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home : our faith : faith alive November 21, 2017


11/10/2017
FAITH ALIVE: Advent week one: Preparation, patience and memory
A statue of St. Joseph is seen at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Hicksville, N.Y., in this 2015 photo. St. Joseph is a bridge for the church between Advent and Christmas. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz
A statue of St. Joseph is seen at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Hicksville, N.Y., in this 2015 photo. St. Joseph is a bridge for the church between Advent and Christmas. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz
Members of the Sistine Chapel Choir perform during an Oct. 24 press conference at the Vatican for the release of their new CD,
Members of the Sistine Chapel Choir perform during an Oct. 24 press conference at the Vatican for the release of their new CD, "Veni Domine: Advent and Christmas at the Sistine Chapel." The liturgy of Advent, with its songs and prayers, emphasizes that we are in a time of waiting. CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Catholic News Service

IN A NUTSHELL

During Advent, Christians patiently await the revelation of the face of God at Christmas.

Advent is a privileged time to allow the human to be reawakened within us, to love the questions that life opens, to embrace our fragility and need for Another to respond to them.

This Advent, may we let the light grow and give patience to others as a gift.

How St. Joseph is an Advent model

By David Gibson |Catholic News Service

"Let us see your face." The whole church repeats this five-word, heartfelt plea to God four times during Masses on Advent's first Sunday. Heard in the responsorial psalm after the first biblical reading, it echoes this repeated plea to God in Psalm 80:

"Light up your face and we shall be saved."

Does it make sense for the Christian family to beg God at the Advent season's beginning to reveal his face? Doesn't the memory of the one born 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem reveal this -- the one frequently described as God's face in this world?

"Christ is the face of God, which is never darkened," Pope Francis told bishops from around the world in September 2016. When he called in April 2015 for a Year of Mercy throughout the church, he stated emphatically:

"Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth."

This, then, is no distant Lord. As the Gospel of John plainly states, the word of God "made his dwelling among us" (1:14).

So God's face is known among Christians. But as Advent gets under way, Christians begin again their quest to see God's face. Does that sound like a contradiction in terms?

During Advent, Christians patiently await the revelation of the face of God at Christmas. Notably, this pursuit prepares them to discover how God is present in their lives and world now.

For the memory of Jesus' birth is a living memory, not the memory of an event confined to the past.

Like the determined Wise Men from the East (Mt 2:1-12), contemporary people of faith set out to find Jesus and discover what his birth portends for them.

Where can the Lord be seen and heard in the 21st century? Pope Francis approaches this as a basic Advent question. He spoke of it at the start of Advent in 2016.

The Lord visits humanity, he said. "We all know" that this "occurred with the incarnation, Jesus' birth in the cave of Bethlehem." But, the pope continued, "the Lord visits us constantly."

Consolingly, he walks "alongside us."

Furthermore, he "will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead." But this faith statement is not meant "to scare us," Pope Francis remarked.

Instead, the purpose is "to open our horizons to another, greater dimension, one which … puts into perspective everyday things, while at the same time making them precious, crucial."

Pope Francis accented the often "unexpected" form of the Lord's presence. "The relationship with the God-who-comes-to-visit-us" casts a "different light" on everything, he said.

Advent, he added, encompasses a call "to expand" our hearts' horizons. "To do this, we must learn not to depend … on our own established strategies." Awaiting the Lord means preparing "to let ourselves be visited by him, … even if it disturbs our plans."

Patiently preparing to welcome the Lord might mean asking probing questions, whether individually, as families or as faith communities, questions like:

Have I been asking the wrong question about someone I consider difficult? What is the right question?

Do we possess hidden gifts that might well benefit us and others? Why do these gifts remain hidden?

St. Joseph is an Advent figure. God unexpectedly disrupted Joseph's life plan.

As the time of Jesus' birth approached, a great question challenged Joseph fiercely. His answer would transform his entire life.

