December 1, 2013

Advent. In the last week or so most of you receive copies of our Bishop’s (Most Rev. Paul Loverde) pastoral letter on the New Evangelization: “Go Forth with Hearts on Fire.” This couldn’t come at a more opportune time as today we begin the Season of Advent, 4 weeks preparing for the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas. A time of preparing to celebrate the introduction of Christ to the world, the beginning of the proclamation of the Good News of our salvation. So Christmas is, in part, the celebration of the Original Evangelizing. So as we take the next 4 weeks to prepare for Christmas we must see these weeks in the context of evangelization—of sharing the Good News of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with all around us.

I often lament how the world around us has turned the days from Thanksgiving to December 25 into a time of nonstop Christmas-sales, shopping, specials on cable, songs on radio, and, of course, Christmas-parties. All this can tend to turn the Advent season of preparation into a pre-mature 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 meant 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 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 sentimental feelings of the secular “yuletide” season. Rather, we should transform the secular fun by our Advent Christian joy. And in this context we can share the true meaning of Advent and Christmas with everyone around us: sharing the good news of the Original Evangelization with the world, the New Evangelization. So that while we go about our shopping and partying and caroling we never lose sight of either our sins or the one who so lovingly forgives them. And we never waste the opportunity to share this “Good News of Great Joy” with those around us who clearly are so desperately in need of it.

As your spiritual father, I beg you, don’t waste this Advent! Remember, before you share true Advent joy you must first [re]discover it yourself through preparation. Here are some suggestions for how to do this:
–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.
–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 2013 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. Next Sunday, December 8, 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. Don’t miss this truly special event.
Advent Series. How can we have the personal relationship Christ wants to have with us if we don’t talk and listen to Him? So I invite you all to attend my Advent Series on the 3 Thursday evenings of Advent: “Prayer: In Conversation with God” The first session this Thursday will look at the basics of prayer: the why, how, when and where of prayer. This will be a good refresher for experienced pray-ers and a good introduction for those just beginning. Please see the bulletin insert for further info.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles

December 9, 2012

ADVENT, BAPTISM and PENANCE. Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas, not simply by buying presents or decorating the house, but by “prepar[ing] the way of the Lord” into our hearts and lives. We begin by reflecting on the words St. Luke uses in today’s Gospel to summarize the entire message of St. John the Baptist: “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Now, for the baptized, these words might recall to us our baptismal innocence, especially if we were baptized as babies: a newly baptized baby is absolutely pure and holy in the eyes of God. As we get older, though, we lose some of that innocence, eventually finding ourselves willfully committing sins, even terrible sins we deeply regret, and we develop sinful habits, “vices,” we can’t’ seem to get rid of.

For us, who have lost our innocence after baptism, what do we prepare the way of the Lord this Advent when we here St. John “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”? We can’t be baptized again, so what do we do?

First, we remember that Baptism is a sacrament that has no end: once baptized always baptized (so there is no “re-baptism”). And the Advent proclamation of St. John 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.”

And for that, even though we can’t receive the Sacrament of Baptism again, we can receive the sacrament many of the early Church Fathers compared to “a second baptism”—the Sacrament of Penance. 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, and 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 gives us the grace to level all obstacles, and to straighten the crookedness and smooth over the roughness 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, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

During Advent, we will be hearing confessions every single day (until and including Sunday, December 23); 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!

INFANT BAPTISM. As we prepare to celebrate the Birth of the Baby Jesus, who opened to us the gates of paradise, and while I’m on the subject of Baptism, I’d like to take this opportunity to address something that is a growing concern to us priests. Since the first century the Church has happily baptized infants, not as a merely symbolic rite of entrance into the Catholic Church but to wash away the original sin and open to them gates of Eternal Life. Christ made it very clear that the grace of Baptism is necessary for salvation (“no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit”—John 3:5). And while the Church teaches that God sometimes gives the grace of Baptism in certain extraordinary ways, e.g., in the “baptism of blood” of the martyrs, the Church has always maintained that it does not know if anything like that applies to babies who die without baptism. And while Bd. John Paul II gave hope to all parents of unbaptized babies as he wrote to post-abortive mothers in Evangelium Vitae [99], “You can entrust your child to the same Father and to his mercy with hope,” this was not a change to official teaching. So, the Church continues to teach that we do not know if unbaptized babies go to heaven, and that, while we should always trust in God’s mercy we should also never presume on God’s mercy to do what we fail to do.

Because of this, and with loving concern for the eternal souls of babies, the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law, personally promulgated by Bd. John Paul, requires: “Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptized within the first few weeks. As soon as possible after the birth, indeed even before it, they are to approach the parish priest to ask for the sacrament for their child….” [Can. 867 §1]

Unfortunately, many parents nowadays don’t seem to know about this “obligation” and delay their babies’ baptisms well beyond “the first few weeks.” So I write this, just as Bd. John Paul did, not to frighten or berate you, but out of love for babies and their parents, and to assure that all our babies will share in eternal life. Please keep this serious obligation in mind, and remind your Catholic friends and families as the case arises.

REMINDERS. I invite you all to join the choir, the lectors and me at 6:30pm next Sunday, December 16, for a program of beautiful Advent music and Scripture readings, called “Lessons and Carols.” Also, I will continue my Advent Series this Thursday evening, on the topic: “Re-Introduction to The Bible: An Overview.” Newcomers are more than welcome, especially those with little familiarity with the Bible! Finally, I remind all of you that the parish has a special fund set aside for families or individuals in need. Please let me know if you are aware of anyone, especially a parishioner, is need of assistance this Advent.

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