of continual conversion that is meant to be what the Christian life is all about. We are always invited to begin again.
This promise of a new beginning is the heart of the message which Christians bring to an age staggering in the existential sadness. The Advent candles we will light symbolize Jesus Christ, the True Light which can dispel the dreariness of an age which has all but lost hope. The message we proclaim during this wonderful season is that Lord is always coming for those who look for Him.
The celebration of Advent dates back to the fourth century but the practice of preparing for the coming of the Lord by living as though he is always coming goes back to the very beginnings of the Church. Through the history of the Western Church the season of Advent has become a significant part of the pattern of life, faith, culture and worship that is Catholic Christianity. During the weeks which precede the Nativity of the Lord Jesus, ("Christ-Mass"), Christians (Catholics and others) are invited by the Church to prepare, to get ready, to make a place for the Lord in our lives and in our homes, to anticipate His coming(s).
Beginning with the Sunday Vigil Mass, we will sing the ever-familiar hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". That song will become the backdrop of the season, sticking in our minds - both individually and collectively. I know the tune will be hummed incessantly and do what music does when it is repeated, get down deep into our subconscious. It may even become "annoying"- as music can. However, even that annoyance gets to the root of Catholic life and faith. It is granular Christianity, filled with practices which root themselves into your bones. Catholicism is earthy, real, incarnational Christianity for earthy, real believers who understand that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ has changed everything and everyone and need to be continually reminded of that fact.
Soon the liturgical air will be filled with the beautiful "O Antiphons", taken from the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures in the Prophetic and Wisdom Books. They will be sung as a part of the formal Liturgy of the Hours beginning seven days before the Vigil of Christmas. These short prayers in the Liturgy of the Hours, or Breviary, are a part of the treasury of Catholic faith and life. This liturgy forms a foundation for our faith and places us in the heart of a Church that stretches back two thousand years and reaches forward to the final coming of the Lord.
As a Deacon of the Church, I will wear lavender vestments when I serve alongside of the priest at the altar. Lavender is a color that connotes both repentance, and expectation. These two actions and attitudes are the "heart", the "spirit" of the season. Boy do I need both! I need a little Advent, right this very minute. Advent is a time to "get ready" and to build up the hope within our hearts for the promised coming of Jesus Christ! We do so by repenting of our sin and renouncing our wrong choices. We are invited to empty ourselves of the clutter of our daily idolatry and renounce the disordered self love that can squeeze God's grace out of our lives. It is by His grace that we truly find ourselves, made new again in Jesus Christ!
Catholic Christians repeat together - experientially - through our liturgy (which means the work of worship), the deeper meaning of the Christian faith and vocation. We walk through the great events of Christian history so as to inculcate the mystery more deeply within our nitty-gritty lives in the real world. We thereby build a way -a pattern- of daily Christian living with customs, practices, and celebrations. During Advent, the Church calls us all to get ready, to clean the house, to set special times aside, so that we will be ready for all of the comings of Jesus Christ.
The Scriptural texts that we hear proclaimed at Mass will introduce us to great figures, such as John the Baptizer, who embody the call to repentance and preparing the way for all who live between the first and the final coming of Jesus. The Old and New Testament passages will be beautifully juxtaposed in every Eucharistic Liturgy and in the Liturgy of the Hours in order to expound upon all the comings that St Bernard so insightfully wrote about. The faithful will be invited to experience the extraordinary graces found in the full smorgasbord of sacramental and liturgical services.
However, ultimately, it will come down to each person, each family, to make the choice to accept the invitation and to prepare for the coming of the Lord. As I grow older, I love being a Catholic Christian more and more. I remember reading a newspaper article in an airport many years ago in which a priest wrote that Catholicism was "religion for the long haul." I see the truth of that assertion more as the years seem to fly by. Oh, I know that some other Christians see practices such as Advent as "empty ritual"; and perhaps for some, that is what they have become.
For me, celebrating Advent, indeed all the seasons of the Church year, are continual calls back to living faith, genuine repentance, ongoing conversion and the pursuit of holiness of life - the things that really matter. The ritual of Catholic Christian life provides a form into which the freshness of the Spirit can be poured again and again. I remember an old Pentecostal minister once telling me when I was twenty one years old "Son, we get filled with the Spirit, but then we leak". Boy was that guy right!
The familiar patterns and practices of Catholic faith present an opportunity for shaping family life, customs, and inform a piety that all can help us to assimilate the beauty and truth revealed in the comings of the Lord. They help us to break from the monotony of regular daily life in order to participate in something bigger than ourselves. They connect us to the One who always comes to those who are prepared. They are, as we used to say more often, "occasions of grace."
As my life goes on I need more than ever to hear the clarion call to "prepare the way for the Lord." I need these special times of grace. I need these holy seasons. Unlike my youth when I thought I had it all "figured out", I find something quite different has occurred as my hair has turned white (and sparse) and I continue in my journey of faith. I realize how little I actually do know. and how much more conversion I need to get ready for that coming when I will pass from one life to the next.
The liturgical seasons of the Catholic Church are an extraordinary gift and opportunity. After all, human beings are going to mark time. We will mark it either with the ordinary stuff of ordinary life or we will fill it as well with the things of God, thereby transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. Why celebrate Advent? I say because we need it. Bring on the candles, the songs, the colors, and the seasons. Bring on the special liturgical times, and fill the air with all the special smells.. I love it all.
Advent is a reminder of the road along which we walk this Christian life and vocation. Bernard was right. We now live in that intermediate time between the first and the second comings. We are to be changed by the first and to prepare ourselves- and the world in which we live- for the second. Jesus the Lord continues to come to all those who make themselves ready. We need a little Advent, right this very minute.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: advent, christmas, repentance, advent wreath, maranatha, liturgy, church year, church seasons, advent season, maranatha, coming of the Lord, Deacon Keith Fournier
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