Tag Archives: Advent

Tired of leftovers? Try this banquet of joy

November 30, 2013

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laughing girl

Photo/Cristiano Betta Licensed under Creative Commons

The end of one Church year and the beginning of another shouldn’t pass without a celebration. A feast even.

I know we’re still finishing up the Thanksgiving leftovers. I’m talking about a feast of joy, not food.

Before we get too far into the new Church year and into the penitential season of Advent, take a few minutes to sample some great verses and quotes about joy. There are no calories and absolutely no guilt!

Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.
–Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Let us therefore both praise and sing; that is, let us praise with cheerfulness and joy.
–St. Augustine

…for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
–Neh. 8:10

Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.
–St. Teresa of Avila

Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When our heart is pure and united to God, we feel within ourselves a joy, a sweetness that inebriates, a light that dazzles us. In this intimate union God and the soul are like two pieces of wax melted together; they cannot be separated. This union of God with His little creature is a most beautiful thing. It is a happiness that we cannot understand. . . God, in His goodness, has permitted us to speak to Him. Our prayer is an incense which He receives with extreme pleasure.
–St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, the Cure of Ars

There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth, and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.
 –G.K. Chesterton

Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again… I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.
–C.S. Lewis

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him Who is of heaven and then of earth. Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope.
–St. Gregory Nanzianzen

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
–John 15:11

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Ready for Christmas? How about for Jesus’ coming this Sunday?

December 17, 2012

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As we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ coming at Christmas, it’s good to remember His coming in every Eucharist. Photo/khrawlings. Licensed under Creative Commons.

As the holiday storm hits me again, I’ve been wondering if I spend more time getting ready for Christmas than I do all year preparing for Jesus’ coming at each Eucharist.

I’m afraid Christmas probably wins.

We know Advent is about preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem on Christmas. And in the pre-Advent readings we’ve reflected on His coming again at the end of time.  But the Church also reminds us that the Lord is coming today and tomorrow and next Sunday at Mass.

Thinking about Jesus the baby born in a stable surrounded by angels or Jesus the king coming on a cloud to save us is more exciting than reflecting on Jesus as we’re most used to seeing Him: in the form of a humble piece of bread.

For “so great and so holy a moment”

The Catechism tells us that in order to respond to Christ’s invitation to the Eucharist “we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment.” (CCC1385)  The Church requires preparation for receiving the Lord and there are a number of other ways we can make ourselves ready both before and during Mass.

The most basic preparation for communion is living the Christian life well. In the early Church, St. Justin wrote about the Eucharist, “… no one may take part in it unless he believes that what we teach is true, has received baptism for the forgiveness of sins and new birth, and lives in keeping with what Christ taught.” (CCC1355)

The sacrament of Reconciliation is necessary preparation for communion for anyone who is conscious of having committed grave or mortal sin. Regular confession is also good preparation in general for the Eucharist because it “strengthens us against temptation and sin and helps us cultivate a life of virtue,” the U.S. Bishops state in their 2006 document, “Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper:” On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist.”

Fasting from food and drink (except water) for one hour before receiving the Eucharist is another requirement. Canon law states that the elderly, the sick and their caregivers do not have to observe this fast.

Preparing every day and right before Communion

The Bishops offer guidelines for preparing for the Eucharist before coming to Mass, as well as right before receiving the sacrament.

In daily life we can prepare by:

  • Reading scripture and spending time in prayer;
  • Being faithful to our state in life; and
  • Seeking forgiveness daily for our sins and going regularly to confession.

When we arrive at Mass we should:

  • Be dressed modestly in respect for the dignity of the liturgy and one another;
  • Spend time in silence and prayerful recollection or read the Mass readings;
  • Participate actively in the liturgy; and
  • Approach “the altar with reverence, love, and awe as part of the Eucharistic procession of the faithful.”

Jesus made the Apostles aware of the “simplicity and solemnity” of the Eucharist when He told them to prepare carefully the “large upper room” for the Last Supper, Bl. John Paul II wrote in an encyclical on the Eucharist.

Preparation is thinking of the Lord and making “fervent acts of faith, hope, love and contrition,” according to EWTN television. It’s also important to approach the sacrament each time as devoutly and fervently as if it were our only communion.

