Wednesday, November 27, 2013

First Sunday in Advent

First Sunday in Advent
December 3, 2013
Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44

The readings set up the mood for the entire Advent season, even though they seem awkwardly placed. For the last three weeks, we have heard stories of the end times and the last judgment, and as we begin a brand new church year, we are still hearing stories about warnings that the end times are coming. We might expect a new, fresh start as we long to hear about God’s sending forth of his Son in the grand plan to save the world. The deeper meaning is to remind us that we are to be patient in waiting for the unexpected mysteries that come our way.

            The Gospel warns us to stay awake because the hour of the coming of Jesus is not known. We cannot presume that we along with our loved ones will be taken up in the final reaping of the harvest because we make unique choices as individuals, and family, tribes, or other communal relationships do not protect us or give us a free pass. We have to take responsibility for each of our choices.  Paul, in the Letter to the Romans, also urges our vigilance as he wakes us from our slumber of complacency. He calls us to be ready by making sure our conduct is upright and proper – a sign that our choices to live well and with integrity are signs of our Christian discipleship. Isaiah reminds us that we are called to a higher standard of conduct than those around us. We ought not be concerned with their behavior, but we do have choices over the ways we respond to challenging daily situations.

            The readings feel a bit off because we are no longer urgently waiting for the Lord’s return. Because he is alive and present to us, we know his Spirit will guide us and help us prepare for his eventual return. Instead, we read these texts in the light of our own particular judgment, that is, we make it about the preparation for the end of our individual lives because we have no idea when our time has come to pass from this world to the next. This is sobering enough and when confronted with our mortality, we recognize we no longer have the amount of time we once thought we did. We therefore choose to live as fully as we can and place unimportant distractions in proper perspective.     

            How then are we to approach this season with the alertness Isaiah, Paul, and Jesus asks of us? Let us start by embracing the cultural celebrations around us. Sure, we all recognize the retailers begin the commercial sales pitches for Christmas way too early and we Catholics want to properly celebrate Advent before we even think about Christmas, but sometimes it is easier to go along with the cultural movements than to resist and get uptight about the actions of others. Last Tuesday, Pope Francis published his first work called “The Joy of the Gospel” to outline his Christian vision for the church. Central to it is joy. If we are always resisting and finding ways to be critical, then we are not giving evidence that we are a joyful people. Learn to delight in the world around you. The Pope calls for pastoral creativity and openness and this can be done without getting caught up in the abuses of commercial retailers’ agendas.

            Enjoy the commercial side of Christmas that truly respects and celebrates Advent. Many popular Christmas songs are Advent songs that anticipate the good times that await us at Christmas. Real Christmas songs are sung in churches at the proper time. For instance if someone is dreaming of a “White Christmas,” let them dream of the magical beauty they find in being with family and loved ones during the lead-up to Christmas. If someone longing sings, “I’ll be home for Christmas,” then it is because they are missing their loved ones a great deal and feel an emotional, spiritual connection with them though they are miles apart. Let these good desires and longing flow.

            Put up your Christmas tree early so that you can sit and enjoy the sparkle and twinkle of lights. Bring magic and memories into the present moment. Tell stories of mystery and surprise from your childhood and let others know of the heartache you feel when a loved one is no longer with you. Build new traditions that keep your loved ones in your life. Watch with friends a favorite movie or cartoon and let the laughter rise from the floor to rafter. Attend a concert or find where the local choir is caroling and support their efforts to bring you joy. Go to a favorite coffee house with a friend and just enjoy the people who show up to experience the richness of life where aromatic smells and tasty food are there to bring delight. Advent is about spending time with your loved ones. Choose something you would really like to do this Advent and set aside the time to make a new memory that you can cherish for years to come. You never know whether it will be your last Christmas season so do your best to let yourself go enough to let the smells and bells and the sights and sounds fill you with good cheer. Listen to the people sing songs of good cheer that Christmas is near.

