The Word Became Flesh and Made His Dwelling Among Us

December 22nd, 2014
Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds by Govert Flinck

Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds by Govert Flinck

O God, who through the child-bearing of the holy Virgin
graciously revealed the radiance of your glory to the world,
grant, we pray,
that we may venerate with integrity of faith
the mystery of so wondrous an Incarnation
and always celebrate it with due reverence.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

                                       – Collect from Mass for December 19, Roman Missal

As Christmas approaches, how can we open ourselves more to the wonder of the Incarnation, so that our faith might grow in the days ahead?

Rejoice! The Lord Our Savior is Near

December 21st, 2014
The Two TrinitiesBartolomé Esteban Murillo

The Two TrinitiesBartolomé Esteban Murillo

Hear in kindness, O Lord, the prayers of your people,
that those who rejoice at the coming of your only Begotten Son, in our flesh
may, when at last he comes in glory,
gain the reward of eternal life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

                                       – Collect from Mass for December 21, Roman Missal

How can we appreciate more fully the gift of eternal life that is given to us in the birth of Our Savior?

Hanukkah and the Eternal Light of God

December 19th, 2014

light of the world

Jesus was formed by the feasts of old. A devout Jew, he was raised by parents who dutifully observed the Jewish calendar, and in his ministry he observed the holy days with his disciples. However, more than simply celebrating these days which remember the marvels God has done, Christ embodied them.

Since the Apostolic Age, the Church has seen that what is foreshadowed in Israel comes suddenly into the light with Jesus. The Catechism teaches, “The economy of the Old Testament was deliberately oriented so that it should prepare for and declare in prophecy the coming of Christ, redeemer of all men” (CCC 122, quoting Dei Verbum 15).

From a Christian perspective, then, the feasts of ancient Israel have found their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. This includes Hanukkah, which Jesus observed and which began this year at sunset on Tuesday, December 16, and culminates on December 24, Christmas Eve.

The festival of Hanukkah, which is Hebrew for “dedication,” celebrates the second-century B.C. defeat of Assyrian Greeks who had captured Jerusalem and desecrated the Temple, and the rededication of the Temple with a new altar and purification of the sanctuary (1 Maccabees 4:36-59, 2 Maccabees 10:1-8). Today, however, this holiday is perhaps better known as the Festival of Lights.

Light and flame have always served as signs of God’s presence. When Moses first experienced the nearness of the Lord, it was at the burning bush. When Moses received instructions for the decoration of Israel’s sanctuary, he was told to make the Menorah, a bush-like seven-branched lampstand, which would light up the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept (Exodus 25:31-40). Solomon also set up ten golden lampstands in the Temple (2 Chronicles 4:7). The light in the Temple sanctuary was likewise a sign of God’s presence.

After the Temple was retaken, according to Jewish tradition as recounted in the Talmud, only one vial of consecrated oil for the sanctuary lamp was found, sufficient for one day only. However, the light miraculously burned for the eight days it took to make more oil (Shabbat 2).

As our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate Hanukkah, this time can be an occasion for Jews and Christians together to remember that it is God himself who is Light that is everlasting. More than light from oil, which runs out, God is the Eternal Light which cannot be extinguished. The rededication of the Temple that we read about in Maccabees reminds us that even if evil has defiled the good, evil will be defeated. This is a time of hope.

As Christians, however, we can see something more. In the divine mystery of God, we recognize that Jesus himself is the Light. Saint John attests in his Gospel, “through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). Jesus confirms this testimony, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).

During this season of Advent, we decorate our homes, Christmas trees and streets with lights, joyfully awaiting the coming of our Savior. At Christmas, we profess that God “made this most sacred night radiant with the splendor of the true light” (Collect for Midnight Mass). Likewise, the Easter Vigil will begin with light, with the paschal candle being lit from a new fire as the priest prays, “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” Meanwhile, candles adorn the altar in our churches and a sanctuary lamp burns perpetually near the tabernacle when the Blessed Sacrament is in reservation, to indicate the presence of the Lord.

When we know Jesus Christ is the Eternal Light, that he is “God from God, Light from Light,” we will see all things in his light. Joyfully then we sing in the Alleluia refrain on Christmas Eve, which is the culmination of Hanukkah this year, “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

Open to the Holy Spirit

December 17th, 2014

HolySpirit-Cover

What we celebrate this season is God coming to be with us – to be one of us – walking with us, saving us and sharing divine life with us. Yet while we joyfully await the coming of Jesus at Christmas, we know also that in a few months, the Church will recall his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension into heaven.

So, since he is no longer walking among us, how is it that Christ’s work of salvation and sharing divine life continues in the world today? The answer is God’s gracious gift of the Holy Spirit.

This gift of the Spirit is a matter of the utmost importance, but many people today are confused about, or even unaware of, this third Person of the Trinity. Even among those who profess in the Creed a belief in the Holy Spirit, he is for many the great unknown. For this reason, I have written a book entitled, Open to the Holy Spirit: Living the Gospel with Wisdom and Power. It is my hope that this book will help people in their awareness and understanding of the Spirit to enliven their faith and so that they can then share him with the world and thus share Jesus Christ.

If we do not know the Spirit, then our knowledge of Jesus is also incomplete. It is only in the Spirit that we can participate in Jesus’ saving work among us.

Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Christians become more Christ-like. This is what the Spirit gives us – the life of God become man. We become partakers of the divine life, but we also come to share in Jesus’ perfect human life. We live not merely with our own meager merits, but with the virtues of Jesus himself. With the Spirit, we receive what we need to live our waking hours as the saints we are called to be.

If we neglect the Spirit, then we impoverish our own lives and we remain unknown and unknowable even to ourselves. It is vital that we understand this. While it is unlikely that one small book can remedy what is an age-old deficiency, perhaps Open to the Holy Spirit can be a starting place for those who choose to meet him in its pages.

In the opening chapters, the scriptural, doctrinal and theological foundations of the Church’s faith in the Holy Spirit are examined. Those basic principles are then applied in later chapters to our spiritual and devotional life – the life in the Spirit we live as individuals and share in communion with the Church. Finally, I discuss the Spirit’s role in our witness and in our friendships, in short, in the work of the New Evangelization.

By renewing and deepening our relationship with the Holy Spirit, we are prepared to be the Spirit-filled missionary disciples that Pope Francis has spoken of. In this work to which we are called, in sharing the perfect gift of Jesus with others, we might feel inarticulate, that we are not up to the task. While admitting that this mission cannot be achieved without some degree of difficulty, we do not need to be anxious. The work we do is not our own and we do not act alone, but with the Holy Spirit.

God wants to reach everyone on earth with his saving message. With the Spirit, we are given the grace to facilitate that in our occupations and in our daily lives. The Spirit works within us and works with us in all our uniqueness and weaknesses so that we can bear witness to the Lord in culture, art, music, literature, film, theater, law, medicine, science, education and news, and in our interactions with the people we meet every day. Everything we do can be done for God’s glory and for the salvation of others.

The time is right to come to know the Holy Spirit. Though we live in a time of great material wealth, so many people are anxious and impoverished. They need the comfort and guidance of the Spirit. Nothing less will do.

The Jewish Feasts in Light of Jesus Christ

December 16th, 2014

blog.12.16

The story of salvation history is one of God preparing humanity by progressive steps for reconciliation and redemption in Jesus Christ. In the events of the Old Testament, including the holy days and other memorial feasts of ancient Israel, the Church has from the earliest days seen Christ prefigured. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, the New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old is made manifest in the New (Dei Verbum, 16).

Jesus, born to an observant Jewish family, knew and kept these Jewish holy days and feasts in accordance with the Scriptures (see e.g. John 2:13, 5:1, 7:2, 10:22). While these Jewish feasts are not part of the Christian calendar, still they are part of our common patrimony and we can learn from them since, from a Christian perspective, all the feasts of the Old Testament find their fulfillment in Christ.

Remembrance is an important dimension of any feast and at the heart of Israel’s remembrance is the Exodus celebrated at Pesach, which is Hebrew for Passover. This familiar springtime feast recalls how God delivered his people out of bondage in Egypt and saved their firstborn from death by the blood of an unspotted lamb, which had been smeared on their doorways (Exodus 12:12-20).

The Church has always seen in Passover a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own “paschal mystery,” which we celebrate at every Mass and in a particular way during the Easter Triduum. John the Baptist attests that Jesus is the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29), the new Passover Lamb by whose blood God’s faithful people are led out of slavery in sin and death passes over them. It was during Passover and the associated feast of Unleavened Bread that Jesus gave us the Eucharist and suffered his passion and death, rising again on the third day to give us eternal life.

After Christ’s final Passover, we read in the Book of Acts that devout Jews of every nation were on pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Acts 2:5). They were there to observe Shavuot, which Greek-speaking Jews called Pentecost (“the fiftieth”) because it falls 50 days after Passover. In addition to offering up the first fruits of the spring harvest, Shavuot celebrates God giving the Law to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. On that day, God’s people heard a great noise and saw the Lord come down upon the mountain in fire (Exodus 19:16-19; Deuteronomy 5:22). It is entirely fitting, then, that on the first Christian Pentecost, the Holy Spirit would descend with a loud noise and tongues as of fire to give a law that is written not on stone, but on our hearts, to guide believers from within. (Acts 2:1-3)

At Sinai, the people accepted God’s covenant, saying as one, “We will do everything that the Lord has told us” (Exodus 24:3), but they soon would be unfaithful to God (Exodus 32:1-14). The Lord, however, is merciful and he never tires of calling his people to return to him.

The ten days between the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah, which is Hebrew for “head of the year,” and Yom Kippur, the “day of atonement,” were and are a time for personal introspection, seeking reconciliation, and repenting of the sins of the previous year. These days recall how, after blood sacrifices were made and the sins of the Israelites were confessed over a scapegoat, which carried off their iniquities, God forgave the people their infidelities (Leviticus 16:1-36, 23:24-32).

There is again a parallel here with Christ, who takes our sins upon himself, and the Mass, when he, the eternal priest, enters into the heavenly holy of holies, just as the earthly high priest did on Yom Kippur. We see also how when Jesus instituted the sacrament of Confession, his disciples were already well prepared for making an examination of conscience and an acknowledgement of sins while expressing contrition.

Five days after the high holy days, which are observed in the fall, there is the joyous festival of Sukkot, which is Hebrew for “booths,” during which the people go live in temporary dwellings. This serves as a reminder of the Israelites after they were led out of Egypt and how God provided for his people as they traveled in the desert (Leviticus 23:33-43). Saint John tells us that during this feast, Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me; let him drink who believes in me” (John 7:37-38). As Christians, as we make our own pilgrim journey through life, like the Israelites, we also recognize how the Lord provides for us.

Picturing Mary

December 12th, 2014
Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro Filipepi), Madonna and Child (Madonna col Bambino), also called Madonna of the Book (Madonna del Libro), 1480–81; Tempera and oil on wood panel, 22 7/8 × 15 5/8 in.; Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan; inv. 443

Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro Filipepi), Madonna and Child (Madonna col Bambino), also called Madonna of the Book (Madonna del Libro), 1480–81;
Tempera and oil on wood panel, 22 7/8 × 15 5/8 in.; Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan; inv. 443

Today, the Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas, venerating her as the mother of Jesus and our mother. Each year, millions of pilgrims from around the world travel to Mexico City to venerate the image of Our Lady displayed in her shrine there. Her image, which miraculously appeared on a tilma worn by Saint Juan Diego in 1531, depicts a simple, pregnant peasant woman, her hands folded in prayer.

For two millennia, the image of Mary has captivated our imagination. People have tried to picture Mary in their minds: What might she have looked like? What qualities did she have to enable her to say “yes” to God and be the mother of our Lord, giving birth to him in the stable at Bethlehem, being present at his first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, and accompanying him throughout his public ministry? Who was this woman who stood at the foot of the cross and later joined the apostles in the upper room at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit descended upon them to continue Jesus’ work on earth after his ascension to heaven?

It is no wonder, then, that over the centuries, countless artists have painted and sculpted her image, making her one of the most popular subjects of Western art. Now we have the opportunity to see and experience Mary in the landmark art exhibit, Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea, which opened on December 5 and will be on display at the National Museum of Women in the Arts through April 12, 2015. The exhibition was organized with the support of the Archdiocese of Washington, and is made possible in part through the generosity of individuals and foundations in the archdiocese, as well as a partnership with The Catholic University of America, whose scholars will present a series of lectures in the spring of 2015 exploring its themes.

The exhibit, with more than 60 works of art by Renaissance and Baroque masters loaned from renowned collections including the Vatican Museum, the Louvre in Paris and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, offers a stirring look at the face and the heart of Mary.

Visitors to the exhibit will be able to picture Mary through the eyes of renowned artists like Sandro Botticelli, whose 1480 painting Madonna of the Book, shows Mary tenderly holding the infant Jesus with one hand while the other hand rests on a prayer book. Jesus – the Word made flesh – has a crown of thorns around his wrist, foreshadowing his passion and death on the cross, which his mother, with a sorrowful gaze, seems to be contemplating.

