Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Sunday in Advent

"Today as we begin the holy season of Advent, we have to reflect upon the fact that Advent, for all practical purposes, is the forgotten season in the Church. It is rarely celebrated by anyone anymore because what happens is that people begin celebrating Christmas a month, a month and a half, even two months before Christmas begins. Advent is a season of penance, not a season of celebration. There is no place during Advent for Christmas parties. There is no place during Advent for all the festivities. That is to take place after Christmas Day – not beforehand. It would be like celebrating the birth of your baby a month before the baby is born; it does not make any sense. In that month prior to the birth of the child, the parents are preparing the home and getting themselves ready. They do not send out birth announcements and have parties a month beforehand, but rather it is a time when they draw into themselves and prepare themselves. That is what this season is about.

It is a time of penance, which is why we wear purple during Advent, but not a penance like the penance that is done in Lent. That is a penance which is done in reparation for our sins; this is a penance which is done in preparation for the coming of the Lord so that we will be spiritually prepared to be able to celebrate Christmas. Of course, as we look to the first coming of Christ two thousand years ago, we also look forward to the Second Coming of Christ. It is to prepare our hearts so we will be able to be ready when the Lord comes, because He tells us very clearly in the Gospel reading today that we do not know either the day or the hour and we have to be prepared. Most Americans, quite frankly, are not prepared.

Two thousand years ago, when Our Lord came into the world, the Jewish people knew the time of His coming. But at the time when Jesus came into this world there was chaos. A census had been called by Quirinius, the governor, and Mary and Joseph had to go down to Bethlehem. If we think of what would have been happening in Bethlehem at that time, it would have been a very busy place. All the shopkeepers would have been busy about selling their goods to all of the visitors who needed to eat and have provisions. They would have been doing quite well business-wise at that time. The inn was full and there was no room. There would have been hustle and bustle with people jockeying for position and trying to get ahead of somebody else and seeing what they could get away with. Sounds sort of like America, doesn’t it? Chaos, shopping, money, looking out for one’s self. Because of all the chaos and all the external things that were going on, the people totally missed the birth of Christ.

The angels did not come down, of course, to tell the shepherds about Our Lord’s birth until after He had been born. The star for the magi did not appear telling them to come to Bethlehem until after Our Lord had been born. This being the case, we need to consider our own situation. I am always saddened at this time of the year when I drive down the street to see houses lit up with lights already. And Americans, with their penchant for competition, have actually determined now to get into a competition to see who can have the largest electric bill and who can have the most lights in their front yard – by the thousands these days – trying to impress other people. When Christmas is over the show is gone, and what is there other than electric bills to pay? This is not the season for lights. The Light of the world has not come yet. We are preparing for His coming, not celebrating it as yet. And so in a Christian place there is no room at this time for all the lights and all the festivities and all the parties and all the chaos.

As the Church begins Her new year today, we can look at the secular practice and perhaps learn something from it. When we begin a new calendar year, people always make resolutions. Now that the Church is beginning a new year today, I would recommend that we too should make some resolutions. Saint Paul in the second reading today tells us that we need to put aside all the things that are of the flesh: the drunkenness, the lust, the promiscuity, the rivalry, the jealousy, all these things. He tells us we need to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what this season is about: becoming more Christ-like, preparing ourselves like our Blessed Lady and Saint Joseph did for the coming of the Christ child into this world.

So if I might make a few suggestions on how to prepare yourselves, start with the secular and work to the spiritual. First of all, turn off the TV and turn off the radio. Allow some silence to enter into your homes and into your hearts. Do not put up any lights or any decorations for Christmas for at least three more weeks. This is not the Christmas season yet. Let Advent be Advent and celebrate Christmas during Christmas. Simplify the way you celebrate Christmas and prepare it that way so you do not have to spend days and weeks in malls and department stores in the midst of the chaos, but rather prepare spiritually for Christmas. Imagine the amount of time you would have to spend in prayer if you did not watch TV and listen to the radio and go shopping as much.

And so pray at least one half hour a day, preferably in front of the Blessed Sacrament. There are fifty adoration chapels in the Twin Cities where the Lord is exposed 24 hours a day on the altar for your adoration. There is a chapel somewhere near you. If you can get there, that is the best. Of course, a church with the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle works perfectly fine as well. If that does not work, at least have a place set aside in your home where it is designed for prayer. And I am talking about the silent prayer of the heart. This is not the time to pray your Rosary or read a spiritual book or do anything else, it is to talk to God in your heart in silence, a half hour at least. Then pray your Rosary and read the spiritual books. If you can make it to daily Mass, what a blessing that will be for you. What better way is there to be able to receive Jesus into your heart on Christmas than to prepare by receiving Him in the Eucharist everyday? It is the greatest way to be like Our Lady, who carried Jesus in her womb for those nine months. The closest we can come is to carry Him in our hearts for a half hour at a time when we receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament.

Get to Confession. If you have not been to Confession since last Easter, do not wait until two days before Christmas. Get there this week and then go again right before Christmas. If you can put aside the time to pray and you can get to Confession, you will be astounded at the changes that will happen in your life. If you set aside some place and time for silence, the things that you will recognize and see within yourself will be quite wonderful. In the midst of the chaos, we cannot think clearly, we cannot see clearly, we cannot hear. God, remember, speaks in the silence. If we fill our hearts and our minds and our lives with noise and chaos, there is no place for God; and it does not matter how loudly He speaks, we will not be able to hear.

In the first reading, we hear about the mountain of the Lord’s house and how instruction is going to come forth from there and people of every nation are going to stream toward it. The mountain of the Lord’s house is the Church; it is Jesus Christ. Instruction has come forth; the question is whether or not we want it. The instruction of the Church is to make this a holy season of penance and preparation. It is to have a subdued attitude during this time, because if Our Lord were to come into the world today with all of the chaos, the same thing that happened two thousand years ago would happen again. We would miss Him. We would not be prepared and we would not recognize Him. But if we are taking the time to pray, if we are frequenting the Sacraments, if we are trying to develop the spiritual life and grow in virtue, then our hearts are going to be focused on Christ – not on gifts, not on lights, not even on the electric bill that we have run up because of having ten thousand lights in our front yard. Our focus will be on Jesus, the real Light. And when Christmas comes and all of these other people who are celebrating Christmas for the wrong reason unplug their lights and put them away and the darkness fills their houses and their yards – and in so many cases, tragically, their hearts as well – it will be light that will fill your hearts because Jesus is the Light that came into the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome that Light. The Light of Jesus Christ and the true light and the true joy and the true spirit of Christmas will continue to shine in your hearts long after Christmas Day has come and gone because you will have prepared yourself to receive the Light and you will be able to shine with a light that is far brighter than ten thousand lights in your front yard because you will be radiant with the love of Jesus Christ. You will bring His light into the darkness of this pagan society, into the darkness of this secular world. The real Light will shine within you if you prepare yourself properly.

So as we begin this new year, climb that mountain of the Lord. Look for the instruction of Jesus and seek Him with your whole heart and soul and strength. Spend this time as a spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord. Keep your heart fixed on Him so that when He speaks you will hear Him, when He appears you will recognize Him, and you will be prepared in the most perfect way by a heart filled with love to receive the true coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas."

-- From a homily by Fr Robert Altier, ocds (28 November 2004)

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