“Each of us – let’s not forget this – has a mission to accomplish. So, let’s not be afraid to ask the Lord: what should I do? Let us ask him this question repeatedly.” – Pope Francis, Angelus, December 12, 2021
What is our mission in life? As Christians, it is obvious, we share in the mission of Christ. That is easy to say, but a challenge to do. What Pope Francis proposes is important, especially about asking the question “repeatedly.” Sometimes we might think that discernment of how we live the mission is something done once or occasionally. Instead, it is a day-to-day discernment and sometimes even moment by moment.
“What should I do, Lord?”
Consider the question now, then ask it again and again. This deeper portion of Advent, on the cusp of Christmas, provides a perfect time to reflect on what we should do for Christ, with Christ, and in Christ to accomplish well our particular mission.
We are not alone in this mission, we might have a unique way to go about it, but the mission is Christ’s. Our sisters and brothers in the community of faith that we call the Church live this mission as well. Let us pray for and support one another as we discern and then live what we should do for the Lord each day.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
May you have a blessed Christmas. Our prayers are with you.
In God, the Infinite Love,
This Advent is very special for three reasons. First, my son, who will be two in January, will be experiencing the lights, the beauty, and the gift of Advent in a brand new way this season and I’m so happy to share that with him. The second is because every year I teach about Advent to my class of PreK students, but because I’m really looking forward to it, I think I’ll be able to bring that joy into the classroom with me more than ever. Finally, this year in Advent I will be trying to intentionally do work in the service of others and helping where there is an imperative need. This year, I’m hoping to get caught up in the magic and in the giving and also appreciate the beauty of the season rather than waiting impatiently.
On the first Sunday of Advent, I went to Mass with my son and husband, along with another family with two young children. For the first half, my toddler was overwhelmed with excitement about the tree in the back filled with tags for people who need wrapped gifts for Christmas. He kept taking the tags off and swapping out one for another, screaming in joy about the whole thing while the congregation listened to the readings. After some quieting down, we went back into the pew with his little friends. As we knelt in prayer, I was overcome with emotion and gratitude between my husband and son. But the moment that really helped me see through the eyes of a child was when we walked up for Eucharist and my son noticed the purple at the altar, and the four candles with one purple one lit. He pointed and said, “Candle!” and in that moment I knew we would have such a joyful season of Advent. I invite you to notice something brand new about the lights, beauty, and hope that Advent brings to us all. Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love are the four weeks that bring us closer to Christ and prepare us for His coming. We can use this time to reawaken our hearts and see Advent all fresh and new, especially through the gentle ways of children!
In my PreK classroom, the children love holidays and especially look forward to Christmas. So many learn about Christmas and Advent for the first time in my class, and that is a really special opportunity for me as their teacher. Already this year, one student shouted, “Presents!” as we were talking about Thanksgiving, and I had to clarify the confusion between the holidays. Then, it struck me, isn’t that how it works sometimes? We want to skip right to something fun that might be in the more distant future instead of appreciating the celebration that might be happening right in front of us. Advent is this same phenomenon. We’re worried, anticipating, and anxious about one day every year, but if you consider that every day in Advent can be a celebration of the Season, it’s really like we have a whole month of Christmas!
There is so much we can do for others in this challenging world right now and there are many in need of our help. Winter is cold and this year has already been chilly: there is a lot we can do for our Sisters and Brothers in Christ during Advent by sharing in joy, distributing resources, praying for those sick or in need, or offering kindness. In 2018, Pope Francis said, “Advent invites us to a commitment to vigilance, looking beyond ourselves, expanding our mind and heart in order to open ourselves up to the needs of people, of brothers and sisters, and to the desire for a new world." Advent is a time for service, here are some examples of helping others during this time of giving:
Whether you look at Advent through a child-like perspective, find joy in the daily celebration, or assist those less fortunate this Season, do it all with intentional preparation for Christ’s coming on Christmas. I’ll be busy getting caught up in the magic and beauty too! Happy Advent!
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We have entered the season of Advent and a new liturgical year. Advent offers us an important time to watch, wait, and reflect on the coming of Jesus Christ and on our encounter with him. He is encountered in the mystery of the Incarnation, which we represent by Nativity scenes placed in our churches, chapels, and homes. We could limit ourselves to only looking at the beauty of the artistic scene and not move into deeper reflection on the fact that God, who is infinite love and mercy, sent his only begotten Son to save us.
Christ is also encountered in the Eucharist, most significantly during the celebration of the Mass. Pope Francis describes this coming of Jesus:
“Mass is prayer; rather, it is prayer par excellence, the loftiest, the most sublime, and at the same time the most ‘concrete’. In fact, it is the loving encounter with God through his Word and the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is an encounter with the Lord.” (General Audience, November 15, 2017).
And Christ will come again in all his glory at the end of time. We need to be prepared for this time not simply through passive waiting, but by active watching for the Lord and encountering him in our brothers and sisters who are most in need, especially the poor, the vulnerable, and the voiceless (Mt. 25:31-46). As baptized members of the Body of Christ, we are co-responsible for the mission that he left us until he comes again – for the salvation of souls – not only focusing on eternal life with God, but also on how we are collaborating with the Most Holy Trinity to build the Kingdom of God on this side of life.
Pope Francis also reminds us of the connection of the Immaculate Conception to the salvific plan of God.
“In the Immaculate Conception of Mary we are invited to recognize the dawn of the new world, transformed by the salvific work of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The dawn of the new creation brought about by divine mercy. For this reason, the Virgin Mary, never infected by sin and always full of God, is the mother of a new humanity. She is the mother of the recreated world.” (Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 2015)
We have not been conceived without sin, but we have been washed clean of Original Sin at Baptism (and all prior sin, if one was baptized as an adult). While we have all sinned since that time, our Baptism offers us a share in the mission of Jesus Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King. Though followers or disciples, he also sends us as apostles, or as missionary disciples, out into our challenging world to witness to him by what we say and do. That is why we are told at the end of each Mass to “Go”. We are sent on mission by Christ and the Church as joyful witnesses of God’s love and mercy.
Our best example of how to be a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ is the Blessed Virgin Mary. She followed Jesus as his disciple unfailingly during her life and continues from her heavenly home as Queen of Apostles to invite us to encounter her Son, Jesus Christ, Our Savior and Lord.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
**This post was originally published on 12/7/2017.
“The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.” – St. Gianna Beretta Molla
I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of my time thinking about the things that I don’t have. It’s not like I am constantly sitting in self-pity and comparison, but in the back of my head is a pretty consistent “why?” Why don’t I have this when so and so has this? I deserve this, why hasn’t God given it to me? Why why why? These thoughts certainly don’t make me happy, and they most certainly are not of God. So why is it so easy for me to live in a state of unease and ingratitude?
The evil one does not want us to count our blessings. He uses the good fortune of others to distract us from our own good fortune. He does not want us to live in the moment and bask in the glory of God’s creation. He wants us to see what everyone has, and for us to ask God, why don’t I have that? Why haven’t you chosen to give that thing to me?
The quote above from St. Gianna is such a perfect example for us to meditate on how to live each day praying in thanks to our God rather than letting ourselves sink into ingratitude. St. Gianna suffered from chronic illness in her life, and it would have been very easy for her to complain and sink into bitterness because of it. Instead, she chose to “live moment by moment” in gratitude for the gift of a life being lived for God.
Maybe an exercise we can try to practice this advent is any time we are tempted to compare, any time we are tempted to sit in self-pity instead of living in the moment, we instead offer a prayer for the people who seem to be more blessed than us. God knows their crosses as well as their joys, just as He knows ours.
And as we move forward into this new year in the Church, let’s make a resolution together. Let us follow the example of St. Gianna and the many saints in Heaven who lived singing songs of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for our blessings and for the blessings God has given to our fellow man. Let us not live in comparison and unease. Let us be grateful for every single moment!
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Many years ago, when we were settling our firstborn son in for bed, my husband would cradle him in his arms and swing him vigorously back and forth while singing “Go forth among the people, people of every nation. Tell them how Christ came to save. Tell them how he came to bring salvation.” I believe that took root in my son’s life and was nourished over the years to equip him to be a forthright disciple of Christ as an adult today. My husband and I were raised in the security of a culture of Christendom of the 1950’s and 60’s. What did this look like? Our culture, all aspects of society were steeped in Christian principles. Our laws and basic moral understanding were rooted in Judeo-Christian truth that made it relatively easy to adhere to a Christ centered life.
“Go forth and tell! O Church of God, awake! God’s saving news to all the nations
take. Proclaim Christ Jesus, Savior, Lord and King, that all the world His worthy
praise may sing.”
Over the last several decades we’ve witnessed our culture radically change. The world view of our dominant culture no longer ascribes to fundamental biblical principles, and we have shifted from the age of Christendom into an Apostolic age. Our basic mode of operation needs to change to continue to be effective bearers of Christ’s love to one another. Many Christians have become fearful and overwhelmed and even despaired because of this cultural shift. It is essential that we remain encouraged and adjust how we live so we can be bold missionaries for the kingdom of God in our world today. As far back as 1974, Bishop Fulton Sheen was a prophetic voice to help us recognize our call as Christians in a time of change. He said: “We are at the end of Christendom. Not of Christianity, not of the Church. The economic, political, and social life inspired by Christian principles has ended. But these are great and wonderful days in which to be alive. Therefore, live your lives in the full consciousness of this hour of testing and rally close to the heart of Christ.”
“Go forth and tell! God offers life to all; The Lord makes rich all who on Him
shall call. How shall they call if they have never heard the gracious invitation
of his word?”
I believe the activities and traditions my husband and I learned and practiced as we parented our six children have been instrumental in equipping them to be ambassadors of Christ in this new age of evangelization. I am forever grateful for my “upbringing,’ for the solid passing on of faith from my family, my parish, my schools, and my neighbors. The blessing of being nurtured in the age of Christendom caught me – body, mind, and spirit. Through pure grace, I continue to grow in who I am, what I am purposed to do and rely on my relationship with Jesus, the reception of the sacraments, and strive to live the Beatitudes as I journey into this current era. I am aware of the difficulties people are facing today remaining rooted in Jesus and how easy it is to fall prey to some current views that are contrary to Christianity.
“Go forth and tell! Men still in darkness lie; in wealth or want, in sin they live
and die. Give us, O Lord, concern of heart and mind – a love like Yours which
cares for all mankind.”
I recall Cardinal Wojtyla in 1976 speaking in Philadelphia to Americans, calling us forth out of our comfort into this age of evangelization to minister to the people around us in a radical new way. “We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. We are facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel.” He was clearly prophesying to awaken us to adopt a new approach to live the Christian life and to reach the people lost and on the fringes. Later, as Pope John Paul II, he pastored us in how to counter the culture of death. God has been preparing us through prophetic voices throughout history to be aware of the days of tribulation and darkness so that the Holy Spirit can be with us to be vibrant witnesses in those times. Jeremiah reminds us in 15:21 “I will rescue you from the hands of the wicked and deliver you from the grasp of the ruthless.” Many of David’s psalms emphasize God’s constant care for us and that He will never abandon us.
“Go forth and tell! Christ charges us to go. All power is His; from Him the
blessings flow. Live out your life as Christ your Lord shall choose; Your ransomed
powers for His sole glory use.”
In this apostolic age we are called to be intentionally evangelistic in a manner far different than ever before. We have to look back to the life of the 12 Apostles and the culture they lived in for our example. They were not theologians, had very few followers, had no church buildings, no foreign mission’s expertise, next to no monetary resources, no written gospels to preach from, and society was hostile or apathetic towards them. Yet they were ecstatic to go out to all the nations and share the perfect love of Jesus to all. What was it that propelled them so enthusiastically? They had the Holy Spirit. This is the same Holy Spirit we have that empowers us today and fires us up with unrestrained joy to bring life giving support to those we encounter. Just as the Apostles and early Christians – we are commissioned by Jesus through His blood shed for us and are confirmed in the Spirit to operate in His gifts. We do not have the right or luxury to say these gifts are only for some and not for me. Each of us is accountable to the call. We cannot say “I can’t,” “I won’t,” or “It’s not my gift.” Jesus calls us forth to offer words of knowledge, laying on hands for healing, saying deliverance prayers, giving encouragement, discerning spirits and to love intensely. The book of Acts is our roadmap.
“Go forth and tell! O Church of God, arise! Go in the strength which Christ
your Lord supplies. Go ‘til all nations His great name adore, and serve Him
Lord and King forevermore.”
Song: Go Forth and Tell by James Seddon
As we enter this Advent 2021 season, we are afforded a time to renew our identity in Christ, examine our mission call, and move forward as joyous disciples proclaiming the kingdom of God in everything we do. The simple truth is that God lives inside each of us. We are expected to be aware of His presence and to allow Him to do whatever He chooses through us. What a beautiful privilege! It is truly a blessed and anointed time to be alive! Let this be our great adventure together as committed Christians.
Advent offers a time of waiting and renewal rooted in Christ. We are waiting for the celebration of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, which we celebrate at Christmas. We are also waiting for the second coming of Christ at the end of time. It is an expectant waiting which calls us to renewal in our hearts and minds. Yet, even in the waiting we are not alone. Christ is with us. Pope Francis offers us this consideration:
“Advent is a continuous call to hope… God walks beside us to support us. The Lord does not abandon us; He accompanies us through the events of our lives to help us discover the meaning of the journey, the meaning of everyday life, to give us courage when we are under duress or suffering” (Angelus, November 29, 2020).
Sometimes amid times of difficulty, we simply try to move forward, but may lack hope, and find it challenging to advance. Advent provides time to recognize more fully that we are accompanied by Christ and that our hope is found in him and him alone. There are many who offer messages of hope that is fleeting. The hope offered by Christ is eternal. It challenges us to greater renewal in him. As Pope Francis notes, it takes courage to journey forth, courage that comes from Jesus Christ.
As we enter the Advent season, may this time of waiting truly be one of renewal, lived in hope that has a name, Jesus Christ.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
In God, the Infinite Love,
During our marriage preparation, my husband and I made a mission, vision, and values spreadsheet for our marriage goals (nerdy, we know!). Part of our goals include living an authentic Catholic lifestyle, which we believe integrates the liturgical season into our new family unit. Some of my favorite memories from childhood include cooking and baking with my mom and having meaningful discussions with my parents about our Catholic faith. Traditions like these are important to my husband and me, and we look forward to continuing to build off of our parents’ traditions while adding our own.
To build traditions within our family, we’ve started with the idea of liturgical living. Liturgical living brings the life and breadth of the Church into our own homes and can be accomplished through certain prayers, celebrations, meals, crafts, and other traditions. This can also be described as building up the domestic church – which may be even more important than ever during the Covid-19 pandemic. As newlyweds, we have slowly added liturgical season traditions into our daily lives, such as celebrating saint feast days and preparing our house for Advent and Christmas. A New Year’s resolution we’ve set for ourselves in 2021 is trying to incorporate more of the Church’s liturgical seasons into our home to better appreciate the richness of our Catholic faith.
One of our favorite wedding gifts to help us implement our goal of liturgical living is The Catholic All Year Compendium by Kendra Tierney. Tierney shares how her family celebrates the Church’s liturgical season 365 days a year. She starts off the book by encouraging families to begin celebrating what makes the Catholic faith most approachable to each family member – saint namesake feast days and Baptism anniversaries. Special meals and desserts, prayer, stories, activities, and conversations are different ways to make the celebrations meaningful.