A painting by Caravaggio, Rest on the Flight into Egypt, shows Mary holding the baby Jesus, while both gently sleep, and an etching by Rembrandt, The Death of the Virgin, shows the apostles and disciples at Mary’s bedside, comforting and praying for her in her last moments.

The exhibit allows viewers to accompany Mary on her journey of faith – from The Annunciation, a 1490 painting by Gerard David that shows Mary, with a sense of wonderment, surprise and even fear, turning to see the angel Gabriel, to The Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin, a 1510 woodcut by Albrecht Dürer that shows Mary being enthroned in heaven by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In Orsola Maddalena Caccia’s painting Madonna with the Sleeping Christ Child, we see a loving scene that every mother treasures – watching her baby sleeping, a view that three angels also enjoy.

All the works of art in the Picturing Mary exhibition show the Mother of God as we know her in the Hail Mary we so often recite, “full of grace.” We see a woman who experiences fear and sorrow, but whose love and faith enable her to bring the gift of Jesus to the world, a gift we seek to give ourselves in a special way this Advent season through the Find the Perfect Gift campaign.

The image of Mary continues to inspire us because she is the model of what our faith should be. Like us, Mary was a human being who had to struggle to hear and accept God’s word and to grasp the mysterious ways in which God works. She did so with such consummate fidelity that she is forever the example of what we mean by faith – true, profound faith. With this powerful art exhibit, we can indeed picture Mary and be inspired to emulate her faith and her love, and do our part in bringing Jesus to the world.

The Incomparable Importance of Immaculate Mary in Our Life of Faith

December 8th, 2014
Elisabetta Sirani, Virgin and Child, 1663; Oil on canvas, 34 × 27 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.,

Elisabetta Sirani, Virgin and Child, 1663; Oil on canvas, 34 × 27 1/2 in.;
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.,

The Blessed Virgin Mary is a beautiful, beloved, essential and pervasive figure in the Church calendar. Today, we rejoice in her Immaculate Conception, celebrating her as God’s greatest creation – the vessel he fashioned to be his own mother, the woman who would bear him into the world.

Pope Francis explains that, in view of her divine motherhood, “Mary was preserved from original sin, from that fracture in communion with God, with others and with creation, which deeply wounds every human being. But this fracture was healed in advance in the Mother of the One who came to free us from the slavery of sin. The Immaculata was written in God’s design; she is the fruit of God’s love that saves the world” (Angelus address of December 8, 2013). By her Immaculate Conception, Mary is truly a proper and pure living temple for the Son of God, a holy living house of the Lord.

Our Holy Father has stated that Mary is more important than the bishops and that without her, we could never truly understand the spirit of the New Evangelization (e.g. Evangelii Gaudium, 104, 284). In fact, without Immaculate Mary, without her “yes” to God, the events of salvation that were to come could not have taken place.

Recognizing her unequaled importance in the incarnation of Jesus and his work of salvation, the Second Vatican Council devoted a substantial portion of its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, to the Virgin Mary. More than that, recalled Pope Benedict XVI, who served at the Council as a theological advisor when he was a young priest, the entire process was pervaded by a Marian dimension (Homily for the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Council, December 8, 2005).

Summarizing the Council Fathers, Pope Benedict said, “The Council intended to tell us this: Mary is so interwoven in the great mystery of the Church that she and the Church are inseparable, just as she and Christ are inseparable. Mary mirrors the Church, anticipates the Church in her person, and in all the turbulence that affects the suffering, struggling Church, she always remains the Star of salvation.”

The role that Mary played and continues to play in pointing the way for the Church is crucial, taught the Council. “Adorned from the first instant of her conception with the radiance of an entirely unique holiness,” such that throughout her life she remained “free from all stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature” (Lumen Gentium, 56), we find in Mary both the most sublime example of God’s grace at work and also a sign that we too can be made new and grow in holiness if only we accept his grace. Just as the Blessed Virgin is “the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected is the world to come, so too does she shine forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, as a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth” (Lumen Gentium, 68).

Everywhere the Church has spread there are signs of profound veneration of Our Lady. There is a complete symphony of praise for her in poems, litanies and hymns sung in every language, giving voice to her vital role in our life of faith.

While we cannot equal Mary in the singular privilege of her Immaculate Conception, as we seek to renew ourselves in preparation for Jesus during this Advent season, we can certainly emulate her faith and her love for the Lord. Following her example as handmaid of the Lord, we can continually progress in faith, hope and charity, seeking and doing the will of God in all things (Lumen Gentium, 65). In this way, we become more like her exalted type and help to manifest already in this world the beginnings of Christ’s kingdom of peace and justice, truth and love.

In the Spirit of Saint Nicholas

December 4th, 2014

FTPG2014-yardsign-final

In the midst of this very busy time of year – when images of snowy silent nights, warm cozy fires and people relaxing with a hot cup of cocoa seem at odds with the length of our “to-do” lists, the number of school and family activities, and all the other Christmas chores – how do we make time to experience the mystery of the season of Advent? Perhaps the Feast of Saint Nicholas, which we celebrate on Saturday, December 6, is perfectly placed to remind us of the link between the coming of Christ and the giving of gifts.

In the legendary story of the very real Saint Nicholas, it was this bishop’s care and concern for a family without the necessary resources that prompted his generosity. Imitating Saint Nicholas inspires us to think about giving the people on our list something they really need – something that reflects the love of Christ. The fact that this feast falls at the beginning of Advent invites us to consider the link between sharing our love for Jesus and preparing for his return. We are invited to imagine a world fully transformed by the love of Christ by giving that love more intensely in the season of Advent and Christmas.

In thinking about the people on our lists, what of Jesus’ life and love might they most need? Have they lost touch in some way with the very meaning of Christmas? If so, how do we share with them that Jesus is the reason for the celebration? How do we approach those who have grown cold or distant in their faith?

Pope Francis reminds us over and over again that we have to gain access to people’s hearts in a way that allows the Holy Spirit to rekindle – in us as well as our brothers and sisters – a friendship with Jesus. He “is the key, the focal point and the goal of man, as well as of all human history” (Gaudium et Spes, 10).

One way we have chosen to reach people’s hearts here in the Archdiocese of Washington is through our Find the Perfect Gift campaign, which has now become an annual tradition. It is our small way of doing something that reflects our desire to be what Pope Francis describes as missionary disciples. This year’s initiative attempts to capture some of the longings of the human heart – the search for meaning, hope, peace, inspiration, and joy, for a love that is sure and unconditional – and suggest that these longings are only fully realized in relationship with Jesus – the Perfect Gift. For this effort to be successful, we need you!

At the center of the campaign is the yard sign, pictured above, with 8,000 of them being distributed across the archdiocese in our parishes. A sign or poster in your yard or window can be a conversation starter. When asked about the sign, share with people how you have found meaning and peace and joy in your relationship with Jesus and in your participation at church. If it seems right, invite them to join you for an Advent or Christmas event or even for Mass at your parish.

Share with them that on the websites FindThePerfectGift.org and RegaloPerfecto.org, they will find reflections that open up the beautiful meaning of Advent and Christmas. These reflections make the connection between the longings of their hearts and Jesus Christ. They will also find a family Advent calendar to help with daily prayer and faith-based activities. We offer a program calendar of parish concerts and events that celebrate the meaning of Christmas through sacred song, caroling, and imitating the love of Saint Nicholas, by preparing meals and Christmas gifts for families in desperate situations or selling Christmas crafts and gifts that support artisans in developing countries.

This year it is our hope that those who have forgotten – or never knew – the meaning of Christmas will encounter the Living Christ in and through the people who know him – like you and me. This is our mandate as disciples of Christ: to witness to others so that they discover for the first time – or reawaken to – the vital and inexhaustible friendship of Jesus Christ.

The Year of Consecrated Life

December 2nd, 2014
The opening Mass for the Year of Consecrated Life is celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on November 30, the first Sunday of Advent.

The opening Mass for the Year of Consecrated Life was celebrated by Cardinal Wuerl at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on November 30, the First Sunday of Advent. CREDIT: Jaclyn Lippelmann

Pope Francis has proclaimed a Year of Consecrated Life, which began this past Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent. Some might wonder why the Holy Father is calling the Church to observe this year in conjunction with the Synod of Bishops on the Family.

Perhaps Pope Francis wants us to meditate more deeply on the intimate relationship between the family and consecrated life. We should remember that vocations to the consecrated life are born from the family, and those who are called in turn shed light on the vocation of every Christian. In a recent interview the Holy Father reminded religious, “Evangelical radicalness is not only for religious: it is demanded of all. But religious follow the Lord in a special way, in a prophetic way.”

As the Second Vatican Council teaches us, “The family is, so to speak, the domestic church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children; they should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each of them, fostering with special care vocation to a sacred state” (Lumen Gentium, 11). The consecrated life is a gift to the family, but also to the Church, and it is intended not only for the sanctification of the individual who receives it, but also for the good of the Church. In the marvel of God’s plan, each of us is called to walk with Jesus on the journey that will bring us to the experience of God in this life and to eternal joy with God in the life to come.