            Joy. Delight. Mystery. Let these be the words you speak when your rise each morning. Keep your senses alert and heightened and let your imagination fill you so completely that they bubble over into your daily life. The gift we have is just to be in the now with those who were brought to us. Engage them lovingly and share the good news that Christ has brought to us. Bring your best self into each moment and wish glad tidings to all. If we seek God in all things, even the commercial Christmas season, we will find the ever-present Christmas spirit that longs to bring us to God’s heart and fill us with renewed hope and fresh dreams. I’m dreaming of a bright Christmas.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: Isaiah inspires his people by prophesying that those who remain in Jerusalem will be called holy by the Lord and will be covered by his glory. On the day when the Lord will reveal himself, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse and from his roots a bud will blossom and the spirit of wisdom and understanding will rest on the house of David. The peaceable kingdom will be brought into fullness. On the holy mountain of the Lord, all people will be provided a feast of rich foods and choice wines and the veil that shields all people will be destroyed. Death will be wiped away and the Lord will save his people. The people of Judah will sing a song about Jerusalem’s favor because they trusted in the Lord. The bare lands will become fertile and an orchard will become a forest. The deaf will hear and the gloom of the land will be lifted as the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. Jerusalem will weep no more and the Lord will give them all they need each day for sustenance. The Day of the Lord will turn around the fortunes of many who are despondent and thirsty.

Gospel: Jesus praises the centurion for his obedience to the word of God. Because of this, his sick paralyzed servant is healed. Jesus praises his father for hidden the mysteries of the universe from the learned and wise but revealing them to the sick and childlike. As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, great crowds of people came to see him bring with them many who were blind, deformed, lame, mute, and many others. His heart was moved to pity for them and he takes the meager portions of food held by the disciples and feeds them with ample fish and bread. Jesus reminds the people that not everyone who thinks they will be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven will make it there. It is only for those who built their foundations on the solid rock of faith. As Jesus passed by, two blind men cried out to him to have mercy upon them because they wanted their sight back. Their eyes were opened and words spread throughout the land of the healing power of Jesus. After preaching and healing many, Jesus summoned Twelve of his disciples and gave them power to proclaim to the lost sheep of Israel that the time of salvation is at hand.

Saints of the Week

December 1: Edmund Campion, S.J., (1540- 1581), Robert Southwell, S.J., (1561-1595) martyrs, were English natives and Jesuit priests at a time when Catholics were persecuted in the country. Both men acknowledge Queen Elizabeth as monarch, but they refused to renounce their Catholic faith. They are among the 40 martyrs of England and Wales. Campion was killed in 1581 and Southwell’s death was 1595.

December 3: Francis Xavier, S.J., priest (1506-1552) was a founding members of the Jesuit Order who was sent to the East Indies and Japan as a missionary. His preaching converted hundreds of thousands of converts to the faith. He died before reaching China. Xavier was a classmate of Peter Faber and Ignatius of Loyola at the University of Paris.

December 6: Nicholas, bishop (d. 350), lived in southwest Turkey and was imprisoned during the Diocletian persecution. He attended the Council of Nicaea in 324. Since there are many stories of his good deeds, generous charity, and remarkable pastoral care, his character became the foundation for the image of Santa Claus.

December 7: Ambrose, bishop and doctor (339-397) was a Roman governor who fairly mediated an episcopal election in Milan. He was then acclaimed their bishop even though he was not baptized. He baptized Augustine in 386 and is doctor of the church because of his preaching, teaching and influential ways of being a pastor.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Dec. 1, 1581: At Tyburn in London, Edmund Campion and Alexander Briant were martyred.
·      Dec. 2, 1552: On the island of Sancian off the coast of China, Francis Xavier died.
·      Dec. 3, 1563: At the Council of Trent, the Institute of the Society was approved.
·      Dec. 4, 1870: The Roman College, appropriated by the Piedmontese government, was reopened as a Lyceum. The monogram of the Society over the main entrance was effaced.
·      Dec. 5, 1584: By his bull Omnipotentis Dei, Pope Gregory XIII gave the title of Primaria to Our Lady's Sodality established in the Roman College in 1564, and empowered it to aggregate other similar sodalities.
·      Dec. 6, 1618: In Naples, the Jesuits were blamed for proposing to the Viceroy that a solemn feast should be held in honor of the Immaculate Conception and that priests should make a public pledge defend the doctrine. This was regarded as a novelty not to be encouraged.

·      Dec. 7, 1649: Charles Garnier was martyred in Etarita, Canada, as a missionary to the Petun Indians, among whom he died during an Iroquois attack.