Joseph is a bridge for the church between Advent and Christmas. His story is told in 2017 both during the Dec. 18 Advent Mass and the Christmas vigil Mass.

Near the end of Advent in 2013, Pope Francis highlighted Joseph's predicament. The Gospel of Matthew (1:18-25) tells of "the events preceding the birth of Jesus," presenting them from the perspective of Joseph, "the betrothed of the Virgin Mary," the pope observed.

Joseph and Mary, he continued, "were not yet living together, because they were not yet married. In the meantime, Mary, after having welcomed the angel's announcement, came to be with child by the power of the Holy Spirit."

Joseph "was bewildered."

Trying to do God's will, Joseph made "what for him (was) an enormous sacrifice," the pope explained. The Gospel says that since Joseph "was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose (Mary) to shame," he "decided to divorce her quietly."

This "reveals a true inner drama" if one thinks of Joseph's love for Mary, said Pope Francis. But God opened up "a different path."

In the Gospel's words, "the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived.'"

Joseph had been "following a good plan for his life," but God reserved "another plan for him, a greater mission," Pope Francis said, adding:

"By accepting himself according to God's design," Joseph fully found himself.

Gibson served on Catholic News Service's editorial staff for 37 years.

Advent prompts questions of the heart

By Father Jose Medina | Catholic News Service

Within hours of Black Friday, if not sooner, streets become adorned with Christmas lights, coffee cups change color and stores ready for another holiday season; the Advent season begins.

The liturgy of Advent, with its songs and prayers, emphasizes that we are in a time of waiting, as do the prayers from the Roman Missal. In them, we beg for the resolve to run forth unburdened by earthly undertakings, eagerly pressing forward in haste to meet the Lord. Every detail reminds us to prepare in anticipation.

Anticipation is an important aspect of happiness. An undesired or unannounced visit is a hassle, an answer to a question that wasn't asked is an annoyance. At the same time, increased anticipation makes the resolution even sweeter.

In the words of Winnie-the-Pooh, "Although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were."

When it comes to Advent, then, it is fair to ask: What are we anticipating? What answer, longing or hope are we waiting for?

Consequently, we may end up asking, What is the ultimate meaning of existence? Why is there pain and death? Why is life ultimately worth living? What is reality made for? What are we looking for?

These questions, hopes and longings reflect the cry for fulfillment behind every human effort, but today they are easily taken for granted. Without them, without the unquenchable longing for the infinite within man, the Christian revelation will always be regarded as uninteresting.

In fact, Reinhold Niebuhr writes that one-half of the people in world regard the Christian answer as uninteresting because they have "no questions for which the Christian revelation is the answer and no longings and hopes which that revelation fulfills."

Christ needs to meet the human -- the unquenchable aspiration -- that vibrates within each person. Asking questions was central to Jesus' teaching. As portrayed in the Gospels, he did not come simply to communicate a message, but to engage every person in a deep dialogue.

It is telling that in John's Gospel, Jesus' first recorded statement is a question: "What are you looking for?" (Jn 1:38), which he will ask three more times.

We are reticent to take these questions into consideration. We find them unsettling because we don't have ready answers. Instead of embracing the questions, we'd rather dismiss them or reduce them to something achievable. A mother's desire for her child's happiness, for example, is often reduced to the achievable desire for safety or success.

Those questions and desires make us aware of our finitude and poverty. The more seriously we take our longing, desire and questions, the more we become aware of being needy beggars seeking a fulfillment out of our reach.

Yet, they arise when least expected, especially in those moments of great joy and sorrow. They are expressions of our nature and nothing can eradicate them from life.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote to his young friend: "Bear with patience all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were rooms yet to enter or books written in a foreign language. Don't dig for answers that can't be given you yet: you cannot live them now. For everything must be lived. Live the questions now, perhaps then, someday, you will gradually, without noticing, live into the answer."

