Dear Parishioners: Christmas is here already! Or is it? If you look around you see the signs of Christmas everywhere. But by the time December 25 arrives, most people are "Christmased" out — too many parties, too much rich food and stretched budgets. We Catholics don't need to sit idly by while the rest of the world is celebrating Christmas in advance. Instead, we are called to celebrate two seasons: Advent and Christmas.
The Church began a new Liturgical Year last week on the First Sunday of Advent. During the subsequent four weeks, She prepares with mounting expectation and joyful anticipation for the coming of Christ in a spirit of waiting, conversion and hope. There are always four Sundays in Advent, though not necessarily four full weeks. This year the Feast of Christmas falls on a Sunday so there are four full weeks of Advent for us to truly prepare the way with prayer, charity and alms giving.
Throughout the Season of Advent the prophesies of Isaiah are read often. Some biblical scholars have described Isaiah as the “fifth gospel” as so many of the themes of the gospels have their scriptural beginnings in Isaiah. The writings of Isaiah are distinguished among the Old Testament writings for their extraordinary literary quality. Isaiah is a prophet of hope and new beginnings. In particular, he speaks of the birth of a new king who will be a “Wonderful Counselor” and “Prince of Peace.” Christians have seen in his words a foretelling of the birth of Jesus. He is a prophet of the compassion of God. Isaiah’s God is a God of mercy, comfort and consolation, much like the Father of whom Jesus spoke.
Isaiah was the first to speak of the God of the Jews is also the God of all people. God’s mercy was to reach beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem and Judah to extend to all peoples in every corner of the earth. Jesus, who brought the gospel to Jew and Gentile alike, exercised his ministry in the spirit of Isaiah. Isaiah is a prophet of peace and justice. Harmony among all peoples and compassion for the poor are the hallmarks of God’s presence. In these matters Jesus spoke out of a prophetic tradition that truly began with Isaiah.
Clearly Isaiah is the Prophet of Advent and should be part of our Advent reflection this season. In between Christmas shopping, card writing, cookie baking, and all the other assorted tasks that take our time and sap our energy this time of year, why not take a little time to read Isaiah and pray and reflect on the real reason of the season. Another Advent practice that the whole family can do is that of having an empty crib or manger, which each family member softens with straw earned by a sacrifice, a prayer or a work of mercy. After Christmas, the family gathers before the Infant Savior, in his now-padded crib, to pray with joy and perhaps read a verse from Isaiah.
Advent is here, don’t let it pass without acknowledging it with prayer and reflection, confession and sacrifice, charity and mercy. With joyful hope and eager anticipation, let us prepare for the coming of the Son of God, praying with the entire Church: Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay!
This Thursday, December 8th, we mark the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Lady Immaculately Conceived is the patroness of the United States of America, and it is a holy day of obligation for all Catholics in the United States. On this feast the Church celebrates the solemn dogma defined by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1854.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: “Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, ‘full of grace’ through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Blessed Pope Pius IX proclaimed on December 8, 1854: ‘The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.’ " I hope you join us in celebrating our National Patroness at Mass. There is a Vigil Mass on Wednesday at 5:00pm and three Masses on the holy day at 7:30am, 9:00am and 7:00pm. Come and celebrate Immaculate Mary this week!
I am away this week attending the National Association of State Catholic Conference Directors meeting in Washington, DC. I am grateful to Bishop Evans for helping out during my time away. Advent is here! Prepare the way! Be well. Do good. God Bless. Go Pats!