people. Suffering today is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing. Jesus made it very clear. Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me. Give a glass of water, you give it to me. Receive a little child, you receive me.” Love of neighbor is not just a feeling of “pity.” It must be a real compassion. And a real compassion is God’s love in action!

I mentioned before, there is also an in-between encounter with Our Lord, between The Incarnation and the Final Judgment. This is the encounter with Jesus in the every day – we encounter Jesus in the gift of family, in the faces of our children and grandchildren. We encounter Jesus in our living experience of love. We encounter Jesus in the communion of saints. We hold out our hand to Jesus, when he is on the street, sleeping in a cardboard box. We encounter Jesus in the Eucharist, in the breaking of the bread. We encounter Jesus in all the Sacraments. We meet Jesus in our own suffering. How can we ever forget the sufferings our Lord accepted in obedience to the Father, to save us from our sins? We now offer our own sufferings to the Lord.

If we are resolute in our preparation to encounter Jesus, at His Birth, and at the end of the world, we will not be afraid. We will be ready to meet Him face to face.

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever faithful to your promises and ever close to your Church: the earth rejoices in hope of the Savior's coming and looks forward with longing to his return at the end of time. Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us from feeling the joy and hope which his presence will bestow, for he is Lord for ever and ever. Amen.

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