Advent and Confession. Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas, not simply by buying presents or decorating the house, but by “preparing the way of the Lord” into our hearts and lives. We begin by reflecting on the words St. Matthew uses in today’s Gospel to summarize the entire message of St. John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Of course, this repentance begins with the Sacrament of Baptism, which is both the sign of personal repentance and the conferral of the Divine grace of forgiveness of sins. But after Baptism we eventually find ourselves willfully committing sins, even terrible sins we deeply regret, and we develop sinful habits, “vices,” we can’t seem to get rid of. What do we do then to prepare the way of the Lord? How do we repent and receive forgiveness of our sins since we can be baptized only once?
St. John’s Advent admonition to “repent” reminds us that we are not doomed to wallow or drown in our sin, but that as Baptized Christians we can and must make it a staple of our life to constantly “repent” and be open and eager to receive “the forgiveness of sins” that comes through the Sacrament of Penance, which many of the early Church Fathers compared to “a second Baptism.” In this sacrament, our sins are once again washed away, so our souls are as pure as the soul of a newly baptized baby, and we have a new chance to start again to live the life Christ created us for and introduced us to in Baptism.
But there’s a problem: while we have repented and sin is forgiven, all the sinful habits (vices) we’ve built up, all our memories of past sins, and all our weaknesses developed over years of living in the world, all these remain. And they can become like valleys and mountains that seem so hard to get over, or like crooked and rough roads that cause us to stumble and fall in sin. Which is another reason we need the Sacrament of Penance, as it not only forgives sins but also gives us the grace to level all obstacles, and to straighten the crookedness and smooth over the roughness in our hearts, so that the sacrament becomes a fulfillment of the Advent prophesy and promise: “Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.”
We will be hearing Confessions (the Sacrament of Penance) every single day during Advent. In addition to the regular Confession times a priest will be in the confessional every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evening from 6:15pm to 7pm (he may stay longer, but only if his schedule permits). Please take advantage of this sacrament to prepare the way of the Lord into your heart and life. But, please do not wait for the last minute, since we may only be able to have one priest hearing on some days and he may have to leave at the set time, even if the line remains. And don’t wait until Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning, and get upset when the priest has to leave when Mass begins!
Parish Offertory Campaign. I want to thank all of you for your cooperation and generosity with the parish offertory campaign. So far we’ve received over 340 “green cards” responding to our appeal, and I’m sure more cards will come in during the next few weeks. I’m confident that our campaign will be a success by any measure. Already we’ve seen a significant increase in our collections since I preached about this 3 weeks ago.
Advent Charitable Giving. Advent is a time for giving gifts, especially, in imitation of Christ, to those who are in need and can’t “pay back” what we have given. In this regard, I recommend giving to next week’s second collection for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington. Note this is not the same as the national group called “Catholic Charities USA,” but is the locally run charitable wing of our own Diocese. I’ve written before how pleased I am with the work of CCDA in the last few years, especially in their renewed emphasis on fidelity to Christ and His Church, and in their attentiveness to the needs that pastors see, day to day, in their parishes. For example, they’ve been very helpful in offering affordable psychological, marital and family counselling, providing good, caring assistance in the context of our Catholic faith. I commend them to you and ask you to be generous in supporting them in next week’s second collection.
Immaculate Conception. This Thursday, December 8, is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Day of obligation (All Catholics must attend Mass, and it is a mortal sin not to.). This feast celebrates the conception of Mary, free from original sin, in her mother’s womb. This great feast is an ideal Advent lesson, teaching us about Mary’s perfect preparation to receive Christ into her life. In addition to the regularly scheduled daily Masses we will also offer a 7pm Vigil on Wednesday, and a noon and 7pm Mass on Thursday.
Other Advent Events this Week. I invite you to join me, the lectors and the choir on Sunday, December 11th at 7pm for “Lessons & Carols.” This is a wonderful program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings. Don’t be put off by the term “Lessons”—no one will be lecturing, just reading the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament and pre-nativity readings from the Gospels. The choir then leads us in carols and a few more complicated choral pieces—they are AMAZING. And afterwards there will be an opportunity for fellowship at a short reception (with delicious seasonal refreshments). Every year the crowd gets bigger because everyone who comes loves it. Please join us.
Also, all little children (and their families) are invited to “Breakfast with Santa” next Saturday morning, December 10. And don’t forget to stop by the “Giving Tree” in the narthex today, and help to make Christmas a little merrier for some folks who are having a rough time this year—families of our parish and Our Lady of the Blue Ridge parish in Madison. Finally, note: Because of the Holy Day this Thursday, my Advent Series on “Grace: God’s Gift at Christmas and Throughout the Year,” will not meet this Thursday, but will continue the following Thursday, December 15.
A Belated Thanks to Our Lady. After the election last month I gave thanks to God in this column for His intervention. But I failed to give due credit to Our Blessed Mother’s role—so many of us were praying the Novena to the Blessed Mother, the Immaculate Conception, I am confident that she came to our aid. May “all generations call her Blessed”!
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles