If you feel like Advent is running on overdrive, you are not alone. With only a little more than three weeks this year to try to absorb the spirit and the meaning of Advent—and trying to do it while everywhere we hear Christmas carols and advertisements that constantly want to entice us to buy more gifts—we have a real difficulty staying focused on this time of waiting. Let me offer a few thoughts about trying to balance the spirit of Advent, the good feelings of the nearness of Christmas, and the reality in which we live. Jesus never said it would be easy to do, and certainly this current year is no exception.
Everyone lives with some ambiguity—none of us knows for certain how long we will live, when illness might develop, or if a valued relationship will endure. Parents are never certain how their children will mature, and many families and businesses face regular questions about financial stability. Usually we try to tuck these unknowns away and pay as little attention to them as possible.
This current era, however, will not let us ignore life’s uncertainties. Significant change occurs more rapidly now. Globalization progressively influences our lives and reminds us that our good fortune could easily be upended. We see this possibility as the division between wealth and poverty grows wider, and world economies remain wobbly. Additional concerns arise as weather patterns topple previous norms, and less effective antibiotics indicate that not all disease can be alleviated. The proliferation of nuclear warheads and the growth of terrorism indicate a lack of safety no matter where we are. On the family front, diligent parents remain unsure of how children will grow amid the whirl of social media. Unpredictability also appears in the world of science, where discoveries elicit troubling questions regarding basic tenets of religious faith previously accepted as permanent beliefs.
These and countless other uncertainties tend to clog hope and repress love. Fear wraps a cloak of worry around past openness, squeezing the heart and withholding hospitality. The excess of unknowns creates a tendency to establish clear demarcations that expand into a ‘them or us’ mentality; hostility erupts and violence results.
This cultural milieu requires an ever-sturdier trust in the Holy One to enable our peace of mind and heart. During Advent, we are invited to regain our spiritual composure through the examination of the season’s biblical figures who provide models of hope to help us do this. When we meet these spiritual ancestors in their context and as metaphors for our lives, they can inspire and encourage us to choose differently from what an insecure society suggests.
The Advent readings reveal an amazing amount of information about unpredictability and the power of a strong faith. This liturgical season’s biblical characters face their own situations of uncertainty. They are taken aback by the unknown, concerned about their wellbeing and how the future will unfold. In spite of these hesitations and fears, they move through them by drawing strength from a deep well of trust. These faith-filled persons remind us to lean on God to believe that we can also be wisely guided on the steepest of hills and the darkest of valleys into an unclear future.”
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Today’s First Reading from Isaiah looks forward to the coming of the long-awaited Messiah, who will be filled with the fullness of God’s Spirit. He will bring peace to the world, a peace he describes in a vision where “the calf and the young lion shall browse together.” The coming of Jesus inaugurates this fulfillment.
The reading from the Letter to the Romans connects back to the hopes of the Old Testament. Jesus’ coming fulfills then promises made to the patriarchs and extends them to the Gentiles “so that they might glorify God for his mercy.” Jesus’ coming brings all peoples together in their praise and glory of God.
In the Gospel reading, God’s word comes to the people in the desert through the person of John the Baptist. The desert is the place where the Israelites had wandered for forty years and where God formed them into a people. The prophets foresaw that God would lead the people back to the desert to form them again into God’s people.
John the Baptist, who resembles the prophets with his clothing and diet, calls for a change of heart: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” John speaks of one who is to come, one who is far greater than he. While John baptized with water, the one to come, Jesus, will baptize “with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” As John the Baptist called on his people to set things right, so we are called this Advent to set things right with God as we await the coming of Jesus at Christmas and welcome his presence into our lives.
Isaiah tells of a time when “there shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain.” On that day, he says, the root of Jesse will be sought out. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #439, states, “Many Jews and even certain Gentiles who shared their hope recognized in Jesus the fundamental attributes of the messianic ‘Son of David,’ promised by God to Israel. John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy and pointed others toward Jesus, telling them to repent and prepare the way.
From Isaiah, we hear that the Lord will “judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.” As followers of Christ, we are to put the poor uppermost in our hearts and in the actions we take. In Soliccitudo rei socialis, Pope John Paul II points out the option for preference for the poor, to which he states the whole Christian tradition bears witness. He says, “Love of preference for the poor, and the decisions which it inspires in us, cannot but embrace the immense multitudes of the hungry, the needy, the homeless, those without medical care and, above all, those without hope of a better future” (#42).
The Responsorial Psalm states that the Lord “shall rescue the poor when he cries out, and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.” The 1971 Synod of Bishops’ document Justice in th World focused on the People of God’s mission to further justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation” (#6).
For Your Reflection: What do you need to set right with God this Advent? With friends, family, or co-workers? Where in your life do you hear John the Baptist calling for a change of heart? Who needs to be welcomed by you?
THE FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
This year the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is transferred to Monday, December 9, since the Second Sunday of Advent takes precedence. While the Feast will be celebrated on Monday, the obligation to participate does not. Therefore here at St. Peter’s on Monday we will celebrate our usual Monday schedule of Masses, with a Festive Mass at 12:15.
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.”
RETIREMENT FUND FOR RELIGIOUS COLLECTION
A number of years ago the Bishops of the United States realized that, as the age of religious men and women began to increase and the costs of retirement likewise, religious would need some financial assistance since many communities of both women and men had not put monies aside for their retirement needs. All this led up to establishing an annual national second collection for this purpose during the month of December. Throughout these years Catholics have been most generous in responding to this appeal.
Last year the collection raised a total of $25,411,786 which along with other donations and money from investments netted a grand total of $30,855,354. People in the Archdiocese of Chicago were most generous, donating just over one million dollars to the Retirement Fund Collection. Our own Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart received $232,762.62 from the National Office to help us meet the retirement needs of our friars. Therefore I am asking you this weekend to please be generous again this year so that needy communities of both women and men religious might be assisted.
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 70 1/2 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 come directly from whoever holds your IRA and must arrive by December 31, 2019.
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 even $10,000.
I would like to remind you that we have a packet of tickets in the Front Office called Chicago Shares. Each packet contains five coupons ($1.00 each) which you may purchase in order to distribute them to the homeless on the street. With these coupons individuals can purchase items of food as well as things like toothpaste, aspirin, bandaids, etc., from drug stores. Sometimes people would like to give financial help to those begging, but they are hesitant in case the money would be used for alcohol, drugs, etc. Chicago Shares is a good alternative.
AN ADVENT CHUCKLE
A Jewish businessman in Brooklyn decided to send his son to Israel to absorb some of the culture of the homeland. When the son returned, the father asked him to tell him about the trip. The son said, “Pop, I had a great time in Israel. Oh, and by the way, I converted to Christianity.”
“Oh, my,” said the father. What have I done?” He decided to go ask his old friend Jacob what to do. Jake said, “Funny you should ask. I, too, sent my son to Israel, and he also came back a Christian. Perhaps we should go see the rabbi and ask him what we should do.”
So they went to see the rabbi. “Funny you should ask. I, too, sent my son to Israel. He also came back a Christian. What is happening to our young people?” The three of them prayed and explained to God what had happened to their sons and asked God what to do.
Suddenly a voice came loud and clear from Heaven. The voice said, “Funny you should ask. I, too, sent my Son to Israel….”