Reflection: Christmas is here! Oh wait…

 

First Sunday of Advent – 27 November 2016

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Are you ready? Or maybe you’re already done… Why not take a step back and breathe… And pray. Image Credit: Agape COC

We have officially entered the “Christmas Season”, full of gift buying, food preparation, and celebration. These next four weeks can be some of the busiest of the year, filled with family visits, last minute details, and all manner of hustle and bustle. This can be a time of great happiness, but at the same time, it can also be a time of great stress. The remedy? Remembering that we aren’t really in the “Christmas Season” at all; rather, we are in the “Advent Season”, a time of quiet prayer and reflection as we await the coming of the Lord.

Each Sunday of Advent has a specific “theme” that is reflected in that day’s readings and Mass prayers: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Reflecting on each of these themes, especially through our participation in the Sunday liturgies, we are called to “climb the Lord’s mountain…that He may instruct us in His ways, and we may walk in His paths” (Is. 2:3). The lessons of Advent teach us that even amidst our busy lives, we must keep our focus always on the Lord, so that we may “go up to the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122) with hearts open to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

Friends, this Advent let us cultivate an attitude of prayer and reflection, even amidst our hectic schedules and long to-do lists. “Let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is. 2:5) and use this time not only for preparing for the coming holidays, but preparing our hearts and souls to be more fervent followers of the humble child who will be born in the manager in just a few weeks time, for “so too, you must also be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Mt. 24:44).

For reflection:

  • How can I include just 15 more minutes of prayer in my life each day?
  • How can I better witness to the truth and love of the Gospel through my busy schedule of the holiday season?

On The Journey: Christmas with Augustine

Rather than continue with Augustine’s Confessions this week, I thought I would reflect rather on one of his Christmas sermons.Then I read the selection in this morning Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours and remembered that today’s reading comes from Augustine himself, incidentally from one of his Christmas sermons. I read it, reflected upon it, and once again found it eye-opening and inspiring. Then I thought to myself, rather than post my own ramblings, why not let Augustine speak for himself this week?

And so I leave you with Saint Augustine and his words on the mystery and reality of Christmas. God bless you all, and I hope you have a joyous Christmas!

Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.

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Nativity, Vasco Fernandes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.

He has become our justice, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written: Let him who glories glory in the Lord.

Truth, then, has arisen from the earth: Christ who said, I am the Truth, was born of a virgin. And justice looked down from heaven: because believing in this new-born child, man is justified not by himself but by God.

Truth has arisen from the earth: because the Word was made flesh. And justice looked down from heaven: because every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.

Truth has arisen from the earth: flesh from Mary. And justice looked down from heaven: for man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.

Justified by faith, let us be at peace with God: for justice and peace have embraced one another. Through our Lord Jesus Christ: for Truth has arisen from the earth. Through whom we have access to that grace in which we stand, and our boast is in our hope of God’s glory. He does not say: “of our glory,” but of God’s glory: for justice has not proceeded from us but has looked down from heaven. Therefore he who glories, let him glory, not in himself, but in the Lord.

For this reason, when our Lord was born of the Virgin, the message of the angelic voices was: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.

For how could there be peace on earth unless Truth has arisen from the earth, that is, unless Christ, were born of our flesh? And he is our peace who made the two into one: that we might be men of good will, sweetly linked by the bond of unity.

Let us then rejoice in this grace, so that our glorying may bear witness to our good conscience by which we glory, not in ourselves, but in the Lord. That is why Scripture says: He is my glory, the one who lifts up my head. For what greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the son of man, so that a son of man might in his turn become the son of God?

Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace

Questions for reflection:

  • Have you been asleep, and if so, how?
  • What do you need to do in order to wake up, to bear witness to the Lord?

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

Third Sunday of Advent: Rejoice! (Reflection)

Third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday

Zephaniah 3.14-15, Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6

Philippians 4.4-7, Luke 3.10-18

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Pope Francis at today’s Mass for Gaudete Sunday, via Catholic.org. The color is rose, not pink! Real men wear rose…

“Rejoice in the Lord always!”[1] Rejoice! During this Advent season, we have so many things for which we can rejoice: family, friends, celebrations, but do we remember the reason for which we should truly be rejoicing? My friends, that reason is, of course, Jesus Christ. As we proceed through Advent, we prepare for His coming, readying our hearts for the Nativity of our Lord. What a beautiful time of year this is!