After noting namesake feast days and baptisms, Tierney recommends starting slowly and gradually, adding in other feast days important to each family and doing things that already fit into existing daily routines. The free calendars given out at church for the new year have these dates with the liturgical year, such as Ordinary Time, Lent, etc. A fabulous Christmas present I also received last month is the Blessed Is She planner that incorporates feast days and the liturgical year. This is all a process that takes time and can be added upon each year or changed. It shouldn’t be meant to overwhelm.
In our annual family planning meeting for 2021, my husband and I went through each month and picked which feasts we’d celebrate after our saint name days and baptisms. Our church even made our first feast day celebration easy by providing us blessed chalk and a prayer to say while marking 20 + C + M + B + 21 above our front door mantle for Epiphany on January 6! We’ve also added making “king cake” cinnamon rolls for dessert as part of the tradition.
How do you plan to incorporate Catholic liturgical living into your family’s routine this year? What are some of your favorite liturgical living traditions? If you practice liturgical living already, how has this helped your family learn about the Catholic faith?
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We find ourselves approaching the end of a year perhaps unlike any other of recent memory. The turmoil and uncertainty of the past months have presented unique challenges—missing out on time with loved ones, in-person celebrations, socializing freely, and carrying out our normal routines. With all this adjustment, perhaps we have had to face challenges to our faith, our hope, and our spirits. Nevertheless, the faithful can assuredly find renewal and peace in the Christmas season as we celebrate God becoming one of us in all ways but sin. While we shall always have to face challenges in life, recent events and how society has responded to them can motivate us to re-evaluate where we look to center ourselves and our priorities in life.
The world celebrates Christmas with music, movies, decorations, presents, and other traditions that set it apart from the rest of the calendar year. With the increasing commercialization of Christmas, the true meaning of the season has become obscured. The bright lights, noise, and pressures of the holiday strongly contrast the stillness and the simplicity of what happened two thousand years ago far away in the town of Bethlehem. The Gospels describe various accounts surrounding the mystery of the Incarnation; especially in 2020 we can be confident that the Christmas story continues to have meaning and reminds us of important lessons to keep in our hearts all year long.
The world our Lord was born into is vividly recalled, during the Vigil Mass of Christmas, with a reading of the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ from the Roman Martyrology. The setting framed by the author details a world under the rule of the powerful Roman Empire, with God’s chosen people, who are forced to pay regular tribute to a ruler they did not select. By that point, the hope for a liberating Messiah by the Jews had narrowed to an expectation that the Messiah would wage a militaristic campaign and preside over an earthly kingdom of God’s people. It was under these circumstances that the Holy Family finally arrived in the City of David, as observed by Fulton Sheen in The Life of Christ:
There was no room in the inn but there was room in the stable. The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world's moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But there's no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is a place for outcasts, the ignored, and the forgotten. The world might have expected the Son of God to be born in an inn; a stable would certainly be the last place in the world where one would look for him. The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. So the Son of God-Made-Man is invited to enter into his own world through a back door.
The adorers who made their way to the Christ-child certainly had their own situations and positions to consider, but they nevertheless left behind their comforts and security to answer a higher calling. The shepherds made haste after the revelation by the angels; the wise men set off on a long journey to seek out the mystery the star guided them to. They came in humility and awe to behold God’s incarnate love in the darkness and stillness of the winter night. The experience was unlike any other in history; they returned to their lives changed by encountering the Lord God Himself.
This Christmas season, we may not have a star to guide us through the chaos of the world to the blissful peace of Christ, but the invitation to do Him homage is not diminished. No matter our state in life or the challenges we face, we can be confident that the Lord calls each of us to Himself, rising above our troubles and beyond any comforts the world could offer. We have cause to rejoice! The God Who ordered the universe and made all things good has humbled Himself and entered into this world to save us from our sins and claim us as His own through our faith. We cannot lose sight of this significant truth: the pilgrimage through the world in this life does not end in pointless suffering or hopelessness but in happy reunion with our God for all time. We liken ourselves to the first adorers who could not understand what had been revealed to them, but were so moved by the experience that they returned praising God and sharing what they learned with all they encounter. May our encounter with the Christ renew our hope, faith, and love to be shared with all nations.
Glory to the newborn King! Forever and ever, Amen.
“God wants to draw close to us, but he will not impose himself; it is up to us to keep saying to him: ‘Come!’ This is our Advent prayer: ‘Come!’ Advent reminds us that Jesus came among us and will come again at the end of time. Yet we can ask what those two comings mean, if he does not also come into our lives today? So let us invite him. Let us make our own the traditional Advent prayer: ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ (Rev 22:20).” – Pope Francis, Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020
We enter today into the deeper portion of Advent, the time of intensified preparation for the coming of the Savior into our lives. It is a time marked by naming in the O Antiphons during Evening Prayer each day one of the titles of the Messiah in the Old Testament. The time can be moved through quickly or we can be distracted by the many things that are occurring in our lives and in our world.
As the pandemic intensifies in the United States and other parts of the world, even with hope of vaccines becoming available, the long winter looms ahead or so it seems. We are not alone, though! Pope Francis reminds us to invite the Lord Jesus into our lives again today and every day. He tell us in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel):
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord’” (3).
The joy that Pope Francis is referring to is not manufactured. It is not found in fleeting things but is found only in the eternal God of Infinite Love who loved us into existence, sustains us, provides for us, and gives us hope, peace, and joy.
