Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Prepare the way for the Lord, An Advent Message

   I was tempted to introduce Advent by offering a comment on the new translation of the Mass texts, but chose to wait until they have been in use for a while. Instead, some thoughts on the season itself.

  Most of us Catholics think of Advent as the time when we get ready spiritually for Christmas. That is indeed one of the purposes for the season, and certainly we need to attend to that more often than we do, but it is not the only purpose of this wonderful time.  At the beginning of  Advent the Church's focus is more on the Second Coming of Christ, than on the First Coming.  This Sunday's Gospel (from Mark 13:33-37) Invites us to "Be watchful! Be Alert! You do not know when the time will come." (Mk 13:33)
   There is a great deal of sound advice in these words.  For one thing they certainly make it clear that anyone who tries to predict the end times doesn't know what they are talking about.   But how are we to prepare for the end times, for the coming of the reign of God in its fullness?  I believe that the simple answer is to strive every day to be open to the many ways that the Kingdom of God breaks in upon us every day.  In Luke 17:20-21 Jesus tells us that  "The Kingdom of God is in your midst."  What this basically means is that we who believe, insofar as we live the Gospel, carry the reign of God, the Kingdom within us right now.  Yes, it won't come about in its fullness until the end times, but even now the peace, justice and love that characterize that Kingdom are in us and around us.  This is indeed a big part of the source of Christian hope.  It is easy to get bogged down and depressed by the evil in the world, and there is plenty of that.   I think that a wonderful discipline for Advent, and Advent type of penance if you will, is to pray every day that our eyes might be opened to see the Kingdom breaking forth around us, and secondly to do our part to help build that Kingdom.  We by our own efforts do not hasten the coming of God's reign, but insofar as we cooperate with God's grace to do the things that make the world a more just place in which to live, by helping to overcome divisions between people, by seeing that life is respected in every way and by caring for this planet that we inhabit we cooperate with God's plan to bring about that Kingdom.

   As Advent comes to an end and changes focus on December 17, looking to the coming celebration of Jesus' birth, we can truly have a wonderful Christmas if each one of us can say that we spent this Advent season preparing the world for His coming now and in the future and if we strive to let him be born into our own hearts today.

   We Franciscans are proud of the fact that St. Francis, near the end of his life, recreated the Nativity scene with live people and animals in the little Village of Greccio in the Rieti Valley of Italy.  This wonderful celebration inspired the many Nativity scenes that we all have in our homes today.  Interestingly enough however there was no baby in Francis re-enactment.  Why?  Because Francis, in whom it was said that Christ came alive in his arms, wanted those who were there and who later would hear of this event to see ourselves as the manger in which Christ is born over and over again.   May He be born in all of our hearts this year.   

   Left: Greccio Italy today


  1. WOW. all these years exposed to so many mangers and in so many churchs, yet this is the first time such a message of wonder caught my heart.
    I am the manger in which CHRIST has come into to be born again. Tears are flowing, I thank you Fr. John for once again allowing God to speak thru you.

  2. Fr. John,

    I was raised that it was the right to help those who needed our help, even though we didn’t know them, even though who they had different beliefs, cultures and lifestyles and even though they may want to do us harm. Trying my best to live by this ethic, Sunday’s Gospel of “Being Watchful, Being Alert”, left me feeling totally inadequate, despondent and relegated to those “sleeping when the bride groom arrived”. Statistics and the Theory of Large Numbers support a factual understanding that individuals will be sleeping 33% each day, engaged 33% each day in providing food, shelter, safety, caring and education for their family and leaving only 34% for “Being Watchful”. The foregoing provides demonstrates that the most devote individual has a 1 in 3 chance of being in the Watchful group. The foregoing supports that logically only a very small number of individuals worthy of God’s grace by being Watchful. This thinking seems to be a foundational issue supporting the recent change in Mass wording from “all” to “many”. Perhaps, the desired wording change was “some”, but ultimately downgraded to “many”. One may ask, why even try… given the odds and the near Sainthood standards required of “Being Watchful and Being Alert”. Unfortunately, God did not make us all Saints


Letting the Earth Speak