OTHER HOMILY SOURCES (02):
Change your course, reform life
by Fr. Bel R. San Luis, SVD
December 6, 2013
The story is told about a commanding officer of a ship who saw, through a foggy night at sea, what appeared to be the lights of another ship heading directly toward him.
He instructed his signalman to contact the other ship by light with this message: “Change your course 10 degrees to the north. I am an admiral.”
* * *
“Message received,” came the reply, “but you must change your course to the south.” This infurated the admiral. He signalled back, “I am a battleship, so change your course to the north or else…”To which came the reply: “I am a lighthouse. Change your course…..or else!
* * *
In the gospel reading this 2nd Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist’s message to all fogbound creatures is: “Change your course. Reform your lives. The reign of God is at hand.” Unless we change our course to God’s course we are headed for perdition.
* * *
Also, the gospel reading for this Sunday has a note of urgency. John the Baptist asserts, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the tree. Every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
John the Baptist may be saying to us in contemporary words thus: “If you’re thinking of making a Christmas confession, do it now. If you’re planning to be reconciled with someone, now’s the time. If you’re considering to do good to your less fortunate brethren, don’t dilly-dally. Do it now.”
* * *
There is an ancient story about three devils who were arguing over the best way to destroy the souls of people in the world.
The first demon says: “Let’s tell all the Christians that the Bible is all a fable.” “No, that will not do,” the second devil said: “Let me go and I will tell them that there is no heaven or hell. Take away the fear of punishment and the man will not believe.”
* * *
The third demon says, “There is one better way. Tell the Christians that there is a God, that the Bible is inspired, that the Bible is true, that there is heaven and hell. Yes, but I’ll tell them there is NO HURRY; there is always a tomorrow.” But then all is too late.
And all the devils agreed and they sent him.
* * *
Why wait until a sickness strikes before you get rid of some bad habit like excessive smoking or drinking, cursing or gossiping, or watching TV too much?
Advent is an opportune time to welcome Christ into our lives by bearing fruits of good deeds. “Every tree that is not fruitful,” John the Baptist warns, “will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
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2ND SUNDAY OF ADVENT: JOHN PREACHES ON REPENTANCE
POPE PAUL VI once said: “Modern man does not listen to preachers. If he does listen to preachers it is because they are witnesses” (see EN 41).
The Second Sunday of Advent brings us the person of John the Baptist, the preacher who was listened to by the people of his time because he had been a true witness. It is interesting to note that the Catholic Church has given John a special place in our Advent liturgy. If Advent is about preparation for Christ’s coming, then that preparation can be had through reflection on the person and the brand of witnessing of John the Baptist.
Let us look through once again the Matthaean passage and examine the person and witness of John the Baptist.
First of all, John is depicted in the gospel as a man of the desert. The first line of the gospel says that John was “preaching in the desert of Judea….” Now what is something special about a desert? A desert, like a mountain, is a place where one can commune himself with God. It is a privileged place for spiritual leaders, like John. In fact, one contemporary spiritual writer named Carlo Caretto also followed john’s path by spending moments of prayer in the Saharan desert. The desert experience for them had been enriching. Our world today with all its circumstances has made us a very busy people. Students and workers alike, for instance, leave at five o’clock in the morning and come back at six in the evening or worse at a later time. Some have articulated it well that life now has become too stressful. This situation calls us to withdraw to a “desert”, to a place where we can commune ourselves with God.
Second, John is a man of simplicity. His witnessing can be seen in the simplicity of clothing that he wears (camel’s hair) and in the food that he eats (locusts and honey). John does not clothe himself in the garments of the leaders of his day. Just as his robes are simple so do his food. In our world characterized by consumerism and commercialism, there is never any room for simplicity. At times we are obsessed with the latest fashion, latest gadgets and latest products. Buying and possessing things would make us happy for a while but in the end we realize that these things never give us the satisfaction that we long for. And worse, obsession simply clouds our minds and precludes us from focusing on important things. John reminds us to be simple in this Advent season. A simple lifestyle makes it easier for God to enter into our lives.
