Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, our thoughts and focus go to Christmas. For some time now advertisements on radio, television and the print media have been trying to get us in the “Christmas spirit” by convincing us that Christmas is about gift giving and gift receiving and not so much about the coming of the Messiah and His Second Coming at the end of time. We really have to concentrate on keeping our minds clear and our vision pointed to look forward to Christmas through the lens of the Advent Season.
For us as Christians, Advent is both an opportunity and a journey. It is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing. There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of this world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice in a world under the curse of sin and yet who have hope of deliverance by a God who has heard the cries of oppressed slaves and brought deliverance.
It is that hope, however faint at times, and that God, however distant He sometimes seems, which brings to the world the anticipation of a King who will rule with truth and justice and righteousness over His people and in His creation. It is that hope that once anticipated, and now anticipates anew, the reign of an Anointed One, a Messiah, who will bring peace and justice and righteousness to the world.
Part of the expectation also anticipates a judgment on sin and a calling of the world to accountability before God. We long for God to come and set the world right. Yet, as the prophet Amos warned, the expectation of a coming judgment at the “day of the Lord” may not be the day of light that we might want, because the penetrating light of God’s judgment on sin will shine just as brightly on God’s people.
We live in a world in which bigger and better define our expectations for much of life. We have become so enamored by super size, super stars, and high definition that we tend to view life through a lens that so magnifies what we expect out of the world that we tend not to see potential in small things. But as the prophet Zephaniah reminds us, we should not “despise the day of small things,” because God does some of His best work with small beginnings and impossible situations.
It is truly a humbling experience to read back through the Old Testament and see how frail and imperfect all the “heroes” actually are. Abraham, the coward who cannot believe the promise, Jacob, the cheat who struggles with everybody, Joseph, the immature and arrogant teen, Moses, the impatient murderer who cannot wait for God, Gideon, the cowardly Baal-worshipper, Samson, the womanizing drunk, David, the power-abusing adulterer, Solomon, the unwise wise man, Hezekiah, the reforming king who could not quite go far enough. And finally, there is a very young Jewish girl from a small village in a remote corner of a great empire, who was called upon to do great things.
God often begins with small things and inadequate people. It certainly seems that God could have chosen “bigger” things and “better” people to do His work in the world. Yet if God can use them and reveal Himself through them in such marvelous ways, it means that He might be able to use me, inadequate and unwise, and too often lacking in faith that I am. And it means that I need to be careful that I do not in my own self-righteousness put limits on what God can do with the smallest things, the most unlikely of people, in the most hopeless of circumstances. That is part of the wonder of the Advent Season.
The season of Advent is about hope. It is not just hope for a better day or hope for the lessening of pain and suffering, although that is certainly a significant part of it. It is more about hope that human existence has meaning and possibility beyond our present experiences, a hope that the limits of our lives are not nearly as narrow as we might experience them to be. It is not that we have possibility in ourselves, but that God is a God of new things, and so all things are possible.
God’s people in the first century wanted Him to come and change their oppressive circumstances, and they were angry when those immediate circumstances did not change. But that is a short-sighted view of the nature of hope. Our hope cannot be in circumstances, no matter how badly we want them or how important they are to us. The reality of human existence, with which the Book of Job struggles, is that God’s people experience that physical existence in the same way that others do. Christians get sick and die, Christians are victims of violent crimes, and Christians are hurt and killed in traffic accidents, bombings, war, and in some parts of the world, famine.
If our hope is only in our circumstances, as we define them to be good or as we want them to be to make us happy, we will always be disappointed. That is why we hope, not in circumstances, but in God. He has continually, over the span of four thousand years, revealed Himself to be a God of newness, of possibility, of redemption, the recovery or transformation of possibility from endings that goes beyond what we can think or even imagine.
Yet, it all begins in the hope that God will come and come again into our world to reveal Himself as a God of newness, of possibility, a God of new things. During Advent we groan and long for that newness with the hope, the expectation, indeed the faith, that God will once again be faithful to see our circumstances, to hear our cries, to know our longings for a better world and a whole life. That is the wonder of Advent. May the next four weeks be a wonderful retreat and reflection for each and every one of us!
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Isaiah’s messianic vision for Judah and Jerusalem finds itself situated before and after verses in which the prophet’s words indict the people for infidelity. Despite the people’s sinfulness, the Lord will restore Judah and Jerusalem at some point in the future. The Lord will build his house not on the highest mountain, but “as” the highest mountain above all other hills and mountains. Not just select nations will come to the Lord’s house, but “all” nations will come to climb this holy mountain. The Lord will instruct them in the ways of peace and judge them. People will respond to the Lord by turning swords into farming equipment and spears into harvest tools. Peace will be the norm so much so that people will not even prepare for war. An invitation to journey in the Lord’s light concludes Isaiah’s vision. In our proclamation of this reading on the First Sunday of Advent, we offer this invitation to the assembly. In the midst of declining daylight in the northern hemisphere, we summon the Lord’s people to the Light.
The Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 122, is a song the pilgrims sang on their journey to the Lord’s house in Jerusalem, and echoes the vision of peace in the First Reading. The psalmist prays not only for Jerusalem’s peace, but that peace be within his “relatives and friends.” For their good and for their prosperity, he offers his prayer knowing that on the Lord’s day, the God of Israel will judge his people.