Let us invite the Lord Jesus more deeply into our lives. We need only ask, and he will come!
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
May you have a good continuation of the Advent season and a blessed Christmas. Our prayers are with you.
A lyric of one of my favorite Advent hymns, “O Holy Night,” shares the simple yet profound posture in which we are called to enter into the Advent and Christmas seasons: on our knees.
Perhaps many of us already find ourselves there—either out of reverence or sheer exhaustion. For many, the year 2020 will forever be overshadowed by confusion, darkness, anxiety, fear or stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps you, like me, have just wanted it all to be over. We may feel tired of the masks, the canceled events, the physical distance from our friends and loved ones, uncertain job security, or the fear for our health and for those around us. Our hands are raw from sanitizer. Our hearts are raw from stress and confusion. Pandemic fatigue is real.
Is this exhaustion, stress, and confusion similar to what the Jewish people felt as they traversed to their hometowns for Caesar Augustus’ census two thousand years ago?
“Where is the Savior foretold by the prophets?” they must have thought. “Where is the king who would overthrow all oppressors and establish God’s kingdom forever? Where is God? And why does he seem silent?”
For God’s Chosen People, continued faith and hope must have been a hard choice.
For God’s chosen people, continued faith and hope is a hard choice.
And it is precisely when we are caught up in our feelings of negativity, sadness, or desolation that we fail to see God at work. Too consumed by looking inward, we forget to look up and see the star. It is precisely for this reason that hardly anyone attended the most important event in all of human history: the birth of the Savior of the World, a child born quietly in the recesses of Bethlehem.
So where do we find ourselves? Are we grumbling that God has not done enough to fix our broken situation? Are we stressed about the logistics to get our family to the census? Are we awaiting our own version of the Messiah, making our own golden calves? Do we look back longingly, preferring the slavery of Egypt to the wilderness? Or have we abandoned our relationship with God altogether?
Finally, are we on our knees?
Mary models this posture with her very life. I cannot help but imagine that she received the news from the Angel Gabriel on her knees. “How can this be?” she asked, greatly troubled at what was said in the midst of the holy and miraculous encounter. Her fiat was only possible because of her posture of humility. This receptivity is what every Christian is called to emulate.
This posture in the presence of God is also important because kneeling is a physical reminder of reality: God is God, and we are not. Put another way, God is Creator, we are created. By kneeling in prayer, we enter into a dialogue with God in a posture of humility that reflects the true order of reality. Kneeling is also a posture of vulnerability that manifests our littleness before a great God.
This littleness is not belittling, but reveals our true dignity. We have the courage to kneel because, in a sense, God knelt first. As St. Paul reminds us, “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself” (Phil 2:7). How can we then fear to approach such a gentle and humble Savior?
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we are not in control. Mary experienced this too. She did not anticipate a virgin birth, losing her Son for three days, or watching her Son’s crucifixion. This lack of human control is the truth regardless, but it’s a reality often obscured by our schedules, appointments, bank accounts, occupations, or social events. And when many of these good things have been stripped from our day-to-day lives, we are forced to reckon with our vulnerability. We are reminded that, ultimately, our Good Father holds us and our world in existence. We fall to our knees.
Let us therefore approach Him lovingly this Christmas in this humble posture. Let us honor and reverence Him by offering to the Christ-child all our insecurities, fears, or limitations.
I invite you to offer each sacrifice, hardship, or suffering as a piece of straw to warm the Christ-child this season. To look for the guiding star each day that leads us to Bethlehem. To name throughout the day what you are thankful for rather than succumb to grumbling. To spend some time reading Scripture, attending a Mass virtually or in person, sharing food or gifts with the needy, or singing an Advent hymn. To open our hearts to God’s way of doing things rather than grasping for control on our own. To fall on your knees.
This season, may we join the shepherds, the wise men, and all the angels and saints in this humble posture filled with breathless hope, joy, and excitement to adore Christ the Lord, the newborn King, the answer to each prayer, the fulfillment of all desire.
And may we prepare a full, warm manger for the Christ-child to rest in on Christmas Day.
This has been a year of waiting. Waiting for the pandemic to end. Waiting for results of a COVID test. Waiting to figure out if and when we can go back to work. Waiting to see our friends and family. Waiting for our sourdough starter to be ready to bake. Waiting to celebrate important life events. Waiting to have a graduation or to get married. Waiting to memorialize a loved one who has died. Waiting for a vaccine. Waiting for everything to go back to how things were before the pandemic hit.
And here we are, this Advent season, waiting. Waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ at Christmas. Waiting, as John the Baptist did in the Gospel. He knew what was coming; he knew that Christ was going to follow him.
Our waiting for Christ is a hopeful waiting. A joyful waiting. While we do not know when the pandemic will end, we know that Christ will come to us at Christmas and we know that Christ will come for us at the end of time. We should relish in that joyful waiting while we continue to wait for some semblance of normalcy to return to our daily lives by finding moments of light, of peace, and of personal growth.
Focus on Social Justice:
This Gospel encourages us to look beyond the current situation to what is to come. In the current pandemic, we are called to do something for those around us and for our world. We can do acts of charity by wearing a mask, social distancing, staying home when we can, picking up groceries for an elderly neighbor, making dinner for someone who is sick, reaching out to a healthcare worker we may know to see how we can help them, and supporting local business.