Third, John is a man of truth. The prevailing truth of his time: conversion and repentance as necessary requirements for entering God’s kingdom. His message is exceedingly radical, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” John is fearless in proclaiming this truth. When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to him, he told them fearlessly, “You brood of vipers!…….. Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance!” We may find it difficult to follow the path of John because we have this tendency to please people, and to hurt them is the last thing we would ever do. By doing this, we allow people to perpetuate their sinfulness and consequently, the road to conversion has never been possible.
The problem of repentance lies on people who are callous. The late Pope John Paul II saw in the modern people the loss of the sense of sin while Pope Benedict XVI describes this as the loss of the consciousness of sin. The observation of these two popes is undeniably true. In one of the retreats I had facilitated, I told the retreatants the evils of corruption, pre-marital sex, abortion etc.. But unfortunately most people would simply justify themselves, “Eh lahat naman kami gumagawa nito, Father.” They seem to insinuate that if there are several people doing a sinful act, it may not be considered a sin. In this situation, people would never feel guilty at all.
This appalling situation calls for a return to the basics of Christianity. It invites us to go back to that olden piety which suggests that a worthy reception of the Eucharist demands a state of grace. Perhaps, the important thing that we would do is to remove our callousness. If there is something that I admire from people during John’s time it would be their ability to listen and to obey. With a simple preaching of John (“Repent!”), the people instantly responded. This is something that we lack. How many of us have cared to heed the call to conversion? I just wonder how many times should a priest say, “Repent!” before people could admit that they have sinned and appreciate the sacrament of reconciliation.
Indeed, modern man does not listen to preachers of repentance. But if he listens to them, it is because he values Christianity.
The Second Sunday of Advent
Posted by Online on Dec 8th, 2013 // No Comment
Today is the Second Sunday of Advent. As we joyfully anticipate the coming of the Lord, we must prepare ourselves through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is through sacrament that we experience the merciful love of God in Christ Jesus through the Church.
The readings in today’s liturgy tell us that we must mend our ways for the Lord is coming. In the Gospel reading John the Baptist says: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt. 3:1) He calls on everyone to make straight the way of the Lord and clear everything that hinders Him from coming.
Reflecting on the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Advent, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Through the Gospel, John the Baptist continues to speak the centuries to each generation. His hard clear words bring health to us, the men and women of this day, in which even the experience and perception of Christmas often, unfortunately, reflects materialist attitudes. The “voice” of the great prophet asks us to prepare the way for the coming Lord in the deserts of today, internal and external deserts, thirsting for the water of life which is Christ.”
In our world today, there are many distractions that prevent us from welcoming Jesus into our lives. Lest we forget, God alone suffices, as Saint Teresa of Avila pronounced. Only the Word of God will remain. Everything else fades. At the end of our lives, it is only God who truly matters.
As we observe the holy season of Advent, we reflect on the coming of Christ in our midst. Are we ready to meet Him? Are our hearts too occupied with the “things of this world” that Christ has no more space to dwell? Let the opening prayer in today’s mass be our Advent prayer: “May no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet Your Son, but may our learning of heaven’s wisdom gain us admittance to His company.” MAY GOD BLESS US ALL!
A perfect combination
By Fr. Jerry M. Orbos SVD
Philippine Daily Inquirer
10:48 pm | Saturday, December 7th, 2013
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The story is told about a priest who asked the parents what baptismal name they wanted to give their child. The father of the child said: “His name is Celpon, Father.” When asked why, he said: “We combined my wife’s name, which is Celia, and my name, Ponciano, hence Celpon.” Another couple gave their child the name Charger. Why? You guessed it—the father’s name was Charlie and the mother’s name was Gertrudes!
* * *
In today’s Gospel (Mt. 3, 1-12), John the Baptist tells us the perfect combination for the season of Advent: repentance (“Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand”), and good fruit (“Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance”). Without repentance there can be no conversion, and this change of mind and heart should lead to true righteousness and good deeds. The fruit of real conversion is when we can say with conviction, “NO to sin, YES to goodness from now on.” In response to God’s mercy and love, we make a concrete decision to live a life that is pleasing to Him. In other words, a person who has been forgiven must live a life filled with gratitude, forsaking sin and doing good.
* * *
The other week, a woman came to my office for confession. She never stopped crying the whole time she was relating her big sin against her husband. Her heart was filled with sorrow. She begged forgiveness from God. When I assured her of God’s unconditional love and gave her the absolution, she was filled with much joy. Some of the most beautiful smiles are those coming from a person who knows and finally accepts that he/she has been truly forgiven!
* * *
After the woman’s confession, I asked what penance she would like to do in gratitude for God’s mercy and love. I also asked her how she would go about amending her life so that she would stay on the road of peace and righteousness. Human as we are, we are weak, and we fall again and again. The road to conversion is tough but not impossible and hard but doable, by our efforts and definitely God’s grace.
* * *
Life is short. Death is certain. My cousin, Dr. Teddy Orbos, died the other day at the age of 61 because of a stroke. He was a very disciplined person in terms of food and lifestyle, and yet he went ahead. We can never know where, when, or how we will die. However, we can choose the kind of death we will have by the way we live our lives. The choice is ours: whether to waste our lives in selfishness and sin, or to live in righteousness and love. As J. Banville said, “Perhaps all of life is no more than a long preparation for the leaving of it.”
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Nelson Mandela, protester and peacemaker. A perfect combination. He spent most of his 95 years of life in doing good works and sacrificing for the sake of unity and peace. He was a man of justice and mercy. It is amazing how one person can be such an inspiration for so many, and this he did not through power or wealth, but through gentleness of heart.
* * *
Speaking of death, I met this week our confrere, Fr. Joel Sagdullas, SVD, who lost both his parents and some 50 relatives in Tacloban because of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” last Nov 8. Up to this time, Father Joel admits, he still cannot cry. He and his five siblings had been planning a grand reunion next year to mark their parents’ golden wedding anniversary on Sept. 3. God had other plans. Yes, we may have plans, but God has the master plan.
* * *
Last week I met John Momis, president of the Autonomous Bougainville Region in Papua New Guinea. He and his wife Elizabeth came for counseling and spiritual guidance as they grieve over the death of their daughter Mary Catherine last Oct. 13. As I was counseling them, an ex-seminarian classmate, Gilbert Joaquin, dropped by. He had spent many years working in Papua New Guinea, and he, too, lost his daughter and grandson last year. Needless to say, the Lord arranged the whole thing so that they could meet, and they could see the light together in their grief. A perfect combination!
* * *
A moment with the Lord:
Lord, let my repentance bear fruits of righteousness, goodness and penance. Amen.
2nd Sunday of Advent: 9 things to know and share
by Jimmy Akin Saturday, December 07, 2013 4:00 PM Comments (0)
This Sunday’s readings take us from Old Testament prophecies of the future Messiah to the union of Jew and Gentile in God’s kingdom.
They also bring us to the herald of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the mysterious image of Jesus’ “winnowing fan.”
Here are 9 things to know and share . . .
1) What does the first reading this Sunday say?
The first reading is Isaiah 11:1-10 (you can read it here).
This reading contains the famous Messianic prophesy which begins:
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
It continues by describing how the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him.
The passage stresses that the “shoot” (a future king of the line of David) will judge righteously. It also uses language that will be applied to Jesus in the New Testament, stating:
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Then comes the famous passage:
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The prophecy concludes:
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
2) What does this mean?
This prophecy may have had an initial fulfillment in the days after it was first given, in Isaiah’s time. If so then, like many prophecies, it has another, greater fulfillment, which is in the Messiah.
The text depicts the ideal king—the Messiah—who will come as a shoot or branch from the stump of Jesse. That is, he will belong to the line of King David, the son of Jesse.
The Hebrew word for “branch” is netser, and this is part of the background to Matthew’s statement that “He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matt. 2:23), playing on the similarity in sound between netser and nazoraios (an inhabitant of Nazareth).
