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Third Sunday of Advent (year B)
December 11, 2011
Isaiah 61:1–2a, 10–11
1 Thessalonians 5:16–24
John 1:6–8, 19–28
When Colonel Benjamin Purcell returned to the United States in 1973, his wife, Anne, along with his five children, had been waiting for five-and-half years. Colonel Purcell was a POW in Vietnam.
As the colonel addressed the crowd that had gathered for his arrival, Anne recalled that she waited anxiously.
In that moment, “All I want to do is touch him, so that I can be sure that this is real, and that he is real.” Unable to wait any longer, she bounded from the crowd, ran up to her husband in the middle of his speech, and hugged and kissed him.
(This poignant scene appeared in a brilliant documentary entitled “Vietnam in HD,” which recently aired on the History Channel, and which is now available on DVD.)
Certain things cannot wait; the joy is simply overwhelming. This describes the Church’s expectation on the Third Sunday of Advent.
According to the words of the Messiah (or Christ) prophesied by Isaiah, “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, / in my God is the joy of my soul...”
The optional use of rose-colored vestments, and the lighting of the rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath, expresses the Church’s irrepressible joy at the approaching feast of Christmas.
Thus, today is traditionally known as Gaudete (a Latin word that means “rejoice”) Sunday, based on the Entrance Antiphon for the Mass. The antiphon is drawn from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near” (4:4–5).
A great truth stands behind this celebration. Even as the Church awaits the feast of the Savior’s Birth — Christmas is now just two weeks away — she rejoices. We too rejoice, for God keeps his promise. As St. Paul assures us, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.”
All of this becomes an occasion for us to welcome the Lord’s presence even more, and to accept the gift of salvation with greater fervor: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. ...Do not quench the Spirit. ...Refrain from every kind of evil.”
We are a work in progress; we eagerly wait for God to fulfill his plan, and to bring our lives to perfection.
(As Catholics, we do not believe that we are saved by merely “taking Jesus as my personal Savior” at a single moment. Indeed, the Advent season indicates that salvation is a process that must still be completed — on a cosmic level by the Parousia [the Second Coming of Christ], and on a personal level by the kind of life we lead.
Consider the Collect [opening prayer] for today’s Mass: “O God, who see how your people faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity, enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.”)
We have more to walk on our pilgrimage to heaven. But since the grace of God meets more than halfway — after all, Christ comes to us — we rejoice right where we are.
Buoyed by that celebration, and armed with such hope, we can move forward in confidence. God will continue to act in our lives — always.
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Parenting can often lead to needless ‘busyness’
In my recent talk at the St. Andrew Catholic School Parent Teacher Organization meeting in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I was asked to speak on the spirituality of parenthood.
I chose the topic finding grace in everyday life. This is the first talk on parenthood I’ve been asked to give in some time, and I found that I am now approaching the subject from a radically new perspective.
Like a veteran addressing the troops in the trenches, I felt both wizened and humbled. Part of me is full of relief to have those active and exhausting parenting years behind me.
Another part of me envies young parents the busyness, the tenderness, and the tangible rewards woven into their everyday experience. I also recognize that challenges of parenting have become even more daunting than they were just 15 years ago when my children were small.
While contemplating the content of my talk, I focused on the goal of spiritual awareness in everyday family life, and I identified some challenges to developing that awareness.
What I came to realize as my children matured was that I didn’t need to do most things differently while I raised them. I needed to see things differently.
Once I began looking at parenthood through that different lens, I was able to open my eyes and heart to God’s activity in all family life, even (perhaps especially) the ugly times. And it was only through this newfound spiritual awareness that I was able to find the courage to change the parts of my life that needed to change.
Before then, I approached the task of self-improvement backwardly. I would focus on what I was doing wrong.
I would focus on how God seemed absent from my awareness. And I would feel unworthy.
I would focus on my own efforts to improve, rather than God’s grace to inspire change within me. I would focus on my family’s shortcomings rather than our blessedness.
Once I re-directed my lens, focusing on what I was doing right (even on a bad day, I was trying), I shifted my gaze to God’s presence in the ordinary events or details, and focused on God’s generosity and mercy (rather than on my efforts to become more pious) and recognized we are all beloved, created in our God’s image.
Then, I found a measure of peace. From that peace, a new sense of purpose was derived.
This was not about me and my family’s piety and success. This was about building God’s kingdom, not only within the walls of my home, but in the world beyond.
In the interest of space, I will note two of the challenges I named in my talk to the parents of St. Andrew school (as well as suggested paths to discovering grace in parenting). I will cover the others in next week’s column.
Blindness. Absorbed in our routine, burdened with responsibility and the natural chaos of life with children, we can become blind to the gift of the present moment.
Sometimes, it’s only after the children have gone to bed that we sigh and realize how precious they are. Paradoxically, noticing the gifts in the present moment isn’t really so hard when young children are in our lives. Young children are naturally drawn to wonder. Very little is lost on them.
Not allowing tasks and routines to drive us robot-like through daily life is not as much an effort as it is a decision. We can decide to put aside technology. Take walks. Share the cooking of family meals and sit down to eat them. Cuddle. Nothing is more important than the ordinary joy of being in the presence of those we love. Nothing.
Busyness. Related to blindness, busyness is a byproduct of our consumer culture. We feel somehow inadequate if our day isn’t filled with activities.