I’m sure Christmas wouldn’t be the same this year if we knew it was our last one. How differently would Jesus’ coming in the Eucharist this Sunday be if we considered it the same way?

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Ever thought of yourself as an angel? Here’s how you could be one

December 16, 2011

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All this Advent spreading of inspiration. What follows is a post that was headlined “Silent Christmas Angels” and shared by Bob Proctor as his “Friday story” on http://www.Insightoftheday.com

 

By Virginia Hay

 

From the emails I have been receiving lately and my own observations out there in the world I would have to say that a lot of people are really going through some difficult times right now.

 

The population is aging and this is impacting those who are growing older, those who are taking care of them, and those who are alone.

 

The other day I witnessed a lady in our building who had just been dropped off by one of those handicapped vans, and even though she was not in a wheelchair herself, I could see that she had serious mobility issues.

She had just returned from visiting her beloved husband and lifelong companion who was now confined to a nursing home. I had seen them out walking together a few years earlier, laughing and holding hands and thoroughly enjoying each others company.

As she slowly made her way to the front of the door, she held the key in her hand ready to open the lock. And then at that precise moment she just leaned in toward the building and started to cry. I could see from the look of anguish on her weary face, that she was trying to summon the courage to enter the building, walk up the stairs, and open her apartment door, just to be alone once again for yet another evening without him.

 

 Should I go comfort her?

 

My heart went out to her. I wanted to rush over and hug her but got the feeling to just honor her presence instead and the precious space she was in. I sensed that she was a very private person and just needed to be alone in that moment. Sometimes the moment can carry us through when we don’t have the strength to carry ourselves.

 

I did hold her in the light in my heart and whispered a quiet prayer that somehow things would get better for her and that she would know that she is deeply loved, even though I am sure she was certainly not feeling that love right then.

 

I think sometimes if we can simply acknowledge each others pain, without trying to fix things, then that may be the greatest gift we can give to another human being. I don’t mean wallow in the pain or focus on it, but to just acknowledge it with deep compassion, would make a huge difference to so many.

 

We are human and pain is part of the journey. If we ever allow ourselves to love anyone or anything for that matter, pain is an integral part of the process because some day we may, probably will, lose that person, place or thing to which we have become attached, either physically, mentally or emotionally. Of course, the price of not loving, of not seeking, of not becoming involved, is a much deeper and emptier pain that strips away at our soul and destroys our spirit.

 

Your spirit will always reach towards the love and your soul will always take the higher road.

 

 Let’s do our angelic part

 

And so I would suggest that this holiday season, we answer our soul’s calling and “take the higher road” by becoming “Silent Christmas Angels” for each other, especially at this difficult time of year for so many. Christmas has a way of surfacing so many emotions and memories, some joyful and some not so joyful.

 

So, as a “Silent Christmas Angel”, be on the look-out as to where you could shine your light on someone else’s darkness. Be constantly aware to where your wings may take you, whether it be in a busy shopping mall, a lonely sidewalk cafe, a homeless shelter, a park bench, a Christmas dinner or party. Be constantly vigil of where you could look beyond the surface to the deeper pain that may be lurking there and attend to it in whatever way and means may lie before you.

 

Pretend you have been given a mission and are part of the “Silent Christmas Angel Invasion” of whatever city you live in or visit and it is your job to keep the home fires burning and heal the hearts and souls of those you encounter along the way.

 

Sounds daunting? Fear not! You have at your command an arsenal of tools with which to do your work.

 

We have all that it takes

A magic wand that you can point and shoot better than any camera will ever do and grant silent wishes to unsuspecting troubled hearts, uplifting them in the twinkling of an eye and restoring peace on earth.

 

A big, beautiful, heart full of love, with light beams that extend from you for miles and miles ahead washing away any sadness that may appear in the distance and replacing it with joy, wonder, belief in the magic, trust in the knowing, that we are all in this together and we are truly loved.

 

Dancing, daring, delightful Angel eyes, that dispense laughter, spread kindness, seek miracles, offer compassion, give thanks and beam these out into all the other eyes that meet yours along the way, eliciting an enchanting smile of knowing and surprised look of tender acknowledgement.

 

And we “Silent Christmas Angels” have the ability to recognize each other. A knowing glance, a curious nod, a gentle, sweet and unsuspecting touch. A sacred salute to a comrade in arms and wings and halos.