Advent is a privileged time to allow the human to be reawakened within us, to love the questions that life opens, to embrace our fragility and need for Another to respond to them.

In his latest book, "Disarming Beauty," Father Julian Carron writes: "Christ came into the world to call man back to the depths of all questions … (for) Christ proposes himself as the answer to what 'I' am and only an attentive, tender and impassioned awareness of my own self can make me open and lead me to acknowledge, admire, thank and live Christ."

Father Medina is national leader of the Catholic ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation.

An Advent meditation: Memory and hope

By Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield | Catholic News Service

"So ... what are you giving up for Advent?"

Lent gets all the attention. There is Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, the daily "giving up" of chocolate and meatless Fridays. Lent has a lot of reminders. But Advent sneaks up on us.

For a string of Sundays, the priest is in green vestments signifying Ordinary Time in the church. Then, all of a sudden, the priest enters Mass in purple vestments. Oh, and there's the Advent wreath -- the three purple candles and one rose candle. Each week of Advent, we light another candle.

As the days get shorter and the sun sets earlier, as the darkness grows outside, the light grows within the church. Light is God's first miracle: "Let there be light" (Gn 1:3). And to this day, light expands, traveling at over 186,000 miles per second.

It may seem, with the natural disasters this past year, the hurricanes and earthquakes, wildfires and disease, and of course with all of the man-made disasters of racism, gun violence and drug dealing, that the days are getting darker. There are the personal hurts and those of our families … job loss, depression and long-held misunderstandings.

We need the light to grow. With so much going on in the world we ask ourselves, what can we do? We can remember. Memory sparks light. Advent is the great memory of the church.

We remember that God's first miracle, light, is also his most frequent. We remember that the Creator of light made our human nature his own and in his humanity began to form in the womb of Mary.

We remember that Jesus, in his death and resurrection, has defeated death on its own ground, and in the world's darkest place -- the sealed tomb -- light, uncontainable supernatural light, began to grow. It was the last place one would expect anything new to ever emerge.

And for the Catholic, memory is never nostalgia -- it is never confined to the past. Hope looks to the future. So does Advent.

And so, what can we do? It all begins with light. Hope is the light of Advent. Patience is hope rehearsing. Patience is hope's favorite hiding place.

Not patience as a passive "sitting still," but patience in the face of our old battlegrounds -- where we want to have the last word, be in control, be first, have our own way.

This Advent, may we let the light grow and give patience to others as a gift. How?

The next time you or I are in a disagreement with a loved one, let's refuse to have the last word.

The next time we are convinced that we are right, instead of proving our point again, let's listen to the other who we are convinced is "wrong."

The next time we demand our own way, let's refuse to take it. This isn't "giving in" or "giving up" ... this is giving forth. Like Jesus.

Advent sneaks up on us. So does hope. And hope begins in small places that are unseen at first. And like the light, hope grows.

Msgr. Bransfield is the author of "Living the Beatitudes: A Journey to Life in Christ."

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Advent is a season of preparation, anticipation and waiting. It's a time to stretch and strengthen a particularly stubborn, and sometimes weak, "muscle" -- patience.

In his Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul lists patience among other fruits of the Holy Spirit such as love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (5:22-23).

St. Thomas Aquinas, in the "Summa Theologiae," argues that patience is a virtue. He quotes St. Augustine: "The virtue of the soul that is called patience, is so great a gift of God, that we even preach the patience of him (God) who bestows it up on us."

Patience is both a gift from God and a "muscle" to be worked. A virtue is a "habitual and firm disposition to do good," reads the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 1833). "The moral virtues grow through education, deliberate acts and perseverance in struggle," the catechism continues (No. 1839).

What deliberates acts will you take this Advent to grow in patience?

Better get a head start -- the pre-Christmas workout won't last long, Advent is a bit shorter this year. The fourth week of Advent is only a day long, Sunday -- it's also Christmas Eve, as Christmas falls on a Monday.  






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