Sometimes we choose busyness to avoid introspection. Other times, busyness seeps into our lives like floodwater from a storm. The water level starts out low, but before we know it, we are up to our necks. By then we are obliged to keep paddling.
At the risk of alienating some readers, I am compelled to identify one massive source of busyness that’s become common to family life. That is, travel sports teams. In my own parish, I witness parents whose weekends are consumed with traveling from place to place while their children, some as young as 8 years old, participate on these teams. The membership cost and the travel expense take a big chunk out of the family budget.
But worse than that, I believe, is the tremendous cost to ordinary family and community life. Even if the parents choose to attend Mass as a family while traveling, they miss out on being active members of their parish communities.
As a parent who fell victim to the allure of travel teams (but fortunately escaped them before they completely ruled our lives), I know how tempting it can be to fall to the pressure from coaches and other parents.
Yet most children will not benefit enough from their participation to earn a scholarship or play on a college team. Sometimes conscious parenting requires radical measures. Avoiding the travel team circuit may seem like one. But in the end, most parents feel only relief when they opt out.
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Queen of All Nations
One of the marvelous aspects of the spiritual life is that it never ceases to amaze.
At one time I thought I understood the meaning of many long held faith traditions, but that was when I was much younger. Today, I am surprised daily and am newly discovering the deeper meaning hidden within the recesses of our faith.
As I experience the Catholicism through the religious traditions of the Tohono O’odham Indians here on the reservation in Arizona, I find myself once again rethinking previous assumptions.
One such tradition is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which coincidently is celebrated on the day this column will reach many of your homes.
Most Catholics are familiar with the account of Mary, appearing to Juan Diego in Tepayac, Mexico in the year 1531. Mary requested that a Church be built in her honor on the site where she appeared and chose a humble, uneducated Indian as her messenger. Naturally skeptical, the Bishop asked for a sign and Mary responded.
During her final apparition, Juan found a rose bush in full bloom, which was highly unusual given the season and location. Mary instructed Juan Diego to pick the flowers and once gathered, she arranged them, carefully under his poncho, and instructed the Indian to present them to the bishop.
Much to his surprise, when Juan Diego opened his garment, miraculously imprinted on the Indian’s garment was a portrait of what has become known as the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Over the centuries, millions of pilgrims have made a journey to the site where today stands the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Today Our Lady of Guadalupe is known as the “Patroness of the Americas,” but more often than not she is associated with the Hispanic culture.
I admit my own bias in that regard. In times past, I found it easier to relate to the simple virgin of Nazareth than to this woman dressed in regal attire, who has been associated with the apocalyptic woman clothed with the sun that is described in the Book of Revelation.
However, having observed the devotion of the Native Americans to our Lady of Guadalupe and upon deeper reflection, I am beginning to better appreciate that which God reveals to children but remains hidden from the wise and learned. Inspired by the simple faith of the people among whom we are living, I dug deeper and discovered the Mary who is Queen of heaven and earth.
My search led me to Scripture and the somewhat elusive Book of Revelation, more specifically, Chapter 12, where I discovered anew the virgin of Guadalupe as the Mother of God and Mother of humankind.
There the evangelist speaks in the past because the Incarnation had already taken place. The vision shown to him was of a prophesy fulfilled, not of one that was to come.
In the book “The Mystical City of God,” Venerable Mary of Agreda wrote about the revelations she received concerning Chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation. By divine disposition, God showed all angels the image, which John described, who was to be the Mother of God.
The angels were told that not only must they be subject to the Incarnate Word, but that they would have to admit as superior to them a woman in whose womb the only begotten Son of the Father would assume flesh.
It was against this reality that Lucifer and like-minded angels blasphemed and were thus cast into hell.
This is the same Mary whom we meet in the Book of Genesis about whom it is written, “I will put enmity between you (the serpent or devil) and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.”
Can the role awarded to Mary from all time ever be overstated? I find it a bit ironic that in this day and age when gender equality can reach such fever pitch, many Christians, including Catholics, fail to appreciate the role of Mary in salvific history.
Just as Christ is the new Adam, and Mary the new Eve, her role had been ordained from the beginning of time. Thirteenth century Franciscan theologian, John Duns Scotus posits that the Incarnation was not a response to human sin.
To suggest that would be to imply that man had power over God and that could never be. God became incarnate as the perfect act of self-revelatory Love, and in order to accomplish this, God created a perfect vessel through whom this might be accomplished.
This is why we celebrate Mary and her Immaculate Conception, whose feast is commemorated December 8.
Many Christians and even well-intentioned Catholics are embarrassed by the high regard the Church places on Mary. Some would prefer she be relegated to a devotional preference for the pietistic few.
But as I watched a seven-year effort culminate in transporting the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe to a shrine that was erected for her on the top of Kitt Peak, a mountain on the Indian reservation where we are living, I felt humbled to be in the presence of such a faith filled group.
Following a special Mass in honor of our Lady of Guadalupe, the statue was transported in the back of a pick-up truck to the site where she would reside.
“This is for you. This is for the Nation,” exclaimed Mary Marietta, the woman who spear-headed the effort. She was talking to her people and the Nation was the Tohono O’odham Indian Nation.
As I watched in silent wonder, I prayed that one day all people of faith will come to recognize the role that Mary plays in our lives and that she will indeed be revered as Queen of every nation.
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