Today we begin the Season of Advent, usually four weeks long but this year only three due to the fact that the Fourth Sunday is also Christmas Eve. Like Lent, Advent is a preparatory season. It has significance because it is a season looking forward and waiting for something greater, both for the annual celebration of the event of Christ’s birth and for the time when Christ will come again.
The exact time when the season of Advent came to be celebrated is not precisely known, although we think the feast of the Nativity of the Lord was established within the later part of the 4th century. A collection of homilies from Pope St. Gregory the Great (whose papacy was from 590-604) included a sermon for the second Sunday of Advent, and by 650 Spain was celebrating the Sundays (five at the time) of Advent. So it seems the liturgical season was established around the latter part of the 6th century and the first half of the 7th century. For the next couple of centuries, Advent was celebrated for five Sundays; Pope Gregory VII, who was pope from 1073-85, reduced the number to four Sundays.
The themes and traditions of the Advent Season have evolved throughout the history of the liturgical season. Earlier it took on a penitential atmosphere similar to Lent, but for some time now the theme has emphasized a prayerful, spiritual preparation for the second and final coming of the Lord, as well as the joyful preparation for the annual festive remembrance of the Incarnation and Christ’s birth.
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
The readings on this First Sunday of Advent express well the meaning of the season. The Latin word adventus means “a coming” or “an arrival.” Theologians use its Greek equivalent, Parousia, to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. This season of the liturgical year is not only about getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth, but also about anticipating the arrival of God’s Kingdom in fullness at the end time.
The First Reading from Isaiah is part of a long lament that began at Isaiah 63 and extends to the middle of Isaiah 66. As the Judeans returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon, they found their Temple destroyed and felt that God had abandoned them. Here the prophet prays that God will come to them in a more wondrous way than he did at Sinai. Despite his sadness over the past and the recognition that God has a right to punish the people for their failure to keep the covenant, the prophet ends on a note of hope for the future: “We are all the work of your hands!”
Today’s Gospel comes from a passage sometimes called Mark’s “Little Apocalypse,” a teaching about preparing for the Second Coming of Christ. These lines were written shortly before the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. and before a time of persecution began. The parable that Jesus uses to demonstrate our need to be watchful is compelling. It suggests that we are not in charge of the comings and goings of the Lord of the house. Instead, we are the gatekeepers, waiting to welcome the coming Kingdom of God. Will you be ready?
St. Paul’s greeting to the Corinthians in today’s Second Reading notes the goodness God has provided. He tells these followers that God has bestowed grace on them, enriched them “with all discourse and all knowledge,” and provided all spiritual gifts. Later in this letter, he writes that each person’s gifts should be used for the building up of the Kingdom. As the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults states, “God calls lay people to witness and share their faith in the midst of the world. By their Baptism they share in Christ’s priesthood and are sealed by the Spirit. They are thus called to holiness, to a prophetic witness in the world, and to a kingly resolve to sanctify the world by their words and deeds” (#138).
Though Paul begins the letter by stating all that God has done for the Corinthians, much of the letter instructs members of the Church on how they should behave. As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 4:14, “I am writing to you to admonish you as my beloved children.” Paul goes on to refer to “love and a gentle spirit.” With a loving spirit, Paul gives direction on sexual morality, the need for humility, and the appropriate use of gifts. As Pope Benedict states in Caritas in veritate, charity in truth becomes the face of Christ. The encyclical states, “Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace” (#1).
For Your Reflection: During this Advent, how are you keeping watch over your words and deeds to ready yourself for God’s coming? What Advent practices are part of your family or parish life that draw you closer to God? How have you charitably corrected another?
THE FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
This year the Feast of the Immaculate Conception falls on Friday, December 8th. It is one of the holydays that is always considered a holyday of obligation, no matter what day it falls on, primarily because it is the patronal feast of the Church in the United States. Here at St. Peter’s on Thursday evening, December 7, we will offer a vigil Mass that will fulfill your obligation at 5:00 P.M. On Friday, December 8, we will celebrate twelve Masses, namely, 6:00, 6:45, 7:30, 8:15, 9:00, 10:00, 11:15, 12:15 (with choir), 1:15, 4:30, 5:15, and 6:00. On this holyday we will only hear confessions between 2:00-5:00. Please plan ahead now so that you will be able to participate in one of these Masses. You might also want to invite some of your friends and co-workers to join you for the celebration.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is the subject of many misconceptions. Perhaps the most common one, held even by many Catholics, is that it celebrates the conception of Jesus in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That the feast occurs only 17 days before Christmas should make that error obvious. We celebrate another feast—the Annunciation of the Lord—on March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas. It was at the Annunciation, when the Blessed Mother humbly accepted the honor bestowed on her by God and announced by the angel Gabriel, that the conception of Christ took place.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in its oldest form, goes back to the seventh century, when churches in the East began celebrating the Feast of the Conception of Saint Anne, the mother of Mary. In other words, this feast celebrates the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of St. Anne. However, that original feast does not have the same understanding of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception has in the Catholic Church today. The feast arrived in the West probably no earlier than the 11th century, and at that time it began to be tied with a developing theological controversy: both the Eastern and the Western Church maintained that Mary was free from sin throughout her life, but there were different understandings of what this meant.
Because of the doctrine of Original Sin, some in the West began to believe that Mary could not have been sinless unless she had been saved from Original Sin at the moment of her conception, thus making her conception immaculate. Others, including St. Thomas Aquinas, argued that Mary could not have been redeemed if she had not been subject to sin, at least to Original Sin. The answer to St. Thomas Aquinas’ objection, as Blessed John Duns Scotus showed, was that God had sanctified Mary at the moment of her conception in His foreknowledge that the Blessed Virgin would consent to bear Christ. In other words, she too had been redeemed; her redemption had simply been accomplished at the moment of her conception rather than, as with all other Christians, in Baptism.
On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX officially declared the Immaculate Conception a dogma of the Church, which means that all Catholics are bound to accept it as true. As the Pope wrote in the Apostolic Constitution, “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”
‘TIS (ALMOST) THE SEASON
Remember getting ready for Christmas when you were a child? From decorating the tree to baking cookies, each moment brought excitement and joy. Preparing for Christmas can be just as joyful as it was then. Don’t let this be just another Advent where you get distracted and busy.
Rediscover the joy of the season with Best Advent Ever, a free email program that will help you prepare for Christmas in a way that will allow you to have a Christmas as memorable and joyful as when you were a child. You will receive short inspirational videos, practical tips, and real-life stories of hope sent to you each day at your email address.
This is a completely free program. Sign up at DynamicCatholic.com/SignUp, but do it as soon as possible because the beginning of Advent is today. I think you and your family will benefit greatly from this experience.
IRA CHARITABLE ROLLOVER
Don’t miss this opportunity to make a difference with a tax-free gift from your IRA to St. Peter’s Church by year’s end. If you are 701/2 or older, you can contribute up to $100,000 directly from your IRA to St. Peter’s, without including the amount in gross income. For your gift to qualify this year, the gift needs to be made by December 31, 2017.
For stocks held more than one year that have increased in value, you will avoid capital-gains taxes by gifting all or a portion of the stock to St. Peter’s. If you would like to get more information about a stock transfer, please contact either your tax professional or Mr. Peter Wells at St. Peter’s regarding the tax savings.
We would appreciate you thinking of either of these possibilities as the end of the year approaches. We are dependent upon this kind of charitable remembrance as well as a mention of St. Peter’s in your will or estate since it costs c. $25,000 a week to keep our doors open, yet our regular weekly contributions seldom reach more than $10,000.
RETIREMENT FUND FOR RELIGIOUS
The annual Retirement Fund for Religious collection will be held next weekend, December 9-10, in parishes throughout the United States. Now in its 30th year, the collection is coordinated by the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) and benefits over 35,000 senior Catholic sisters, brothers, and religious order priests. The bishops of the United States initiated this collection in 1998 to address the significant lack of retirement funding among U.S. religious communities. Proceeds are distributed to eligible communities to help underwrite retirement and health-care expenses. Since the collection began, Catholics have contributed $805 million, with over 95 percent of those donations going directly to support senior religious and their communities.
Last year’s appeal raised $28.3 million and enabled the NRRO to distribute $25 million to 395 religious communities across the country. Communities utilize these funds to bolster retirement savings and to subsidize such day-to-day expenses as prescription medications and nursing care. Our own Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart received $245,274.67 from these funds. The NRRO also allocated nearly $4.3 million to assist religious communities with the greatest needs and to promote ongoing education in retirement and elder-care delivery. .
Despite the generosity of people to this collection, numerous religious communities struggle to provide adequate care. In the past, religious men and women often served in ministry for small stipends that did not include retirement benefits. Their sacrifices now leave their religious communities without adequate savings for retirement. The average annual Social Security benefit for a religious is $6312.00—roughly one-third the amount received by the average beneficiary in the United States. Of the 590 communities submitting data to the NRRO in 2015, only 8 percent were fully funded for retirement.
The rising cost of care compounds funding difficulties. Last year, the average annual cost of care for senior religious was over $41,000 per person, while skilled care averaged more than $57,000. The total cost of care for senior men and women religious was over $1.1 billion in 2015 alone. At the same time, the number of religious needing care is on the rise. In 2015, 68 percent of the religious communities providing data to the NRRO had a median age of 70 or older. Accompanying the higher median age is a decrease in the number of religious able to serve in compensated ministry. By 2023, the NRRO projects the retired religious will outnumber wage-earning religious by four to one.
Please come prepared next weekend to make a generous contribution to this Retirement Fund Collection for Religious.
AN ADVENT CHUCKLE
An angry motorist went back to a garage where he had purchased an expensive battery for his car just six months earlier.
“Listen,” the motorist grumbled to the owner of the garage. “When I bought this battery, you said it would be the last battery my car would ever need. It died after only six months!”
“Sorry,” apologized the garage owner. “I didn’t think your car would last longer than that.”