We had a beautiful Advent beginning last Sunday afternoon with the presentation of “AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS.” So many people came back from the event touched by the beauty of the presentation and the messages contained therein, more ready to embrace the holy season of Advent. I thank our Director of Liturgical Music (and Music teacher in our school), Eric Keiper, for working so many hours with his talented choirs to help set the tone for us in preparing for Christmas. I also thank Mary Somerville and her team of volunteers for helping to welcome the over 200 attendees. I give special thanks to our Director of Maintenance, Jay Flood, and his crew for making the beautiful settings and Martha Ladner, for her fabulous job in creating the costumes –- all of which help us to enjoy the season of Advent, which really helps prepare us for the coming of Christ.
On Monday evening, our Columbiettes assisted several other leading ladies of our parish in hosting what has become an annual event for the women of our parish: “Advent by Candlelight.” With spiritual reflections and lovely table settings for a dessert presentation, they helped set an additional Advent opportunity to reflect upon the meaning of the season of Advent, without the crass commercialization that usually surrounds us at this time.
Unfortunately, for many people, “preparing for Christmas” starts on “Black Friday” with feverish shopping for sales amidst the tumultuous crowds of the shopping malls. May I suggest that our Christian faith offers a saner and more wholesome path: our Advent preparation for Christmas should not be so focused on shopping and buying gifts, but on building relationships. If giving someone a gift helps to build a relationship with someone, fine; but giving a gift in and of itself does not build a relationship: something more is needed, something more personal, something more relational, something more emotional and, I might venture to say, something more spiritual and even sacrificial. The original “Santa Claus,” after all, was St. Nicholas, who was not a harried shopper for presents to deliver on his sleigh, but a bishop whose generous and anonymous gifts to the poor became the model for Christmas gift-giving. So, besides shopping for Christmas presents, following the example of St. Nicholas suggests that we also make gifts to charities that help the poor.
In terms of building relationships, Advent is a journey that should bring us closer to God and to each other. One of the best ways to do that is through the Sacrament of Penance. By confessing our sins and receiving absolution from a priest, we are reconciled to God and to the community of faith. Just before Christmas in 1980, Pope Saint John Paul was with over two thousand children in a Roman parish. He began his catechesis with this dialogue: How are you preparing for Christmas? The children shouted back: By praying! The Pope responded, Very good, by praying, but also by going to Confession. You must go to Confession so that you can go to Communion later. Will you do that? In an even louder voice, those many hundreds of children shouted their reply, We will! St. John Paul II responded, Yes, you ought to go. Then, lowering his voice, he whispered, The Pope will also go to Confession so as to receive the Child Jesus worthily.
In more recent times, we also see our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, going to Confession. I will also go to Confession and many Catholics will also do the same in the weeks between now and Christmas, with an ever greater love and deeper contrition. We will have that special opportunity to confess our sins on Thursday evening, December 21st, at 7:00 p.m., during our usual Advent Penance Service. There will be several priests available to forgive us our sins and thereby help us to prepare for the coming of Christ. Bring the whole family to be reconciled with Our Lord and lift up our hearts to prepare for the coming of Jesus. As an Advent people, we are people of hope and expectation. We live in hope and expectation of our Lord’s second coming. We also live in the hope of improved relationships with other people and the expectation that our relationships can indeed be improved to become more caring and more loving. We should never give up on anyone, but always have hope that God’s grace can touch the hearts of those who hunger for his nourishment, which He gives us now in the gift of the Eucharist.