At the same time, I think it can also be very difficult to rejoice, or at least to take the time away from our busy schedule in order to rejoice. Those same items I mentioned above for which we are joyful can hinder our focus on the real reason for joy. Preparing for family visits might have us running errands all over the place, or Christmas lists might have us focused on shopping. Or perhaps more serious concerns keep us from rejoicing… Maybe we have to choose between paying an electric bill and buying gifts. Perhaps there has been the death of a loved one. Or maybe the winter weather has put us in a depressed mood, despite the much needed rain and snow!

So how are we to rejoice then in this season? How do we reorient ourselves towards the true reason for rejoicing as we look expectantly for the coming of our Savior?

Well, one practical thing we can do is turn to others. In this season of Advent and the coming season of Christmas, it is important to remember those who are missing something, whether they are missing dry clothes, a hot meal, or the pleasure of family and friends. The Gospel today tells us that “whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise.”[2] We shouldn’t leave Church and act as if nothing we do here has changed us. We must go out into the world and be a force for good, allowing the Lord to work through us in our words and deeds, showing those around us that “the Lord is near”[3] and he is ever-faithful in His promise to remain with us all the days of our lives.

There is another way we can reorient ourselves towards joy, more so than any of the other things I have mentioned thus far: simply turning to the Lord Himself. After all, how can we show others that the Lord is near if we do not first believe and act on it ourselves? For no matter what is going on in our lives, in the moments in which we rejoice or in the moments in which we might despair, we must recognize that the reason for our joy never ceases, as God has “a single motive for choosing”[4] us, for coming to us in the child Jesus, and that is His never-ending love for us to bring forth our salvation through that small child in the manger who will one day hang on the cross.

By Idobi (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Idobi (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A voice crying out from the wilderness reminds us of this love, and the presence of the Lord in our lives. We hear it in today’s Gospel: while John was in the womb of Elizabeth, he foretold the coming of the Lord; now on the banks of the Jordan, he foretells the coming of Jesus once again, proclaiming that Christ will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”[5] In this baptism with the Holy Spirit, we are made a new creation and are truly given a reason to rejoice: we have new life in Christ and “can cry out with joy and gladness.”[6] He never ceases to call us, and in our baptism we find true life and happiness.[7]

Finally, not only do we have this enduring promise, but He makes it easier to attain joy and hope than we can possibly imagine: He comes to us, right here and right now. We don’t have to travel far, we don’t have to do anything complicated, we just need to turn to His love and mercy in the sacraments. In the Sacraments, “the Lord is in our midst”; in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he renews us in His mercy, and in the Eucharist, He will renew us in His love. We only need to have confidence in Him.[8] Take advantage of the treasures He has given us in the faith, these tangible and real signs that echo the voice of John the Baptist as he cries out to us proclaiming the presence of the Lord.

My dear friends, in this season of Advent, on this Gaudete Sunday, we have a true reason for joy. As we look to His coming at Christmas, we find a hope and peace that no thing or person in this world can satisfy. Let us enter His infinite love, becoming signs of that love ourselves, and “Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.”[9]


 

  • [1] Phil. 4.4
  • [2] Luke 3.11
  • [3] Phil. 4.5
  • [4] CCC 218
  • [5] Luke 3.16
  • [6] Responsorial Psalm Verse
  • [7] CCC 30
  • [8] Zeph. 3.17
  • [9] Responsorial Psalm Verse

Note: I am back after exams and the end of the semester. Thank you for the prayers!

Advent 2015 Resources

The Annunciation, by Murillo [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Annunciation, by Murillo [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s be honest: Christmas often overshadows Advent, especially in our increasingly secular society that tends to focus on the gifts rather than on the true meaning of Christmas (Archbishop Sheen will explain it all to you here). This year, however, try something different: try making Advent a priority in your house, taking advantage of this crucial piece of the Christian journey as we seek to grow closer to Jesus Christ.. I have put together some resources that I have tried in the past and found both encouraging and thought-provoking.

No matter what you do, however, don’t let Advent pass you by! Be intentional, prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas in a new and profound way this year by focusing on the season of Advent.

Bishop Robert Barron’s Daily Advent Reflections – Available in both English and Spanish, I have found these reflections a good way to start the day, often reading them as I drink a cup of tea before I get ready in the morning. On each Sunday, they are a bit longer, and sometimes include a video. Bishop Barron’s introduction is below.

Best Advent Ever – From Matthew Kelly and Dynamic Catholic, this is another great series on focusing on the meaning of Advent and how it can be truly meaningful and life-changing. Click through to see the introduction video.

An of Advent from Jimmy Akin and the National Catholic Register – Straight and to the point, this is a good thorough FAQ of sorts for Advent.

Reflections on Advent, related devotions, as well as other resources, from EWTN – There is a lot of great info on this site, but it can be a bit difficult to navigate at first. If you are looking for the weekly reflection, they are at the very top of the page.

Resources from the USCCB – this site includes reflections and prayers on the meaning of Advent, a guide for how to set up an Advent Wreath, and even an electronic Advent Calendar

Historic and Symbolic Meaning of Advent from the Catholic Encyclopedia – Pretty self-explanatory. It’s an encyclopedia article on Advent.

For my own part, I will be posting weekly reflections as well, in addition to any other helpful items or articles I might find over the next few weeks.

Make this year’s Advent purposeful. Know that my prayers are with you all; please keep me in your prayers too!

UPDATE (11/27/15 14:58): A friend of mine just sent me a really cool “Names of Jesus” Advent chain activity. There are 25 names, so you can start on December 1st with your kids. An excellent way to learn about Jesus and enter into the season of Advent!

Gaudete Sunday: Finding Joy in Unexpected Places

Well, I suppose it has been a while since I have posted to these pages, and for good reason too: I simply have not had the time to post! Back in late July/early August, I accepted a full-time position teaching Middle School English at a private Catholic school in Northern California. The transition from seminary life back into working in education has not always been easy! Finding a place to live was probably the most difficult, and commuting for two+ hours a day before I found that place to live was almost as hard. I have found, however, particularly as I reflect upon the lessons of Advent, that in the times when there are many unknowns, there are also the most profound graces.

Often, we are called to simply wait, and that my friends is precisely what Advent is about. We wait for the coming of the Christ child, and sometimes that waiting bears with it unknowns which unsettle the soul. Where is God calling us? Why does this or that happen? What are we supposed to do in the present moment? Remember, Advent, at its core, is a penitential season, infused with joy as it is, and so we are called to reflect on these questions, and how we can invite Jesus into our lives.

It is no accident that I am writing this on Gaudete Sunday, as the answer to all of these questions resides within what we remember today: joy. Where does God call us? Joy. How do we encounter the various ups and downs of life? With joy, for even in the difficult moments, He is there. What are we supposed to do in the present moment? Live out a joyful life in the Lord. I am not trying to express some rose-colored view (pardon the pun for you liturgical nerds) that everything is always perfect and we are bright-eyed and happy in every moment. What I am saying, however, is that it is in joy we must live, and the joy of a life in Christ Jesus radiates outward, touching our hearts and the hearts of those around us. Joy moves beyond mere happiness, beyond temporal satisfactions, and into the heart of Christ Himself.

Live a life of joy; be sure to have some fun along the way.

Live a life of joy; be sure to have some fun along the way.

Joy is precisely what I have found in this small school and community. Yes, it is difficult. The hours can be long, I have sooooo much to learn, and as any teacher at a Catholic school will tell you, the pay isn’t the best. But money isn’t everything; if it was, I would be an IT person, and not a teacher or writer. I did not expect to find the joy that I have discovered, but the Lord has a habit of blowing our expectations out of the water. Sure, I have dreamt of being an English teacher since I was in high school, but I was skeptical about moving to this little town. I have found, however, the joy of the people here is a joy truly reflected of those who follow in His footsteps.

I’m not sure what the future holds; none of us can be, even if we have strong inclinations to where He leads. I have hopes and dreams, especially of teaching, having a family, and, as another short person I know would be fond of, living a simple life with good tilled earth. All of this, however, is up to Him, and I only hope and pray that I will follow Him wherever He may lead. I am sure, however, that joy resides in just that, following Him, and that we can find this joy if we just trust and wait, inviting Him into our lives.

Please pray for me, that I follow His will alone, and know that you remain in my prayers as well! A blessed Advent to you all!

Pax et bonum.

PS: Now that things are finally calming down, I hope to post here more regularly (haha – we will see about that), including my promised Bad Poetry series, and another idea I am working on about the lessons of a new teacher…