Advent. Today we begin the Season of Advent, 4 weeks preparing for the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Sadly, the culture around us has turned the days from Thanksgiving to December 25 into a time of nonstop sales, shopping, television specials, radio carols, and, of course, “Christmas parties.” All this can tend to turn the Advent season of preparation into a pre-mature and secularized Christmas celebration, virtually making superfluous the actual season of Christmas that begins on December 25 and runs for 3 weeks after that.
We have to be careful of getting caught up in that secular celebration, especially to the extent it omits Christ himself from the celebration. Advent must remain for us, first and foremost, a season of preparation to celebration. And by that I mean we need to spend time thinking and praying about the reason we celebrate Christmas with such joy: that we are sinners, but that God has not left us in our sins. That in spite of all the bad and stupid things we do to offend God and our neighbor, God so loves us that He entered the world as a tiny baby so he could truly be one of us, and communicate that love so dramatically: person to person, offering each of us a personal relationship with Him. So that the preparation of Advent must be a time of remembering our sins, and opening ourselves and our whole lives to the love of Christ. It is only with this sort of preparation that we can begin to understand and experience the true joy of this most magnificent gift.
But note, this joy should build in us throughout our preparation—as we become more prepared, we become more and more joyful. So that there is nothing wrong if even in the midst of the penance and prayer of Advent we also increasingly partake of the joy of Advent. But we must not confuse the Advent joy of Christ with the merely sentimental feelings of the secular “yuletide” season. Rather, we should transform the secular fun by our Advent Christian joy.
Remember, before you share true Advent joy you must first [re]discover it yourself through preparation:
–Christians always prepare for Holy Days by doing penance. In Advent this shouldn’t take on anything near the severity of Lent, but we should do some small penance every day to remind us that nothing is more important than Christ, and that everything we do is for Him.
–Add extra prayers to your daily routine. The Rosary is an excellent addition to our prayers, especially meditating on the Joyful Mysteries, or at least praying one decade every day, meditating on one of the Joyful Mysteries.
—Reading Scripture is an excellent way to renew your faith in Christ. Perhaps challenge yourself to choose one of the Gospels and read at least one chapter a day throughout Advent.
–Of course, charitable giving is a great way to prepare for the gift of the Baby Jesus. While it is a fine practice to give presents to people we love, it is an even better practice to give to those who do not know us and cannot give anything back to us. So make sure you make generous charitable gifts—either directly to those in need or to worthy charitable projects/institutions. The Parish Giving Tree is one good way to do this, as are some of the special collections. And remember, it seems to me that St. Raymond’s is the most important charitable organization in most of our lives, helping you, your family and your neighbor—so don’t forget us in your Advent and Christmas giving (including the Offertory Campaign).
—Receiving the grace of the sacraments is one of the most important things you can do in Advent. Consider coming to Mass and Adoration during the week, and make sure you go to Confession. Once again, we will have confessions every weekday evening during Advent.
–Most importantly, live the life that Christ came to give us: make every day about loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Remember, Jesus said, “if you love me you will keep my commandments,” so follow the 10 Commandments and live out the Beatitudes. Forgive others, and be kind, patient, generous, and encouraging.
–Also: take part in the many special events and liturgies scheduled in the parish this Advent. Please find the insert of the Schedule of “Advent & Christmas 2016 Events” in this bulletin, look it over carefully and keep it somewhere central in your house (on the fridge door?). Two parish “special events” I’d like to call your attention to in particular are:
—Lessons and Carols. I invite you to join me, the lectors and the choir on Sunday, December 11th at 7pm for “Lessons & Carols” at 7:00 pm. This is a wonderful program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings. Some people seem to misunderstand the “Lessons” part of the program—they think I’m going to give a lecture or something. Not at all. “Lessons” is simply an old English term for readings from Scripture. By weaving together prophetic readings from the Old Testament and pre-nativity readings from the Gospels, the readers lay out God’s breathtaking plan for the birth of His Divine Son. The choir adds to the atmosphere of joyful expectation by leading us in popular hymns and spreading their vocal wings in leading us in carols and a few more complicated choral pieces—they are AMAZING. And afterwards there will be an opportunity for joyful fellowship at a short reception (with delicious seasonal refreshments). Trust me, this is a really wonderful evening—you’ll have a great time. Every year the crowd gets bigger (last year it doubled to about 250!) because everyone who comes loves it. Please join us.
—Advent Series. I invite you all to attend the two-part Advent Series that I will be giving on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays in Advent, December 1 and December 15 (The 2nd Thursday is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, so we’ll have Mass instead of a talk). This year’s topic is, “Grace: God’s Gift at Christmas and Throughout the Year.” The first talk is this coming Thursday and is entitled, “Grace: God’s Action and Our Response,” and will discuss: the definition of grace, actual and sanctifying grace, and grace and justification (how we are saved by grace). The second talk is entitled: “Hard Questions about Grace,” and will discuss: the effect of sin on grace, inequalities of grace (does Mary have more grace than you?), and grace as it relates to merit, freedom, and predestination. I’m really looking forward to teaching this series and to seeing all of you there!
Thanksgiving. I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving. For those of you who are travelling today or tomorrow, may God send His angels to guide you on your way.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles