Today we light the first and second of the candles on our Advent Wreath, increasing its brightness. Hopefully this action will be mirrored in wreaths we have made at home with our Children as we, in our families, talk and pray about the Coming of our Saviour. You will find plenty of faithful Catholic material, explaining the wreath’s symbolism and suggesting appropriate Prayers which will appeal to both Parents and Children, on this website.
By the time Christmas Day dawns, how long will the decorations have been up? How many Christmas dinners and parties will have left some people feeling somewhat jaded once the actual time for festivities arrives? Might we feel ‘shopped out’? This week’s readings hold a message of hope at a time when, in the news, things look pretty grim and even the bright lights cannot mask reality!
The Entrance Antiphon (cf Isaiah 30:19, 30) proclaims that ‘…the Lord will come to save all nations…’.
In the First Reading (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11) we hear the words, “Console my people…says your God…Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord…”, a joyful proclamation of the impending coming of our Saviour Who, alone, can set things right!
The Response to the Psalm (Psalm 84:9-14, response v8) echoes last week’s Alleluia verse, calling again for God’s ‘…Mercy and…Saving Help…’.
Saint Peter, our first Pope, (2 Peter 3:8-14) reminds us that, while time may stretch out for us, God sees all in an instant. We must continually prepare for the Second Coming, live ‘…holy and saintly lives…do your best to live lives without spot or stain…’. This message is echoed in the Alleluia Verse (Luke 3:4-6). Be always ready and so come to, ‘…see the Salvation of God…’.
In his Gospel (Mark 1:1-8) Mark continues this theme, quoting Isaiah and introducing the last of the Prophets, Saint John the Baptist, who would announce the promised arrival of the Lamb of God. John himself was a sign of contradiction who would give his life for challenging Herod’s immorality.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen!
Recently we have been presented, through the advertising media, with what an increasingly materialistic world regards as the 'essentials' for the 'perfect' celebration of Christmas: decorations, presents, lights, food and, of course, alcohol! As we begin Advent, we are clearly reminded of the true purpose of Christ-Mas, the Feast of Christ's Birth, as well as of the infinitely higher purpose for which God first created us then redeemed us, namely eternal possession of Him in Heaven; indeed a far higher purpose ever imaginable than that of collecting mere earthly possessions.
We are brought face to face with something which material success can blind us to, as it did the man who rejoiced in earthly riches, only to die suddenly, appearing unprepared, before his Heavenly Judge. The Gospel (Mark 13:33-37) compels us to take a long hard look at ourselves, warning us of the unpredictability of death which could take us completely by surprise; our priorities in this finite world will determine our Eternity and, because God loves us and knows our Fallen Nature, He continually warns of the danger of the 'Eat, drink and be merry!' philosophy of life.
We must certainly not develop a gloomy, Scrooge-like attitude towards the celebration of this momentous Birth but, rather, we are directed towards true Joy; our eventual celebration of Christmas is intended to lift our Souls upwards, towards God; to look beyond the here-and-now, joining in the Glorias of the Angels and the down-to-earth wonder of the Shepherds and Kings. Christmas Cheer, to be genuine, must be rooted in the Joy of knowing that the Babe in the manger, having grown to adulthood, established the Church, Died, and Risen, having defeated death, has Ascended to His Father, going ahead of us to help us on towards the Ultimate Celebration of Heaven!
Next Friday, 8th December, we celebrate a pivotal moment in the history of Salvation, The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. This Dogma, defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854, proclaims the Truth that, of all humans created, Mary, alone, was kept free from Original Sin, preventing it from touching, soiling and weakening her Soul. She alone was (and ever remained) in the State of Grace from that first instant of her life in the womb of her Mother, Saint Anne. From then and, indeed, throughout her life on Earth, Mary co-operated willingly and perfectly with God’s Grace. A measure of the humility required to accept with Faith this, perhaps challenging Truth, lies in its having been revealed in 1858 to Saint Bernadette Soubirous, then an illiterate, poverty-stricken French peasant girl, by Our Blessed Lady herself, who declared, when asked to reveal her identity “Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou”, which of course in Bernadette’s language of Bigourdane means “I am the Immaculate Conception.”. Read more about this fundamental Catholic Teaching here .
‘O come, O come Emmanuel!’
For us, this last week in the Church’s Year is not unlike New Year’s Eve. Next Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, we begin a new lectionary cycle Year B, the Year of Mark. Throughout each Liturgical year we re-live, through scriptural ‘snapshots’, the long and arduous history of Salvation, recalling how, in spite of the sin of our First Parents, Adam and Eve, God did not renege on His side of things. Through first the Old Testament, then the New Testament, we hear how the Father promised His errant creatures a way back on the road to Heaven. He chose and called Abram (later Abraham, our Father in Faith) whose descendants, the Jews, were to keep alive, over centuries, the message of Salvation, worshipping and obeying only Him, the One True God. Through His Son Jesus, ‘…born of the Virgin Mary, He shared our human nature in all things but sin…’ (Eucharistic Prayer 4) the Father set mankind back ‘on course’. He provided them with the fullness of Truth through the Catholic (Universal) Church, the Priesthood, Mass and Sacraments, pointing clearly to Eternal Life.
The Responsorial Psalm (22: 1-3, 5-6) the ever familiar, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’, which is commonly referred to as the 23rd psalm, again highlights the blessings of staying close to Christ Who will never abandon us, guiding, protecting and nourishing us, providing for us throughout our Earthly Life until we pass on to Eternity! The words, ‘…there is nothing I shall want…’ provide a good basis for an examination of conscience in an age when, certainly among the wealthy nations, ‘want’ and ‘lifestyle’ seem to be regularly confused with ‘need’!
Saint Paul, (1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28), recalls Christ’s Resurrection, through which we were definitively given back the chance of Life after death with God in Heaven. He shows how, just as Adam and Eve lost the way to Heaven for us, so, in taking flesh as a Human Being, living in Perfection, Dying and Rising from the dead, Christ put Mankind 'back on track'. By faithfully co-operating with Grace in the here and now we shall come to share, one day, in Christ’s Eternal Victory over evil.
Lest we grow complacent, due to the, sometimes, one-sided image presented of God’s Love, forgetting that Love is a two-way process, the Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46) gives us a salutary warning that, for each and every one of us, life will come to an end; Christ will judge us and, if we are to live with Him in Eternal Happiness, we must have, during our lives, done what we can to exercise the virtue of Charity towards our fellow Human beings, many of whom do not have the spiritual and material advantages that we so often take for granted. It is made abundantly clear that, if we expect to receive a welcome in Heaven, we must, here and now, have extended help either directly or indirectly, to those around us who lack the spiritual and material necessities of life. How well are we preparing for Eternity? How ready are we?!
'From sudden and unprovided death, Good Lord, Deliver us!'
Next Sunday, we shall celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Universal King who will, when earthly life ends, show us the eternity which that life has pointed us towards. If we have tried to, ‘...know, love and serve God...’, then Christ will be able to call us to, ‘...be happy with Him forever...’.
In today’s second reading, Saint Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6) delivers a timely warning of the foolishness of presuming that one can live as one pleases in this life and still count on attaining Heaven. We must, ‘Be Prepared!’ Scripture contains ample warnings to anyone who chooses a self-centred life at variance with God’s Wise and Just Laws, such as the man who rejoiced in his material wealth and prosperity only to be told, ‘...Fool! This night your Soul is required of you!’ (Luke 12:20). The story of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) warns of the danger to one’s soul of amassing personal wealth while failing to aid those who lack even basic necessities. Paul cautions us that death can come, ‘...like a thief in the night...’ i.e. when one may be unprepared for it.
We have recently remembered men and women killed in war. We, rightly, remember the members of our Armed Forces but, of course, many more souls found themselves before God's 'Judgement Seat': those civilians killed, for instance, in the Blitz or those who died in an instant at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
We seem, regularly, to hear news of sudden and unexpected deaths in events such as terrorist attacks. We have recently commemorated the anniversary of the Croydon tram derailment. No-one can guarantee that they will have time to ‘put their affairs in order’. However this is not something to grow morbid about or to despair of. We are, simply, being warned to ‘...stay wide awake and be sober...’ i.e. always keep in mind that earthly life is but a preparation for Eternity, divesting oneself of the treasures of this world in order to amass ‘Treasure in Heaven’. We recently celebrated the Memorial of Saint Martin de Porres. Considered ‘inferior’ by those who counted themselves as ‘superior’ at the time, he was, in fact, richer than his detractors in what really counts with God, namely Grace and Charity. We can learn many lessons from this Holy man.
Saint Augustine underlined the vital role each of us is expected to play in our Salvation when he famously (at that time referring specifically to the Just War doctrine) exhorted peacemakers to ‘Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you!’ It is a sobering consideration that Peace, or the lack of it, comes from within ourselves. As the proverb states, ‘Charity begins at Home!’. Through the Church, Mass and Sacraments we are offered abundant help. Please God we will avail ourselves of this Treasure and, ‘Walk in the Light of the Lord’.
So how do we repay this debt? Certainly through offering Prayers, Masses and Sacrifices for the repose of their Souls; in the heat of battle many, possibly, would have died unprepared. Many may do so today. It is an act of Charity to pray daily that anyone now living apart from God will accept the Grace of Final Repentance, offered until they draw their final breath in this world.
There is yet another obligation placed on our shoulders. These men and women died in defence of Human Rights, fundamental to which is the Right to Life itself! It is, consequently, up to us, living in the 21st century, to oppose those who, as we well know, believe that they ‘know better than God’ and seek to impose ‘agendas’ which directly oppose the Laws of our Creator. Confusing Love with license, they can seriously mislead many. News of conflict is constantly on our TV screens; these conflicts do not necessarily involve force of arms and physical destruction. They may (depending on the issue) involve the killing of the Soul as much as the Body. There is a great and indeed ever present need to stand up for what is right.
Far more than words, the examples of lives lived maybe, at times, heroically in willing obedience to God’s Laws, can bring the unenlightened to see the Beauty and Wisdom of the Church’s Teachings. Today Catholics may well be required to be ‘counter-cultural’. If we were to live contrary to God’s Holy Will, that would set a bad example to others and would make a mockery of those who sacrificed their lives for us so that we might be able to exercise our Free Will unimpeded, to say nothing of mocking our Lord whose Passion, Death and Resurrection give meaning and purpose to our Prayers for the Faithful Departed.
It is truly good to condemn unjust aggression and to mourn and pray for those who strove against it on our behalf. As ever, if we are to be credible witnesses of the Truth, we must, ‘practise what we preach!’.
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church