 

And so, dear heart, will YOU join me? Will you take your place among us? Will I sense you standing there next to me wherever I may journey?

 

I think I already have and I know that I will, for I feel you here, reading these words, and I already recognize you.

 

Veronica Hay is an inspirational writer. She provides inspirational support and resources to help you live a richer life. Visit her website at:http://www.insightsandinspirations.comor email her at:veronicahay@telus.net


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The story behind the pink Advent candle

December 14, 2011

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As the commercial world is already saturated with red and green, it’s easy to lose sight of the true colors of the season–the Advent season. This week the color pink represents joy. It turns out, the Church has a good reason for putting one pink candle in the Advent wreath.

To discover the story of the pink candle, we first have to look at the origins of the season and the wreath. Until Advent was instituted toward the end of the fifth century, the only season Christians observed was Lent. As preparation for Christmas, the Church established Advent in the spirit of Lent–as a season of reflection and penance.

A wreath of hope

The custom of the Advent wreath originated with pre-Christian Germanic peoples whose evergreen wreaths and fires signified hope in the darkness of December. Christians maintained the tradition and by the 16th century German Catholics and Protestants used the wreath to symbolize hope for Christ’s coming. The practice spread through the Christian world.

By one interpretation, the wreath’s four candles represent the first Advent before Christ’s birth, with each week commemorating 1,000 years from Adam and Eve until the Nativity. Purple candles stand for prayer, penance, and sacrifices and good works done during the Advent season, as we also wait for the Lord’s second coming.

Another view is that the candles in the wreath have specific names which we can reflect on as we light them and pray:  the first is hope, the second peace, the third joy and the fourth love.

The color for joy

A pink candle that signifies joy makes sense since it is lit on Gaudete Sunday–named for the entrance antiphon for that Sunday’s Mass: “Rejoice (gaudete) in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.” The joy is subdued, however,  as the penitential violet of the other weeks lessens to rose as we move closer to Christmas.

As Advent is patterned in part after Lent, Gaudete Sunday is similar to the Lenten Laetare Sunday, which also represents joy and falls at the midpoint of Lent.

And that finally leads to the explanation for the pink candle. In the ancient Church on Laetare Sunday in Lent, the Pope gave  a citizen a pink rose. The tradition has continued, as popes bestowed golden roses on Catholic rulers and now more commonly, on places of devotion.

Following the papal rose custom, bishops and priests began wearing rose-colored vestments on Laetare Sunday. The Church then brought the Lenten practice of rose vestments to Advent on Gaudete Sunday.  As a result, the pink candle gained a place in the Advent wreath.

Although the culture tells us it’s already Christmas, the Church reminds us through the pink candle of Advent that there is an appointed time for everything (Eccl. 3:1). The time now is for rejoicing–because the Lord is coming soon!

 

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Most popular stories of November 2011

December 13, 2011

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Image licensed under Creative Commons license.

Readers were most interested in Advent stories as we prepare for Christmas.

An Advent lesson courtesy of quarterback Tim Tebow 1,575

Gather around the Advent wreath to pray with family and friends 1,323

Pray with family and friends on Gaudete Sunday 696

Fourth Sunday of Advent begins end of waiting 399

Vatican today — December 7, 2011 368

New Roman Missal 267

Isaiah: Old Testament prophet for the Advent season 240

Gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit 187

Civil War chaplaincy counted Father Ireland among its ranks 145

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Advent calendar on the web a daily reminder about faith

December 7, 2011

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Young adult Catholics — and the young at heart, too — know http://www.bustedhalo.com as a website that feeds their spiritual hunger. For Advent the Paulist Fathers-founded site has a feature worth sharing.

It’s an online Advent Calendar with a worthwhile daily message. Today’s — Dec. 7 — includes a quote from actress Audrey Hepburn: “Giving is living. If you stop wanting to give, there’s nothing more to live for.” The very brief page includes what BustedHalo is calling a “microchallenge” — the Dec. 7 one is a prompt to find a charity in one’s neighborhood and make a commitment to volunteer there regularly in the coming new year.

Do yourself a favor and click on Dec. 4 and the photo of Harry Potter. There’s a great quote from the Sorcerer’s Stone and a thoughtful microchallenge.