Good and gracious God, we know you are with us in our waiting. Help us to be patient in our time of waiting. Help us to trust in you and your great plan for our lives. Help us to find joy in our time of waiting, both in Advent and in the current world situation. Help us to find peace in our time of waiting when it becomes too much to handle or is overwhelming. Amen.
This week, I challenge all of us (myself, included) to focus your energy of service on yourself in an act of self-care. Self-care is not selfish behavior. It is a way, especially during these trying times, to be able to put our best selves out into the world, to our families, to our friends, to our colleagues, and to those who serve. Take a few moments this week to do an activity that brings you joy, that allows you to appreciate this season of waiting and all of the beauty that comes with that.
This reflection comes from the Third Sunday of Advent Reflection of the 2020 Advent Reflection Guide, a collaborative effort with the Catholic Volunteer Network. To view the rest of the guide, please click here.
In this week’s Gospel, we hear Jesus encouraging us to “Be watchful! Be alert!” in waiting for the coming of the Reign of God. Jesus uses the image of a homeowner who first secures his home and belongings before leaving to take a trip. Because his travels take him far from his property, the homeowner is intentional about ensuring that his own property is in order before setting out for a new road and destination. We might imagine the factors that would drive his painstakingly detailed preparations: extra security to protect his home from thieves, people to check on the resources of the house to make sure that it doesn’t flood or become too drafty without anyone inhabiting it, and perhaps also to achieve a sense of his own inner peace, that he has taken an active role in protecting his property.
Jesus’ parable reminds us the importance of securing our own “inner” home and taking an active role in preparing ourselves for our own journeys in life. For me, this parable brings to mind the importance of engaging in our own formation. During my time as an apprentice catechetical leader as part of the University of Notre Dame’s Echo Faith Formation Leadership Program, I was introduced to the hard work of formation. Formation is the intentional cultivation of our spiritual, human, intellectual, and pastoral qualities as human beings that allows us to live out our call to holiness in a generous and healthy way in ministry. In Echo, I entered the world of professional ministry for the first time. I learned quickly that ministry calls us to give deeply of ourselves; however, in being new to ministry, I neglected to secure my own “inner home” of my mind, heart, body, and soul before journeying out of myself to encounter others in the work of evangelization and catechesis. I was susceptible to the outside thieves of comparison, results-driven ministry, and how I could best show off my training and theological knowledge to those I served. In order to make an offering of my own life in ministry that truly served the coming of the reign of God and did not depend on my own efforts or ego, I had to learn to engage my own formation. I intentionally cultivated a life of prayer, took care in applying my studies in catechesis and ministry to my work, and reflected and healed through a relationship with a therapist. Over time, I felt revitalized and more able to cooperate with the Spirit’s work in my life and ministry because I was no longer focused on just trying to survive.
In the Christian life, we are called to accompany others in the life of faith. A relationship of accompaniment is a perfect setting for formation; it allows us to lean on and learn from each other how best to imitate Jesus in our life. Is there someone in your own life, especially in difficult circumstances, who you might intentionally accompany this Advent? How can you help them secure their own “inner” house on the journey of faith through walking with them in solidarity, mutuality, and listening?
By failing at trying to minister based on my own efforts to be the most knowledgeable and most available to those I served, I learned that with the help of the Holy Spirit, I had to engage my own formation so I could be awake, alert, and ready to make of myself a healthy and holy offering. Through formation, I grew to become a minister with her house in order while being on the journey of faith and ministry, prepared to meet Jesus in those I served “whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.” How can you aim to put your own inner house in order this Advent? Are there spaces in your life where you can engage in your own formation in order to make a more generous and healthy offering of your life?
Isaiah speaks out “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” We remember that our lives are the spaces where our salvation unfolds, where we are formed and shaped into art by you, the Artist of Artists. Send your Spirit upon us to be moved by those you place in our path so we may be formed in compassion, empathy, and solidarity. Strengthen us to take an active role in shaping our world to be a reflection of your infinite love through the witness of our lives.
Advent is a time of active waiting. That might seem rather strange and even contradictory. Some see Advent as a passive period, a time of waiting for Christmas to come. Advent is hardly a time for passivity. The first half of Advent is focused on the coming of Jesus Christ at the end of time and our active waiting for that. What type of activity? We are called to co-responsibility in the mission of Christ and his Church to bring about the Kingdom of God.
This Kingdom is not about power and control, but about love, particularly “social love,” a term used by St. John Paul II in his first Encyclical Letter, Redemptor Hominis (15). It is a type of love that transforms the world to Christ. Pope Francis in his new Encyclical Letter, Fratelli Tutti, teaches that “‘Social love’ makes it possible to advance toward a civilization of love, to which all of us can feel called.” (183).
If we truly believe that God is love and Jesus Christ is the incarnation of that love, then we are called to actively witness to others Christ who is love (1 John 4:7-21). This love can transform our world and help to bring about the Kingdom of God while we wait for Christ to come again at the end time. May we enter Advent as a time of active waiting lived in love.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
“The Virgin today brings into the world the Eternal / And the earth offers a cave to the Inaccessible. / The angels and shepherds praise him / And the magi advance with the star, / For you are born for us, Little Child, God eternal!” (CCC525)
The quote from the Catechism above references three key players I want to reflect upon at the beginning of this Advent season: Our Lady, the magi, and the shepherds. Today, as we think about the meaning of waiting and watching, upon preparing for Christmas and for the return of the Lord, we can look to these three examples to show us how to look up, set out, and give.
