December 16, 2013

3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Last week we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. These feasts remind us that as this holy season of preparation and expectant joy continues we follow the example of she who was first prepared for the birth of Jesus, and who has always found the most joy in it, is His Blessed Mother, Mary.

Of course, in a certain sense Mary was prepared from all time for the coming of Jesus, as God promised in the Garden of Eden that he would send “the woman,” free from sin, who would bear a son, also free from sin, who would crush the devil and free us from sin. In fulfillment of that promise Mary was then conceived in her mother’s womb without the stain of original sin, and was filled with grace all her life, so that she never committed any actual sin herself. Thus prepared for Jesus’ birth, she was the perfect Mother for the Divine Son. In imitation of Mary we should be preparing for Christmas by ridding ourselves of sins, and accepting the grace the Lord pours out on us in this holy season. So that when Christmas day comes we can celebrate by presenting ourselves to Him as having truly welcomed and embraced His salvation.

But besides preparing ourselves we must also prepare others. When Mary had heard the news of the Incarnation she “departed in haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and so truly bringing the tiny baby in her womb to Elizabeth, who responded with exuberant joy. Similarly, when the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531 she appeared to him as a pregnant young woman, again bringing Christ to all of Mexico, Latin America, and, in a sense, to all the “New World.” Our Advent preparation must also include this: imitating Mary by bringing Christ to those around us. We do this first by, as I wrote above, eliminating sin in our lives, and so live in charity and justice with our neighbors. But we must also be more pro-active: we must proclaim to all who will hear, a clear invitation to receive the Lord who came to us first at Christmas. Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth was the first such proclamation of this invitation, and she has continued this through the centuries, including her dramatic invitation in Mexico in the 16th century. And in Advent she reminds us and teaches us that we must do the same.

There are a thousand ways we can do this: giving presents that effectively communicate the Christian message (Bibles, Hand Missals, Rosaries, Catholic spiritual classic books, etc.); putting up Manger scenes (crèches); praying and singing holy Christmas songs with our families; talking about Christ and sharing our belief in and love of Him; and especially, bringing others (our children, fallen away family members, interested friends and co-workers) to church with us—to Mass, to Confession, to adoration, etc..

As Advent continues let us turn to our Blessed Mother to help us to prepare in joy for Christmas, by her example and through her intercession.

Giving. Of course, St. John the Baptist also teaches us how to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus during Advent. Today’s Gospel tells us, “The crowds asked John the Baptist, ‘What should we do?’” Of course he tells them to stop sinning (last week we read that his first message was “repent”), but he also tells them: “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. ” This reminds us that during Advent it is not only appropriate but necessary to give gifts to others.

But we should remember at least 2 things about gift-giving. First, we shouldn’t just think in terms of material giving: the gift of Christ and of faith in Him are much more important than a new toy, tie or sweater. This especially important in families. Parents in particular should consider if they are doing everything they can to give their children the gift of true faith in Christ: giving them a good example of Catholic living; teaching them about Jesus and His Church, and praying to Him, in their home; sending them to Catholic schools or CCD; and bringing them to Mass every Sunday and to Confession regularly.

And second, we shouldn’t just give to those we know and love, but also to those we don’t know but should love, especially those in need. Again, we should give them the gift of Christ, as I discussed above. But as St. James tells us elsewhere: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is that?”

At the first Christmas God gave Himself to us by stripping Himself of the glory of heaven, and becoming a baby born into poverty. So I encourage you to consider carefully what you will give to those in need this Advent, whether individuals you know or charitable organizations that continue Jesus’ work on earth.

I would recommend, however, that when you give you make sure the group is solidly in line with the teaching of Christ’s Church so that your money isn’t diverted to unworthy uses. Let me recommend a just few organizations (there are many more organizations worthy of your help): the Little Sisters of the Poor (this week’s 2nd collection), Catholic Charities of Arlington (thank you for your extreme generosity last week), House of Mercy, Divine Mercy Care, Project Rachel, Gabriel Project, AAA Women for Choice (a pro-life group in Manassas), Mary’s Shelter (a shelter for pregnant women in crisis in Fredericksburg), the Poor Clares, and, of course, Angelus Academy. One of my personal favorite charities is St. Dominic Monastery in Linden, VA, the wonderful cloistered Dominican sisters who pray for our parish daily. And of course, St. Raymond’s itself still has a huge debt to pay off as it continue to strive to meet the spiritual needs of parishioners.

Thank you to all of those who gave to our Giving Tree and helped to provide Christmas to families in need.

Family Assistance. If you are aware of a family or person that is need of assistance this Advent, especially a parishioner, please do not hesitate to bring this to my attention.

Lessons and Carols. One excellent way to prepare for Christmas in joyful expectation is to come to Lessons and Carols this evening, Sunday, December 16, at 6:30pm. Adults and children alike will love this uplifting experience of Scripture readings laying out God’s breathtaking plan for the birth of His Divine Son, and beautiful Advent music sung by and with the choir. (Hint: If you know someone who’s not quite ready to come to Mass, this is a wonderful way to help prepare them for the right celebration of Christmas). Please join us!

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles

December 2, 2012

Advent. Today we begin the Season of Advent, 4 weeks preparing for the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ. Many people tend to forget that this season is about preparing for Christmas and instead spend these weeks pre-maturely celebrating Christmas. And then when the actual 3 week Christmas Season begins on Christmas Day, they put all the Christmas things away and go on with life!

As I mentioned last week, this pre-mature celebration isn’t a bad thing, if we see it as part of the strong influence of Christianity on our culture. For many Catholics this is largely what is going on—people around them start celebrating Christmas, and it’s such a wonderful feast they (Catholics) get all caught up in it.

But this phenomena is not completely harmless. First of all, much of this pre-mature celebration is driven not by a culture influenced by Christianity, but by commercial interests taking advantage of that culture. Whereas, not too many years ago we might see a gradual movement toward celebrating Christmas in the first weeks of December, nowadays Christmas is everywhere the day after Thanksgiving. Sadly, much of this is nothing more than retailers playing on our emotional attachment to Christmas, in order to increase sales. Increasing sales is not a bad thing, but the reduction of Advent to a period of rampant commercialism/materialism and emotionalism is. All but forgotten is the spiritual/faith preparation to celebrate the wonder of the birth of the Baby Jesus, our Creator come to redeem us from our sins.

As your spiritual father, I beg you, don’t let this happen to you and yours this Advent. This is not to say you can’t, to some extent, take part in the cultural celebrations, as long as you make sure to also spend time preparing for the celebration of the Day that changed the world forever. Here are some suggestions:
• 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 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.
• Receiving 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. Unfortunately, due to the reduced number of priests this year, we cannot schedule a 7pm Mass every weekday, but 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. Follow the 10 Commandments, 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 2012 Events” in this bulletin, look it over carefully and keep in 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. On Sunday, December 16, I invite you to join me, the lectors and the choir at 6:30pm for a program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings, called “Lessons and Carols.” 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 stretching their vocal wings in a few more complicated choral pieces. We started this Advent tradition 2 years ago, with a good-sized crowd the first year, and easily doubled attendance last year. Please come, because if you don’t, you’ll be missing something truly special.
Advent Series. I invite you all to attend the Advent Series I will be presenting on the 3 Thursday evenings of Advent: “The Word Became Flesh: Coming to Know God.” In this “Year of Faith” this will be sort of a re-introductory course to Faith in Christ and His Revelation. The first “class” this Thursday will look at the basic ways we come to know God, beginning with simple human reason and observation, moving to an overview discussion of Scripture and Tradition. This should not be just some dry theoretical discussion, but can help you to really grow in your understanding of God and our Catholic Faith. Please see the box on the next page and the bulletin insert for further info.

NOTE: Some of you may never go to special events like these, and feel awkward or hesitant attending anything but Mass. Some may feel you don’t “know enough” to come to, for example, a lecture series. You are exactly the people I am particularly hoping will come and take part in these and all the special Advent (and Christmas) events in the parish. I look forward to seeing you–all of you!

Family Assistance. Our parishioners have been very generous in contributing to our parish fund to help those who are in need of financial assistance, and I am pleased to say that we have been able to help many people with this fund. If you are aware of a family or person that is need of assistance this Advent, especially a parishioner, please do not hesitate to bring this to my attention. You can contact me directly, or contact the parish office. (Note: We also work with “institutions” that are giving direct aid to those in need; for example, a few weeks back we helped “House of Mercy” in their efforts to get emergency relief to the victims of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey).

Oremus pro invicem, et pro patria. Fr. De Celles