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