The image of light also appears in Paul’s words to the Romans in the Second Reading. The “armor of light” is the Lord Jesus Christ. When we put him on, we will no longer conduct ourselves in an unethical manner. We will live the way of light. Since we do not know exactly when Christ’s Second Coming will herald the end of time, Paul’s advice suits us as it did the Romans. Now is the time for us to “awake from sleep,” for our salvation is near.
In the eschatological passage from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples to “stay awake!” They, too, do not know when the Lord will come. By comparing the time of the coming of the Son of Man to the days of Noah, Jesus alerts his disciples to their need for preparation, lest they be swept away. In two short sayings, Jesus describes the coming judgment. Two men work out in the field and two women grind at the mill: the Son of Man will take one of the men and one of the women and leave the others. Ours is the call to live as people of God’s Kingdom, as disciples, and as followers of the Light.
The official prayers all point to the Advent journey from our life on earth to our heavenly Kingdom. In the Collect, we pray for the determination not just to saunter forward to meet Christ, but to “run forth” to encounter him. Though we “walk amid passing things,” as the Prayer after Communion reminds us, we learn from them to cherish that which is eternal. Our Advent journey serves to focus us on God at work in us through Christ, who leads us to “righteous deeds” and transforms us more each day so that we might reveal his presence to others.
ADORATION OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
One of the marvelous gifts we have in the Catholic Church is the fact that we always have the presence of the Lord in our churches due to the reservation of the Body of Christ reserved in the tabernacle. But that presence is even more manifest when the Consecrated Host is placed in the monstrance and then publicly displayed for the veneration of the faithful in what we call the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Here at St. Peter’s we have the opportunity to visit Our Lord in this special way every Monday-Friday for the three hours between 1:45 and 4:45 in the afternoon. I hope you try to take advantage of this devotion at least once or twice a week. You need not stay for a longer period of time; even a short visit allows you to focus, to thank the Lord for blessings received, to acknowledge that you owe everything to His goodness and love, and to praise Him for all he has done and continues to do for you. It also gives you a bit of quiet time to just be in His presence and to give Him a chance to speak with you as He sees fit.
CATHOLIC CHARITIES AND FRANCISCAN OUTREACH
Recently I opened my mail to find the 2016 Annual Report of Catholic Charities. I am proud that this entity does so much to be an extension of the Catholic Church for over a million people each year. When we open our hearts and hands to those who are in desperate need, we truly are the image of Jesus to those who seek help. As Cardinal Cupich has said, “With more than 150 programs and 153 service locations throughout Cook and Lake Counties, there are many thresholds to be crossed and many opportunities for lives to be changed for the better. Every 30 seconds someone knocks on the doors of Catholic Charities, and thanks to the generosity of donors and volunteers, their knocks are always answered with warmth, kindness, and concrete help.”
Or Monsignor Michael Boland put it this way: “We are like field hospitals helping those who are suffering, and often located in neighborhoods that have sadly become like real battlegrounds, plagued with violence and despair. Catholic Charities program sites are safe havens in desperate areas, and our staff and volunteers are truly ministers of mercy, providing help through a hot meal, a bag of food, a place to live, the care of a child or elderly relative, counseling, job training, or job placement. Our clients include seniors, children, teens, veterans, immigrants, refugees, and anyone needing a helping hand.”
I also want to commend the ministry of Franciscan Outreach, which helps in similar ways to Catholic Charities. Their staff and dedicated volunteers offer so much love and compassion to so many in need, not only through a hot meal in the evening 365 days in the year, but also job counseling, home placement, a place to receive mail, a laundry so that the poor and the homeless can have clean clothes—something we make take for granted—and an overnight shelter for women and men, to name just a few ways the needy are assisted. I also want to acknowledge the services provided by the social worker at St. Peter’s who is available Monday through Friday to listen and to help where possible, especially to assist in getting necessary state IDs for those who have none.
Thank you to everyone who contributes to these outreach efforts, for without you others could not do the work of serving the poor and the needy, and doing it while treating all who come with dignity and respect.
SAINT PETER’S MEN’S GROUP
You may not be aware that every Monday evening at 5:00 P.M. we have a meeting down in the auditorium called “Saint Peter’s Men’s Group.” You will find it listed every week in the bulletin in the Activities section. This group has been meeting for many years and has played a great part in the lives of many men who have been coming together for support and assistance as they grow and mature. The primary reason for the group’s existence is for men who are dealing with some aspect of sexual addiction: it could be pornography, masturbation, marital infidelity, visiting adult book stores, seeking massage for something other than relief of sore muscles, feeling sexual temptations to be too much to handle, etc.
At a meeting you will find you are not alone in what you are dealing with; others have been struggling with the same problems. You will also find individuals who can testify that there is hope because they are now free of their subjection to addiction. There will also be persons who are willing to be your sponsor, and you will find all this done in an atmosphere of confidentiality, spirituality and Christian love of neighbor. We invite anyone to try this Men’s Group who wants to get better. That’s Mondays at 5:00 P.M. in the St. Clare Auditorium. Spending this hour a week could very well save your life and save your marriage.
A CHUCKLE FOR ADVENT
Johnny was paying his way through college by being a waiter in a restaurant.
“What’s the usual tip?” asked a customer.
“Well,” said Johnny, “this is my first day, but the other guys said that, if I got five dollars out of you, I’d be doing great.”
“Is that so?” growled the customer. “In that case, here’s twenty dollars.”
“Thanks. I’ll put it in my college fund,” Johnny said.
“By the way, what are you studying?” asked the customer.