The language this passage uses to describe how the Spirit of the Lord rests upon the king was later used by the Church to describe the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Endowed with the Spirit as he is, the Messiah will be the ideal king. He will have powerful authority (“he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth”), but he will use his kingly authority wisely and in the service of justice (“and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked”).
He will not oppress his people. Far from it! Rather, he will inaugurate an era of peace and justice such that it can be depicted as reconciling predators and prey, so that “they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.”
This will lead to knowledge of the true God spreading all over the world “as the waters cover the sea” and in that day the Messiah—the root of Jesse—shall be a beacon to all peoples, who will turn to him and inquire of him and his wisdom.
These prophecies are fulfilled, in an anticipatory way, with the first advent of the Messiah and the spread of the Christian faith, and they will be definitively fulfilled with the second advent and the eternal order.
3) What does the responsorial Psalm for this Sunday say?
The responsorial psalm for this Sunday is a selection of verses from Psalm 72 (you can read them here).
It is said to be “of Solomon,” the son of David.
It picks up the theme of the king’s son and his relationship with God. It begins:
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
It continues with a plea that his reign of righteousness and peace last “until the moon is no more” and that it may extend “from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
It notes that the king’s son delivers the needy and has pity on the weak.
It concludes by stating:
May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun.
May all nations be blessed in him; may they pronounce him happy.
4) What does this mean?
The statement that this Psalm is “of Solomon” may mean that it was written by him or at least about him.
Either way, it is a prayer sung at the Jerusalem temple on behalf of Solomon or the reigning king at the time.
It serves both as reminder of what a good king is supposed to do (provide justice, peace, deliver the needy, show mercy to the weak) and asks God for the blessings appropriate to a good king (long life, extensive dominion, an enduring name, respect among the nations).
On the higher, Messianic level, it describes the realization of all of these things in the reign of Jesus, which was inaugurated at the first advent and which will be consummated at the second advent.
Jesus both provides, in the highest way, the benefits of a good king (including not just earthly deliverance, but eternal deliverance) and enjoys in an ultimate way the blessings appropriate to a good king, including an everlasting name (the name above every name, at which every knee shall bow) and being pronounced blessed among all the nations.
5) What does the second reading say?
The second reading is Romans 15:4–9 (you can read it here).
In this passage, St. Paul states that
Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
He then urges his readers, by God’s grace, to live in harmony and worship God with one voice.
He says to welcome each other, as Christ has welcomed us, and he reminds his readers that
Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name.”
6) What does this mean?
This passage sums up several themes of St. Paul:
- The conviction that the Old Testament Scriptures were written to provide instruction for us in our day. One frequent way of providing this instruction was to look at them in a Christological light, to read them on a Messianic level, as we did with the first reading and the responsorial Psalm.
- The need for believers to live together in harmony so that their worship of God may be pure and united.
- The need to imitate Christ and be giving and generous in our relationships with others.
- The need for harmony between Jews and Gentiles, since Christ has now brought the Gentiles within God’s community, as hinted at in the Old Testament. (Thus the quotation at the end of the reading, which is from Psalm 18:49; cf. also 2 Sam. 22:50).
7) What does the Gospel reading say?
The Gospel reading is Matthew 3:1–12 (you can read it here).
It describes the ministry of John the Baptist that preceded the public ministry of Jesus.
It identifies John as fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Is. 40:3).
It describes John’s rough manner of life and how the people of Jerusalem and Judea went out to hear him and be baptized by him in the Jordan river.
It also describes his rebuke of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, noting in particular that they should not rely on their status as descendants of Abraham for salvation, for
God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
Finally, it records John’s prophetic statement
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
8) What does this mean?
The discussion of John the Baptist’s ministry would have helped the ancient reader understand Jesus’ ministry by relating it to an already well-known phenomena.
John the Baptist was famous in the ancient world and was popularly regarded as a prophet. Some even wondered if he himself might be the Messiah, though John denied this.
John is mentioned in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus, and all four gospels record his ministry as preceding and preparing for that of Jesus.
The statement that God is able to raise up sons for Abraham from stones means that the Pharisees and Sadducees cannot count on their heritage to save them.
It also alludes to the fact that Gentiles can become sons of Abraham through faith in Christ—a theme explored further by St. Paul.
John then predicts the public ministry of Jesus, indicating that he would be greater and would also bring with him a baptism.
The reference to being baptized “with the Holy Spirit and fire” has been variously understood.
From a Catholic perspective, the reference to the Holy Spirit’s action in the sacrament of baptism is clear, though the reference to fire is more open, and perhaps deliberately so.
- On one hand, fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, as we see in Acts 2.
- On the other hand, fire could symbolize the judgment that would come upon Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
- It could refer to the various trials of life.
- It could refer to the fire we will all be tested with at the end of our lives (1 Cor. 3).
- It could contain a reference to the fire at the end of the world.
- It could refer to the fire of hell.
These understandings are not all mutually exclusive.
9) What is meant by the image of the winnowing fork?
This is unfamiliar to most of us today, because most of us do not grow wheat or process it by the means used in Jesus’ time.
Then, after the grain had been harvested, it was crushed on a threshing floor.
The purpose of this was to separate the edible seed from the inedible chaff that surrounded it.
After the grain was threshed, you would have a big pile of edible grain and inedible chaff, mixed together.
To separate them, they were winnowed. A tool known as a winnowing fork (or winnowing fan) was used to toss the mixture in the air.
Because the grain was heavier than the chaff, it would fall in a different place than the chaff, which would be moved by the wind.
At the end, you’d have a pile of grain and a bunch of chaff that had been separated from it. The grain would then be stored for further use and the useless chaff could be burned.
By stating that Jesus’ winnowing fork is in his hand, John means that Jesus is ready to administer judgment, separating the righteous from the unrighteous the way wheat is separated from chaff.
The righteous (the wheat) would be gathered “into his granary” (saved), but the wicked (the chaff) would be burned with fire (lost).
This can be related both to the events of Jesus’ time, to the end of our lives, and to the end of the world.
MAGPANIBAGO: Reflection for 2nd Sunday of Advent Year A – December 8, 2013
Kailan ba ang huli mong pagkukumpisal? Marami sa atin ang tumatanggap ng “Katawan ni Kristo” sa Banal na Komunyon kapag nagmimisa ngunit ilan kaya ang palaging nagkukumpisal? “Next time na lang po Father… kapag malapit na akong mamatay! Bata pa naman ako. Mahaba pa ang buhay ko!” Tingnan natin kung may katotohanan ito. Mayroong isang lumang kwento na minsan daw ay nagkaroon ng pagpupulong ang kalipunan ng mga demonyo, isang Devils’ Assembly na ipinatawag ni Lucifer. Ang layunin ng pagpupulong ay upang humanap ng pinakamagandang paraan upang makahikayat pa sila ng maraming tagasunod. Nagtaas ng kamay ang isa at ang sabi: “Boss Luci, bakit hindi tayo bumaba na lang sa lupa at sabihin sa mga tao na wag na silang magpakabuti sapagkat wala namang langit?” Sinigawan siya ni Lucifer na ang sabi: “Talagang demonyo ka! Di ka nag-iisip! Sinong maniniwala sa ‘yong walang langit? Di mo ba nakikita ang napakaraming taong nagsisimba pag Linggo? Tanga!” Sabad naman ng isa: “E bakit di na lang natin sabihin sa kanila na wala namang impiyerno kaya wag silang matakot na gumawa ng masama?” “Isa ka pa!” Sagot ni Luci, “Sinong maniniwala sa yong walan impiyerno? E saan tayo titira? Sa langit? Tanga!” Walang makapabigay ng magandang panukala hanggang isang bagitong demonyo ang nagsalita: “Bossing, sabihin natin sa mga tao na ganito: totoong may langit at may impiyerno, pero… wag n’yo munang intindihin yun! Mahaba pa ang buhay n’yo sa mundo. Magpakasarap muna kayo habang buhay pa!” At umani siya ng masigabong palakpakan! Ang ikalawang Linggo ng Adbiyento ay nagpapaalala sa atin ng agarang pagtugon sa tawag ng Diyos na magbalik-loob at magbagong buhay!Ito ang isinisigaw ni Juan Baustista sa ilang: “Magpanibagong-buhay kayo. Malapit ng dumating ang kaharian ng Diyos… Ngayon pa’y nakaamba na ang palakol sa ugat ng punongkahoy.” Wag sana tayong padala sa malaking kasinungalingang ikinakalat ng demonyo na mahaba pa ang ating buhay… marami pa tayong oras! Mas mabuti na lagi tayong handa. Baka bukas hindi na tayo magising. Baka yung kinain natin ay huling hapunan na. Walang makapagsasabi. Ngunit wag sanang takot ang magtulak sa atin sa pagbabalik- loob. Tandaan natin, ayaw ng Diyos na katakutan natin Siya… ang nais Niya ay atin Siyang mahalin! Tatalikuran ko ang aking masamang pag-uugali dahil mahal ko ang Diyos. Mabubuhay ako ng mabuti dahil mahal ko Siya! Ito ang pagbabagong-loob na kinalulugdan N’ya. Ang pagnanais magbago ay hindi dapat ipinagpapaliban sapagkat hindi natin maiiwasan ang muling pagdating ni Jesus. Kaya nga ang diwa ng Adbiyento ay hindi lang paghahanda para sa Kapaskuhan kundi ito rin ay paghahanda kay Kristong muling darating sa atng piling at ang pagbabago ang pinakamagandang paghahanda na magagawa natin. Kapag Pasko naghahangad tayo ng maraming bago. Bagong damit, bagong sapatos, bagong gadgets, at marami pang iba. Bakit hindi naman natin hangarin na magbago ang ugali natin? Huwag natin munang hangarin na magbago ang kapwa natin. Simulan natin ito sa ating mga sarili. Ang sarili lamang natin ang mapanghahawakan natin at tayo lang ang makapagpapabago sa ating sarili. Ano ang magagawa natin? Una ay ang pagsusuri ng ating sarili kung ano ba ang ating mga nagawang mali at pagkukulang. Pangalawa ay ang pag-ako o pag-amin nito. At pangatlo ay ang pagsisisi sa ating mga kasalanan. Kung kinakailangang magkumpisal at may pagkakataon ay gawin natin ito. “Baguhin ninyo ang inyong pamumuhay sapagkat nalalapit na ang paghahari ng Diyos” Iti ang panawagan ni Juan Bautista at pinakamahusay na paghahanda sa pagtanggap kay Jesus.
Four Practical Steps to a Better Advent
December 8, 2013 | By Deacon Mike Bickerstaff | Reply
Today is the Second Sunday of Advent. Already!
Don’t worry, if you have not begun your watchful preparation, it is not too late…
One of my strongest, most enduring memories from my childhood is the time spent preparing for Christmas.
We did not have any family traditions involving the Advent Wreath or the Jesse Tree. And most certainly, like all the other children I knew, the desire for and anticipation of receiving presents, particularly toys, were a major part of the excitement in the run-up to Christmas morning. Each year brought a new toy I wanted, but I can only recall four examples – the toy gas station at age 4, the fire truck at age 5, the model train at age 6, the model race cars and track at age 9. Like many, the anticipation for the gift was often more satisfying than the gift itself. That is true whether one is young or old, if the gift is of this world. We have all seen the child who was more enamored by the wrapping and the box than the gift the box contained.
So, if year after year, the gifts I wanted were not that special, what was it that was special about the season that provided me with fond memories?
Simply this – for a few weeks each year, my family came together for a joyful purpose that set a time apart from the rest of the year. And the symbols that stick most prominently in my memory are the nativity scene under the tree and the angel that sat atop the tree. Everything important and lasting that we did as a family was directed to the glad tidings of the angel who would announce to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.” A child was born… the Child of all children… the King of kings.
But not yet – although the Christ-child was born in history, nearly 2,000 years previously at the time of my childhood, His coming in my time at our annual Christmas celebration was still days and weeks away. When the nativity scene was first brought out and placed beneath the tree each year, the manger would remain empty until Christmas morning, sometime before I awoke, when the Christ-child would mark His arrival and appear in the manger.
The anticipation of His imminent arrival was heightened in my mind by the activities and lessons presented by the good sisters at school and by my parents who handed on the faith so well. These memories of the reason for the season remained with me, more so than the toys that never quite satisfied, even in my later years when Jesus was less central to my life than He is now. You see, the time we spent each year during Advent, preparing to celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ, served to remind me during the remainder of the year of that great gift of our Savior who brings so much lasting consolation and joy. And looking back, it has served as a reminder to me down through the years too.
If we lose our focus on the Lord, neither his coming in past history, nor his coming at the end of time will have much meaning for us. The Lord warns us that we will be like the people of Noah’s time who, “In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away” (Matthew 24:38-39).
And again Jesus warns us, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).
Advent is a season of true longing and preparation for the only one who truly satisfies. We recall his coming to us in Bethlehem; we prepare for our celebration in our time of His nativity; we gird ourselves to be faithful and vigilant watchmen of His coming at the end of history.
St. Paul reminds us, “Brothers and sisters: You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from your sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand” (Romans 13:11-12).
We should allow this clarion call from this great saint to reverberate in our souls.
As I begin my own preparations this Advent, I need to ask myself, “Am I awake, or am I like the people in Noah’s time, so consumed with the affairs of this world that I have lost my focus on the Lord?” Again, Jesus warns us – He says, “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Matthew 24:44).
It is for this purpose that the Church gives us the Season of Advent. It is not a time to become distracted to the point of anxiety with excessive shopping and parties that have little to do with the celebration of the Lord’s coming. It is a time for our personal spiritual growth. How many of us would agree that far too many Advent and Christmas seasons have come and gone too quickly because our hearts and minds are captured by the secular interests of the season instead of the spiritual?
Like last year, I have made a list of resolutions to start off the Church’s new Liturgical Year, instead of at the start of our upcoming, new calendar year. I have adapted and listed them below — maybe you will find something helpful among them as you watch and wait during Advent 2013.
Daily Examen — Each day I will make an examination of conscience. And I wil also look at the bigger picture. Is my spiritual life (my life of prayer) more advanced this Advent than it was last Advent? Is my relationship with Jesus deeper and am I more committed to Him this year than I was last year? If not, why not? Here I will look at the good and the bad and strive to replace bad habits with holy habits.
Daily Mass — Admittedly this one is easy for me, but due to work schedules, this might be more difficult for others. I will start each day with gratitude to Jesus for seeing me safely through the night and granting me another day to learn to love Him as He loves me. I offer my worship of God in the sacrifice of thanksgiving at daily Mass. Id you are unable to do this, add a Rosary to your daily prayer or a period of meditation on the day’s Mass readings (in addition to your other prayers).
Daily Prayer Intentions — My daily prayer will include the desire that the example of all that Jesus has given to me will lead me to give to others in need out of the excess and beyond with which I have been blessed… and that the gifts I give to my loved ones will be appropriate and informed by His love. This is a recognition that all I have came from Him. Most of all, I will pray each day for the salvation of all whom I love and all who God places in my life – and that will include a prayer for my own salvation and my example to others – that this season of Advent will be a time of awaking from spiritual sleep as I await the coming of the Lord.
Daily Action — Each day, I will be watchful and alert for that person(s) God places in my life. I will ask for the grace of knowledge, wisdom and strength to serve that person in the way that God asks.
Note: Also this year, I made a 3-day retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit with the Trappist monks in Conyers, Georgia. I should be arriving home about the time many of you read this. Know that I included you in my prayer intentions.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
Into the deep…
See Today’s Readings: Cycle A