First: It’s important to start off with an understanding of Advent as a liturgical time of waiting and preparation.
I’ve often heard that God has three responses to our prayers: yes, no, or wait—wait being our least favorite of the three. “Wait” seems so indefinite. With a yes or no response, you know, for better or worse, one way or another, what your parameters are. But “wait” requires faith, trust, humility. It requires not knowing exactly when, exactly how, or exactly if.
And that’s one lesson this season can impart: waiting well, waiting in hope. During Advent, we recall the waiting of the world for the birth of the Messiah. The greatest gift from God the Father, the gift of his Son, is coming to us. And in this world which has experienced his coming, we also wait for him to come again.
Each of us awaits something. Perhaps we await a promotion. The completion of a degree. Maybe we long for a spouse or a child. Physical or emotional healing. The answer to our vocational discernment.
In this time of waiting, we are like the Israelites wandering in the desert in pursuit of the Promised Land. It’s there--the Promised Land is there. God is faithful and keeps his promises. But sometimes, we have to wait.
Waiting practically forces us to surrender control and hand everything over to God. It’s a daily practice in humility and faith. It acknowledges that we are not in control and challenges us to trust in the goodness of the One who is. Therefore, waiting has a purpose, an end: God Himself.
And, as with the Israelites in the desert sustained by the descent of manna from heaven, we are fed daily by God himself IF we allow ourselves to be. This means speaking and listening to God in prayer. It means collecting the manna from above, his grace, DAILY. And this brings us to our first point about the Advent season: we need to look up and see.
Mary knew what it meant to look up in prayer. She was so receptive to the word of God that she conceived it through the power of the Holy Spirit.
She was looking up in prayer when the Angel Gabriel announced the Good News of the Messiah.
“Let it be done unto me according to your word.”
These were the words of trust, surrender, and peace--followed by action—the second of our themes today. She looked up and set out in order to give. Immediately after the Annunciation, we read about her going out to help her cousin Elizabeth.
As someone who has experienced the first trimester of pregnancy twice now, I can tell you the last thing I’m thinking about during that time is helping or serving others. I’m usually passed out somewhere trying not to drool.
But Mary has looked up, set out, and given. She was so receptive to God’s word that she was able to fully encounter his message through the Angel Gabriel. Her reception of Christ caused her to set out in haste to see Elizabeth. And finally, to give and serve another by bringing Christ into that home and modeling sacrificial love.
Mary is the perfect example of waiting and being guided by God.
In Scripture, she is described as “pondering things in her heart”—waiting for God to reveal his will and meditating on his work throughout her life. But she is not one who sits on the sideline and fails to engage. She is a contemplative in action—one who treasures the word of God within her (even literally) and yet immediately goes out to Elizabeth in her time of need. Mary brings Jesus to others, from the moment of his conception, wherever she goes and instructs us to “do whatever he tells you,” as at the wedding feast in Cana.
We turn to Mary during this season of Advent because she is an expert at faithful waiting that leads to Christ. So I invite you as we continue our Advent journey to start by spending time with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Re-read the account of the Annunciation and Visitation in Scripture. Ask her help in waiting—faithfully, hopefully, humbly. And invite her to accompany, guide, and prepare you to receive Christ. She always leads others to her Son.
In addition to the example of Mary, the magi can also teach us what it means to wait in hopeful anticipation: to look up and see the star, To set out, To give freely.
The magi, though Gentiles, were not complacent, but so observant that they were able to recognize God’s sign: the star. As Pope Francis said, “The Magi were not content with just getting by, with keeping afloat. They understood that to truly live, we need a lofty goal and we need to keep looking up.”
What keeps us this Advent from looking up and seeing the star? Are we busy scrolling through our social media feeds, binging on the latest Netflix series, working late hours at the office, or anxious about the future? Are we paralyzed by grief, bitterness, anger or fear?
The magi were vigilant, ready to go when the time came. And their hearts were receptive, disposed to the signs of the times. Like Mary, they too set out on a journey which would lead them to Christ himself. This journey required effort, planning, and sacrifice. They looked up, set out, and finally, they gave: bearing costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They met the generosity of God by reciprocating generosity. As Pope Francis has also noted, “To give freely, for the Lord’s sake, without expecting anything in return: this is the sure sign that we have found Jesus.”
Finally, we can also look to the example of the shepherds. Pope Francis says, “They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks.” The shepherds were looking up. After receiving the good news from the angel of the Lord, they go in haste to encounter Christ. And afterwards, they return glorifying and praising God.
In each of these examples, we encounter people who are looking up, setting out, and giving. Mary sets out and gives her time and energy to serve her cousin Elizabeth. The magi set out and give gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The shepherds set out and give Christ their adoration and praise.
Will we keep watch in the night alongside the shepherds or are we asleep with the rest of crowded Bethlehem, too distracted by our daily lives and concerns to notice the light of the star beaming down on the light of the world? As we await God’s response in our lives, do we grumble in the desert like the Israelites? Do we take things into our own hands and craft a golden calf? Or do we say to the Lord, “Let it be done unto me according to your word?” This season, will we set out in haste to give our hearts to the Lord and our hands to serve those in need?
