By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
The first Sunday of Advent marked the beginning of a new Church year and a focused time of preparation for the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Spiritually, Advent suffuses every Eucharist at which Catholics gather.
During the communion rite following the Our Father at each Mass the celebrant offers an intercessory prayer on behalf of all in preparation for Holy Communion with the Lord. “Deliver us, Lord, we pray from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We pray in joyful hope that the Lord will come again, and real soon.
As the season progresses we naturally turn our hearts and minds toward his first coming in the Incarnation. Typically, four weeks in duration, this year we are on the fast track in Advent because the season is only three weeks and four hours long. The fourth Sunday of Advent is celebrated in the morning and Christmas Eve begins later in the afternoon.
(The obligation for Mass on the fourth Sunday of Advent can be satisfied on Saturday evening or Sunday morning. The Christmas Mass obligation can be fulfilled on Sunday afternoon, Christmas Eve, or on Monday, Christmas Day. There is no dispensation for a two-for-one.)
Like a small craft going down stream on the Mississippi River, Advent is propelled headlong in the Christmas current, so the Yule Tide, so to speak. In this sense, Advent reminds us how challenging it is to find time and space to be in the presence of the living God in order to cultivate and reap the blessings of God’s promises. The Blessed Mother is a lamp for our feet as we walk through Advent; she is the gold standard for us as we yearn to bring Christ to light in our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit.
She was at the center of the Anawim, the poor ones in Israel who remained faithful to God in all circumstances, the ones whom God preserved. To receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through faith, prayer is to give flesh to the body of Jesus Christ. She teaches us the depth of piety that is possible during Advent, how to treasure all these things in our hearts, how to hope in God, how to turn the other in loving service, and how to offer hospitality to those searching for her Son and the Gospel way of life.
What is the awe and wonder of this season that raise our hopes and dreams to another level for ourselves, loved ones, and for the entire world? May it be the echo of the Gospel in our hearts and minds, our faith-filled vision for the world that all are God’s children, and that our lives are a gift because we are made in the image and likeness of God.
It is true as Saint Paul says, that all creation is indeed in agony, and we ourselves groan even though we have the first fruits of the Holy Spirit. Groaning or not, the Holy Spirit leads us away from fear and slavery to sin, to freedom as the children of God.
The following quote is from Bishop Donal Murray in his recent book, In a Landscape Redrawn, and it presents an Advent commitment to our world. “Everything that exists is a gift of the Creator. This is the core of the most profound answer, who are we? Christians do not see the gift as irrelevant to those who do not have faith. Each person is the result of the same creative and loving gift. Christians express their belief, not with any sense of superiority, but rather in the hope that this high vision of human dignity may find an echo in the hearts of all human beings. The Church knows that the Gospel of Life which she has received from her Lord has a profound echo in the heart of every person, believers and non believers alike, because it marvelously fulfills all the hearts expectations while infinitely surpassing them.”
As we hear the echo of the Lord’s call in our own lives during this season of Grace, may our hopes and dreams for this world, rooted in the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, be in harmony with God’s vision for a world of justice and peace until the Lord comes again. Maranatha!
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz