Thursday, November 29, 2012

The First Sunday of Advent

The first Sunday of Advent is a good time for us to renew our reflections. The defunct blog we attempted a couple of years ago will hopefully rise to this new opportunity, encouraged by our Holy Father as part of the “Year of Faith”. The intention is to provide space for a weekly reflection as part of the bulletin. You will also be able to read these online. Please understand that there will likely be many times when we will have to resort to “guests” to fill in if I get behind.
Advent is filled with many symbols, some of them appropriate to the season and having an ancient origin. Others don’t belong to it at all, but have firmly planted themselves in a new home like a department store Santa Clause. We think of Advent candles, Children’s pageants and special musical performances that go along with this first season of the Church. The attention we pay them is oftentimes hurried, as if the waiting for extra chores or anticipating something maniacal that might be pushing the intended good out of the season. And so, we light all the candles at once to be sure that we have done this or another custom, just in case. We give the season lip service, out of a reasonable fear that everything about Advent will be swallowed up in a shopping frenzy.

 So if the season is to be saved what must the valiant do? As with all things we must first build (or rebuild) a foundation. The whole year has the same need to be remodeled. One of great contributions that Vatican II gave the church was to rediscover the sacred character of our worship. This is not a simple task, and one that requires a better grasp of many things, including the language of faith. Simply put, the Church is drawn into an experience of God’s presence. He is here with us. And because that is true about this season, that he is present, he makes the Year sacred.
Pope St. Leo the Great (died 468) provides us a glimpse into the past, as we carry with us certain questions about how the Church Year can make much of a difference.

 “Beloved, the remembrance of what the Savior did for mankind is most useful to us, provided that what we venerate in faith we also receive and imitate. For in the communication of the mysteries of Christ to us, there is present both the power of grace and the encouragement which teaching gives, so that we may follow by out deeds him whom we confess in the spirit of faith.”

 This is the desperately-held center of our faith, where things of the past meet things of the future, the timeless realities of the years as they pass more quickly each changing season. During the celebration of the Year we are enabled by the saints to share in the mysteries of Christ. For example, St. Francis invented the Christmas Crib to display for his villagers in Assisi what they could not imagine - God laid to rest in a manger. And all the other little scenes that do in fact help us to see and understand what happened long ago.  Again St. Leo will help us:

 “All that the Son of God did and taught for the reconciliation of the world we not only know through the narration of past events; we also experience the effects of it in virtue of these present deeds, the sacraments.”

 In the weeks of Advent let us all, with enthusiasm, seek a greater understanding and experience of our encounter with Jesus Christ.

In the News (November Good Steward)

The tiny little news piece is probably a summary of events that are taking place many miles away. It is easy to speculate about why this might be happening, but it is hard to imagine. I have visited many parishes in many countries and it is hard to imagine that Catholics might be thought of as someone’s enemy. I grew up in the Bible Belt where there were tensions from time to time, but they were more the subject of sermons thought to give testimony that one group was better than another. We did foolish things growing up around here but we were mixed in with every kind of religion.

We feel a certain amount of frustration when we hear that some of our brother and sister Catholics have lost their lives because they are a different religion. I can imagine the scene of a few people at a time, slipping into a side door to come to Mass. To not call attention would certainly be better. Just like in our parish there would be hugs to greet one another. Having made it through the door would make everyone feel safe. There were little conversations in every part of the Church, discussing the well-being of some in the little congregation that were not present. But everyone was accounted for and they nervously started the Mass.

We can hardly dismiss the thoughts that this is the way it was for the first Christians. One of the criticisms of the ancient Church was that it was a secret society, with a closed membership. If it were too open it would quickly call attention. There is a little archeological evidence to help form this image. There have been found some larger buildings that would hold a hundred to two hundred souls. Interestingly, since there have been lots of Sunday school lessons that told about the Jews persecuting the Christians, some of these were similarly configured. They are like Jewish Synagogues and Christian Churches right next to each other. They are built on quiet streets and no one asked what went on there. Whispers guided those who might be interested in learning more about this unique religious movement.

There are always sacrifices, especially in an organization such as the Church. Sacrifice is a way of life. Sometimes it may not seem so, because the sacrifices seem small or unnoticed. We might hear about them or read about them but if we are not careful we might miss them entirely. I have to imagine that Jesus and the Saints, especially the martyrs take great notice. But this is not merely the stuff of excited children dressed up like Saints. That is all very well and good, especially if someday they realize that the costume they are wearing is more real than they might think. We could certainly say a lot about Columbine and other such horrific and violent events. And for those in Nigeria, may they be remembered with the glory of the martyrs. May the blood that was shed by those gathering for Mass be remembered as an efficacious sign of the Passion and Death of Jesus. May His Passion heal our world.

We would ask ourselves if this could help us all to be more enthusiastic about our attendance at Mass. Simply ask the question, “Am I going to be in Mass this Sunday?”

We are taking a collection during Cardinal Tumi’s visit. It will be sent to the Church in Nigeria in memory of those who have lost their lives in the civil strife there.