Consecrated men and women remind us that this joy flows from self-gift. In response to the question of the rich young man who wanted to attain eternal life, Jesus exhorts him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). The rich young man “went away sad, for he had many possessions” (Mt 19:22). Many throughout the history of the Church, however, have answered Jesus’ call to radical discipleship, living the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.

The religious vocation is primarily a call to generosity of spirit. These women and men consecrated to God give themselves, their hearts, their wills, their natural desire for spouse and children, their plans and even their weaknesses to the Lord.

In generous response to the call to consecrated life, we find a manifestation not only of the holiness of the Church, but also testimony to the kingdom of God already present in our world. Religious invite us to pause and consider that reality – his kingdom of peace and light, of mercy and forgiveness, of life and love – already in our midst. The same dynamic of generosity also animates family life, making the domestic church a witness to the kingdom of God.

Why are the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience so important? Because all three speak clearly against elements of this world that continually overwhelm us. Accepting a calling to totally dedicate oneself to God, to love him beyond all things, involves cutting away many perfectly laudable objectives that one might otherwise pursue. Yet giving up these things can be counted as nothing by those who long to cling to the Lord immediately and intimately with a full, free, and undivided heart.

Indeed, Saint John Paul II confirmed that love “is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (Familiaris Consortio, 11). While this common vocation of love can be manifested in different ways, among them married life and the priesthood, the vocation to consecrated life is a witness particularly needed today.

The consecrated life “is at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission,” Saint John Paul II wrote, “since it ‘manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling’ and the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse” (Vita Consecrata, 1).

May this Year of Consecrated Life strengthen us all in our primary vocation, drawing us ever more deeply into God’s kingdom of life and love.

Preparing for the Coming of Our Savior Jesus Christ

November 30th, 2014

advent

As November draws to a close and we begin a new liturgical year, we enter into the season of Advent. The name of this special time comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.”

The Church has celebrated this season since ancient times, although the number of days has varied over the centuries. In the Middle Ages, Advent was sometimes observed for only nine days, representing the nine months that the Word made flesh was in Mary’s womb. Today, we celebrate Advent over a period of four Sundays, with some people praying a novena those last nine days before Christmas.

However long the season, Advent is a time of preparation, when we look to the past, the present and the future. The scriptures proclaimed at Mass convey a sense of deep longing. Like people did for centuries and millennia before the birth of Christ, we await the coming of the Savior, a promise fulfilled at Christ’s Mass, that is, Christmas, the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord. Advent is also a time of expectation for the future, when we await the second coming of Jesus and his return in glory. But it is also a time of living in the present moment, as we seek to build up and manifest Jesus’ kingdom of love and hope in our everyday lives and in our world today.

Rather than being immersed in a time of anxiety during the “Christmas shopping season,” we see Advent as a season of confident, peaceful waiting. There is no need for rushing around, but neither do we wait passively. We are called to be active and vigilant in anticipation.

Prominent in Advent is Christ’s herald, John the Baptist, who prepares the way of the Lord. Hearing this call, we prepare ourselves – it is a time of purification as we intensify our expectation for both Christ’s birth and the future when the King will return in glory and wipe away every tear and death shall be no more.

The earliest Christians understood the importance of this season of awaiting the coming of Jesus. In the oldest prayers of the Mass, the people prayed, “Thy kingdom come!” and they cried out in the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus and the apostles, “Marana tha,” words meaning “Come, Lord!” During Advent, we pray antiphons with words that we know well from the hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” words that give hope to a world “that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.”

With that mindset, we can, like the shepherds, look to the horizon, and seek Christ’s light that can illumine our hearts and our lives. The king has come, and his kingdom is his presence in the world. With every ordinary action of every Christian – every prayer, work, joy and suffering – the kingdom comes. That is how we live between the first coming of Christ and the second. We live with an expectation, confidence and joy that we magnify as a Church as we prepare to receive Emmanuel, God-with-us, who left heaven to spend his days with us.

Pointing toward Christmas, when the Lord made a gift of himself to us, Advent inspires us also to give. Later this week, I will discuss the archdiocese’s annual “Find the Perfect Gift” campaign, which invites us, in the midst of all the commercialism in our culture, to reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas and how we all might share that perfect gift of Jesus with others.

May this Advent season be a time of hope and joy for you and your loved ones.

This blog post is adapted from the book that Mike Aquilina and I wrote, “The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics” (2014).