Perhaps what’s holding us back from entering into the Advent season is something more than distraction, ignorance, or noise. We may hesitate to meet this Christ-child because we feel as the shepherds most likely did, utterly unworthy. We wear the rags of sin, the stench of humanity. Maybe we feel like the little drummer boy in the popular song who says, “I have no gift to bring that’s fit to give a king.”
In his humility, the Lord entered into the most vulnerable of human states: infancy. He chose to become little in order to demonstrate that all are able and invited to approach him. As Pope Francis also reminds us, “Jesus allows himself to be found by those who seek him, but to find him we need to get up and go.”
So let’s get up and go. There is still time to look for the star, to set out, to give.
I invite you to draw close to Mary, look to the example of the magi, spend time with the shepherds. In looking for Christ, encountering him, and serving others, we find Christ born also in our hearts. Only then, as the Catechism says, “when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled” (CCC526).
Let us pray, “I want to come to Bethlehem, Lord, because there you await me. I want to realize that you, lying in a manger, are the bread of my life. I need the tender fragrance of your love so that I, in turn, can be bread broken for the world. Take me upon your shoulders, Good Shepherd; loved by you, I will be able to love my brothers and sisters and to take them by the hand. Then it will be Christmas, when I can say to you: “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you” (cf. Jn 21:17)." -Pope Francis
Today we celebrate the 83rd birthday of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. We thank God for the gift of his life and pray for his continued health and leadership in our Church.
Having a birthday near the holidays must be pretty hard to bear as a child, and maybe even sometimes as an adult. Birthdays are meant to be celebrated, and sometimes they can be overshadowed by other holiday celebrations! My sister has a birthday on Christmas Day and she never seemed to be able to celebrate the same ways I could (my birthday is over the summer). I always felt bad and try to still make it special for her - even now that we are adults. Although we know Pope Francis for his humility and selflessness, I’m sure even he has found it hard to celebrate his special day from time to time. We celebrate birthdays as a way to mark our growing one year older, but I’m sure with a birthday so close to Christmas, his focus has often been on Christ. I would imagine, in his ministry, our pope has reflected on the significance of their birthdays being so close and how he can look to the purpose of the season over his own celebrating.
Let’s also reflect on this now. How can we make Jesus’ birthday especially meaningful this year? In what ways can we strive to “celebrate” with Christ? What implications does Christmas have on my upcoming year as I continue to grow in my faith?
“The reason for the season” is a common phrase we hear at this time of the year— a helpful little rhyme to keep us thinking about Jesus’ birth. The purpose of the Son of God coming to Earth was to save us all from our own sins, yet we so often confuse this time with shopping deals and stressful holiday travel plans. Our Lord doesn’t need any of that. He doesn’t need physical gifts—he needs our hearts. He doesn’t need perfection—he yearns for our humble, raw, and disheveled selves. He doesn’t need displays of lights and blow-up snowmen—he needs us to shine his light in the darkness.
In order to celebrate his birth, we must first put aside the distractions and concerns that keep us away from prayer and peace at Christmas. The meaningful celebrating that we should be doing for Christ isn’t wrapped up with bows and shiny paper, but includes finding time to appreciate and pray about our Lord’s coming. The celebration for an ordinary person may be tied to cake, candles, and presents, but as Pope Francis would likely agree, celebrating Christ comes from the heart.
One way I’ve found to celebrate Christ’s birthday amidst the hustle and bustle of the season is by listening to joyful, instrumental Advent and Christmas music. Something about it makes me feel so peaceful and filled with the joy of Christ that I almost prefer it to lyrical Christmas music on the radio or Spotify! Another practice I’ve found to be helpful is focusing on the giving aspect of Christmas. I feel better giving rather than getting things. My favorite way to celebrate the birth of Jesus is to share the gift of the Christmas story with my young Pre-Kindergarten students. Having been blessed to work in a Catholic school, I’m able to share the incredible birth story of Jesus Christ and to teach those beautiful little minds about God’s promise of love to the world. When I sit back and realize the gravity of my role as a catechist to these children, I feel humbled by it. My heart soars, it prepares my soul for Christmas, and I’m reminded of this holy birthday from so long ago in Bethlehem.
As we look toward a new year, both for Pope Francis and for us Catholics, we are reminded that Christmas is only the beginning of Christ’s work on Earth. His ministry will begin at a wedding as an adult farther down the line, and his death and Resurrection happen even later than that.
We know Christ’s birthday was celebrated by angels sharing the Good News. We know there were shepherds who also heard about Jesus’ birth, and finally three wise men who followed the star to where Jesus was born. This new year has so much faith-filled potential to allow us a chance to listen closely to how the Gospel message tells us to love and to share our love with those we meet. We can show God’s love to all by living out each day as apostles who share the Good News.
So today, on this 83rd birthday of our pope, keep him in your prayers. Pray for continued faithful leadership in our Church at this tumultuous time in our world. Pray for his health, that he may find strength in Christ and remain well.
Feliz cumpleaños, Papa Francisco!
For more resources to accompany you this Advent and Christmas, please click here.