The use of the term, “Black Friday,” to identify the day after Thanksgiving has always struck me as appropriate given how swiftly our society turns its attention from thanking God for our many blessings to scrambling to the stores in the middle of the night to find a bargain on the “perfect gift” for Christmas. We seem to forget that the perfect gift has already made its way to us. Yes, this gift was found in the middle of the night, but it happened over 2,000 years ago and took the form of a child born in Bethlehem.
This year, we have an unusually long period of time – 10 days – between Thanksgiving and the First Sunday of Advent. Perhaps this is a good time, particularly in this Year of Faith, to reflect on how we can make the best use of this time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ, who is God with us. What devotional materials might we gather with the intention of spending quiet time with Jesus in prayer? What works of charity will we perform in service to our neighbors in need? When will we schedule time to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation or to participate in Eucharistic Adoration? And which people in our lives will we invite to return to the Church – or come for the first time – to experience the love of Christ, our Hope?
Advent offers many natural opportunities to invite people back to the Church, whether by spending part of a day together serving the poor, attending an evening of Lessons & Carols at church or enjoying a performance of Handel’s “Messiah” together. Every human being has a longing for God, but sometimes the sound of His call becomes stifled by anger, hurt, disagreement or just the cacophony of everyday life. Sometimes all it takes is a simple invitation, or even a small gift such as an Advent calendar or a CD of sacred Christmas music, to revive the still-glowing but buried embers of faith in a person who has not tended that fire in some time.
Perhaps some of the people we may want to reach out to are members of our own families. In this case, we can learn from the example of St. Andrew the Apostle, whose feast day we celebrate on November 30.
We are all familiar with the reading from Matthew 4:18-22, which tells the story of Jesus walking by the Sea of Galilee and coming upon two fishermen, brothers Simon (called Peter) and Andrew, as they cast their net into the sea. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” That Gospel passage notes what happened next: “At once they left their nets and followed him.”
But in John 1:35-41 we learn that, even before Peter and Andrew encountered Christ, Andrew and another disciple heard St. John the Baptist say, “There is the Lamb of God,” when Jesus walked past, so Andrew and the other man followed Jesus. When they asked him where he lived, the Lord said, “Come and see,” and they spent the day with him. Andrew then rushed to find his brother, Simon Peter, and excitedly told him, “We have found the Messiah!” Andrew brought his brother to Jesus, who would later call Peter to be the rock on which he would build his Church. Saint Peter, who was led to Jesus by his brother, became our first pope and one of our greatest saints.
In a special way, St Andrew – the first disciple of Jesus – can be regarded as a patron saint of the New Evangelization, a patron saint for family members who invite their loved ones to the Church. Pope Benedict XVI has called all Catholics to take up the work of the New Evangelization, to deepen our faith, grow confident in its truth, and share it with others. Advent is an especially appropriate time to embark on this journey of transformation.
Soon you will begin seeing signs, urging passersby to “Find the Perfect Gift,” which have become a hallmark of Advent in the Archdiocese of Washington. In addition, radio & TV commercials, web banners and Facebook ads will remind those who hear and see them that we don’t have to rush out in the middle of the night to find the best bargains on Christmas presents. The perfect gift, one that we are called to share with others, was given freely to us 2,000 years ago and remains with us today.