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It’s starting to look a lot like Advent at the Catholic Spirit

November 29, 2011

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Upon returning to the Catholic Spirit offices from lunch, I was greeted by the handiwork of the Christmas committee.

Nativity scene in our hallway.

Nice decorations! Now we just need to add some gifts beneath it.

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Advent in two minutes

November 28, 2011

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Zechariah and Elizabeth: Late Advent Special Personalities

December 8, 2010

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Zechariah names his newborn son. Photo taken at St. John the Baptist in Savage

Meet The Characters

Zechariah was a priest of the Temple in Jerusalem (Lk 1:5); his wife was Elizabeth (Lk 1:5); he was a righteous and holy man (Lk 1:6); and he was older with no children (Lk 1:7) which was a source of considerable embarrassment in ancient society.  On one occasion he was chosen by lot from among the other priests to offer incense in the Holy of Holies (Lk 1:9), a privilege most priests never experienced in their lifetime.  While he was in the sanctuary he was blessed by the appearance of an angel (Lk 1:11) which is a rarity in the gospels.  The only others to receive angelic appearances were Mary (Lk 1:26-38); Joseph (Mt 1:20; 2:13,19); the shepherds (Lk 2:9-15); Jesus (Mt 4:11; Mk 1:13; Lk 22:43); and Mary Magdalene and the other women (Mt 28:2; Lk 24:4; Jn 20:12). The angel announced that he would be the father of John the Baptist (Lk 1:13-17), but he was so concerned with his limitations, namely his age, that he doubted that God’s promise could come true (Lk 1:18).  In spite of years of faithful service, God penalized Zechariah for his mistake by striking him speechless throughout Elizabeth’s pregnancy (Lk 1:20).  To Zechariah’s credit, he obeyed God, had relations with his wife, and she conceived.  When it came time to name the child, he followed the angel’s instructions (Lk 1:13) and insisted that the baby’s name would be John (Lk 1:63), not his own name.  He is remembered for offering one of the most beautiful praise prayers in all of Scripture, Zechariah’s Canticle (Lk 1:68-79).

Elizabeth was the wife of Zechariah.   She and her husband belonged to the priestly class (Lk 1:5).  She was righteous and holy (Lk 1:6) and filled with the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:41).  She reached old age without bearing a child (Lk 1:7), but then conceived a son (Lk 1:24), went into a five-month period of seclusion (Lk 1:24), and then gave birth to John the Baptist (Lk 1:57).  Elizabeth was the first person in the gospel to call Jesus “Lord” (Lk 1:43).  Elizabeth was Mary’s relative (Lk 1:36), but it is not known whether she was an aunt, cousin, or some other relation.


Biblical Characters that help us prepare for Christmas. Zechariah and Elizabeth are two key figures in the first chapter of Luke’s Infancy Narrative (Lk 1:5-2:52), and they play prominent roles in the gospel readings for the weekday Masses immediately before Christmas.  The gospel for December 19 is the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist by Gabriel to Zechariah (Lk 1:5-25), December 21 is Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-45), December 23 is the birth of the Baptist (Lk 1:57-66), and December 24 is Zechariah’s Canticle (Lk 1:67-79).  The Visitation is also the gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in Year C.


Two Annunciations, two very different responses.
The archangel Gabriel announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and the birth of Jesus to Mary.  Both asked, “How can this be?”, but the mindset behind their questions was different.  Zechariah did not believe Gabriel’s words and objected that he was an old man and that his wife was advanced in years (Lk 1:18,20), while Mary trusted, despite her confusion, and replied, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).  The stories of these two responses are placed side-by-side to compare the depth of faith and the quality of response to a divine proclamation.  Zechariah doubted and resisted.  Mary trusted and agreed.  God was pleased with Mary’s faith, but Zechariah was struck speechless.

Pause to examine. Luke often presents pairs of characters such as Mary and Martha or the repentant criminal and the abusive criminal, and he does so to get us thinking.  Which character am I more like?  Which one should I be like?  Zechariah and Mary present us with an opportunity to examine ourselves.  Do I doubt?  Do I resist God and God’s plan?  Or, Am I steadfast in faith?  Am I open and eager to do God’s will?

Two Conceptions, two very different miracles. Elizabeth was old and barren, Mary was young and fertile.  It is an incredible miracle for someone beyond their child-bearing years to conceive by natural means, but it is an even greater miracle for a virgin to conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The stories of the two conceptions are told side-by-side as a study in contrast intended to show their relative importance.  Elizabeth’s conception was absolutely remarkable, but Mary’s conception was the greatest of all.

Pause to ponder. The conceptions and births of Jesus and John the Baptist were miracles.  Both are mysteries and matters of faith.  It is beneficial to take time and meditate on the miraculous nature of these events.  Our prayer will lead us to a deeper appreciation of these awesome mysteries and move us to a more profound spiritual celebration of Christmas.

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St. John the Baptist prepares our way for Christmas

December 1, 2010

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St. John the Baptist is depicted with an ax at the root of the tree in St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in Duluth.

The Baptist’s featured role in Advent. St. John the Baptist plays a prominent role in the Scripture readings during the Advent season as the church prepares for the celebration of Christmas. He is not mentioned on the first and fourth Sundays of Advent, but he is a major figure on the second and third. While Jesus is always the main focus of the Gospel, during the middle of Advent, St. John the Baptist serves as the main supporting character.

Christ has come, Christ is here, Christ will come again. During Advent, the church reflects on the triple comings of Jesus: his original coming on the first Christmas, his coming today and his final coming either at the end of our lives or at the second coming. John the Baptist is the one who announced his coming. God said, “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me. Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 3:1, 23). Jesus explained that Elijah had come in the form of John the Baptist (Matthew 17:12-13). The Baptist is the precursor, the forerunner, the one who goes ahead, the herald’s voice.

A prophet like no other. John the Baptist is the intertestamental prophet, the prophet who bridges the Old and New Testaments. There are many great prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, prophets like Elijah and Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, but Jesus said, “There has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). The Baptist is the greatest of the prophets for a reason. The prophets of long ago did remote preparation; the Baptist did immediate preparation. The earlier prophets announced that the Messiah was coming; the Baptist announced that the Messiah was here. When Jesus did appear, the Baptist pointed to him and identified him as such, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36).

A prophetic appearance. John the Baptist had a striking appearance. He wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist (Matthew 3:4). His unusual garb links him directly to Elijah, the only Old Testament prophet to dress in this way (2 Kings 1:8).

A prophetic message. The theme of the Baptist’s preaching was, “Reform your lives!” He challenged his  listeners to straighten out the crooked parts of their  lives, to tear down the mountains of their evil doing, and to fill in the valleys of their shortcomings. He warned them: “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees” (Matthew 3:10), a powerful metaphor in which the tree represents the unproductive sinner and the ax represents impending judgment. Now is the time to produce good works. Act swiftly to avoid being cut down and thrown into the fire. The Baptist urged the people to confess their sins and receive a baptism of repentance. The way to prepare for the coming of the Lord is to stop sinning and live a more virtuous life.

A prophetic attitude. The Baptist avoided a great temptation. The voice of prophecy in Israel had been silent for hundreds of years, and the people went in droves out to the desert to hear him. With such a surge in popularity, he could have reveled in all of the attention, but he resisted the natural inclination to let the focus be on him. The Baptist humbly redirected the peoples’ attention from himself to Jesus:  “The one who is coming after me is mightier than I” (Matthew 3:11); “I am not fit to loosen his sandal strap” (Luke 3:16); “I am not the Messiah” (John 1:20); and “He [Jesus] must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

A message ever-old and ever-new. The Baptist’s prophetic message is applicable to our spiritual preparation for Christmas. Advent is a time to prepare the way of the Lord, to clear away every obstacle that would prevent Jesus from coming to us, so that when Jesus comes to us today and on Christmas, he will have unimpeded access to our hearts. The Baptist wanted his listeners to renounce sin, be washed of their past impurities, and be in the state of grace when Jesus appeared. Likewise, if we wish to be well-prepared for the solemn feast of Christmas, we would be wise to renounce our own sins, to confess them in the sacrament of reconciliation, to be washed of our impurities through sacramental absolution, to do good works, and to be in the state of grace when Jesus comes today, on Christmas and our last day. Let us humbly keep Jesus as the main focus of Advent, Christmas and every day of our lives.

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