Advent – A Season of Hope

Advent is a time of waiting and expectation; a season of quiet anticipation and preparation. We are waiting for our Lord to come into the world as the baby Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem.

We are also preparing for His return, His second coming as the shepherd-king, to restore harmony and right relationship to all creation. Advent is a season yearning for God to come and set the world right with perfect justice, truth and peace.

It is a season of hope. Advent is a time to emphasize preparation through prayer. While Lent emphasizes a spirit of repentance through prayer and fasting, Advent’s prayers are prayers of humble devotion and commitment, prayers for deliverance, prayers of gladness and joyful expectation, prayers that await the light of Christ coming into the world.

We do not shrink from those Advent scripture readings that reveal a strong prophetic tone of accountability and judgment. Christ’s disciples expect the Lord to hold them accountable for what has been entrusted to them just as a spouse, parent, teacher or supervisor holds us accountable.

And just as the steward was found faithful in small matters by the master, we too are confident that we will be found faithful and will enter the joy of the Master. We have absolute trust in the Lord’s countenance. Assuredly, during Advent we anticipate the Lord’s coming with hope. It is that hope, however faint at times, that keeps us from despair and the darkness of sin and its destructiveness.

It is a hope that urges us to be kind, loving and compassionate toward one another. It is a hope that encourages our faith in a merciful God who continues to pour His grace upon us. We don’t know when Christ will come again to bring human history to its completion. But we celebrate with gladness the great promise of Advent and we rekindle that positive, joyful spirit within us because we know, as Zechariah prophesied, that the light of Christ will shine on all who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, and He will guide our feet into the way of peace.

BE A GOOD STEWARD OF THANKSGIVING DAY

Your Thanksgiving Day can be more than just enjoying a great meal and turning on the television to search for the traditional parades and football games. How about expressing your stewardship of this day in a more meaningful way?

Here are some suggestions for making Thanksgiving an opportunity for expressing our gratitude to the Lord in creative ways:

Go to Mass and count your blessings. Start the day off on a positive note and celebrate the Eucharist. In your prayer reflect on five things for which you are most grateful in your life. Then reflect on how you can be an even better steward of these gifts.

Write “I’m thankful for you” cards and give them out or e-mail them on Thanksgiving (or mail them beforehand).

Share your Thanksgiving meal with someone who is alone this Thanksgiving. Come to our parish Family Meal being hosted in the Star of the Sea Center from 10-12 on Thanksgiving Day (after the 9 a.m. Mass of Thanksgiving).  Or look for someone, such as a neighbor, co-worker, fellow parishioner, college student or armed services personnel who may be separated from family and ask them to join in your Thanksgiving dinner.

Volunteer your time to help serve Thanksgiving dinners to those attending our parish Family Meal.

Practice ecumenism! Many parishes make Thanksgiving an opportune time to join in ecumenical services with other Christian worshipping communities, or inter-faith activities and programs with non-Christian centers of worship. Find one nearby and experience something new and enriching.

Visit the sick. Check with hospitals, assisted living facilities or nursing homes in the area to see if there are volunteer opportunities to visit with patients or residents on that day.

Help someone if you can. Extend your generosity and blessings beyond your own family. Be part of an adopt-a-family effort, help distribute food baskets, or bring canned foods or clothing to St. Vincent de Paul centers.

Take a walk. Find a place to enjoy God’s gift of creation. Head out the door for a refreshing walk. Invite family, friends or others to share the experience too.

Most important! Take advantage of the Thanksgiving holidays to focus on what you’re grateful for and the things you appreciate about yourself and others. It is an ideal time to remember and to celebrate the many blessings in our lives.

STEWARDSHIP SAINT FOR NOVEMBER

Saint Albert the Great was a 13th-century German Dominican priest, considered one of the most extraordinary men of his age alongside Peter Lombard, Roger Bacon and Saint Thomas Aquinas.

His stewardship of the intellectual life, his students and our life of faith is profound. Born in 1200, near Ulm, Albert was the eldest son of a powerful and wealthy German family. He was educated in the liberal arts at the University of Padua, Italy, and against his family’s wishes, joined the Dominican Order in 1223. He earned his doctorate at the University of Paris and taught theology with much success in a number of medieval German universities, including Cologne. For a time Albert was the pope’s personal theologian, and in 1260 was appointed bishop of Regensburg, Germany, against his will. He remained for only three years before returning his time and energy to teaching and writing in Cologne.

He enhanced his reputation for humility by refusing to ride horses. Instead, he walked back and forth across his huge diocese, keeping with the rules of the Dominican order. Albert’s influence on scholars is substantial.

His fame is due in part to being the forerunner, spiritual guide and teacher of Saint Thomas Aquinas. But he also composed an encyclopedia containing treatises on almost every branch of learning known at the time. His work fills thirty-eight volumes and covers subjects ranging from astronomy and chemistry to geography and philosophy. His knowledge of science was considerable, and for the age remarkably accurate. He also displayed an insight into nature and a knowledge of theology that surprised his contemporaries, who named him “Magnus” (“the Great”) to recognize his genius. Albert even inspired a mystical school of theology among fellow Dominicans such as Meister Eckhart.

Albert participated in the Second Council of Lyons, France, in 1274, the fourteenth of the Catholic Church’s 21 great councils (Vatican II was the twentyfirst). On his way to the council, he was shocked to learn of Aquinas’ death at age 49, and he publicly defended his former student against attacks on the Catholicity of his writings.

After suffering from what is now thought to be Alzheimer’s disease, Albert died in Cologne on November 15, 1280. He was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931, one of only 33 individuals bestowed that honor. His tomb is in the crypt of the Dominican church in Cologne, and his relics are in the Cologne Cathedral. His feast day is November 15.

KEEP YOUR FAITH

Through the generosity of our pastor, I was able to fly to Nashville this past weekend and attend the International Catholic Stewardship Conference.   I spoke with many of the vendors (who I have come to know over the years) and they each shared their relief and amazement at how many stewards were at the conference and how uplifting and hopeful the mood was.   They had been concerned because of the recent crisis in the Catholic Church and how it has impacted the hearts of the faithful.

What I witnessed at the conference was a counter-narrative to the shame, embarrassment, outrage, and disappointment of our current Church.  What I saw was a fortified hope.  I encountered faithful men and women who were saying that nothing could take away their faith.  They would not succumb to shunning Jesus because of Judas.  I saw these faith-filled stewards link arms and charge into battle, ready to defend their faith.

I know that it is easy to be disheartened by what we’ve seen in the past and what is hitting the news as we speak.  I know that the easiest response is to turn away from what pains us.  I know that attendance is down in Catholic churches all across the nation.  I know that this is the time when attendance should be up.  We need to be down on our knees asking God to heal those who were injured, asking God to heal those who made bad choices, and asking God to give us the fortitude to stand up for our Catholic faith and heritage.

An old adage warning a person not to “throw out the baby with the bathwater” sounds silly but I think it makes a point.   We need to sort through what we know, believe that God will guide those trying to make sense of all this, and pray for the strength and wisdom to carry on.

NOVEMBER: A MONTH TO FOCUS ON GRATITUDE

November brings Santa Ana winds, raking leaves, mid-term exams, plenty of football, and the beginning of our Christmas plans. But for those in the U.S., November’s highlight is that great national holiday, Thanksgiving. It’s wonderful to have a day to call attention to the need for gratitude, but this holiday also reminds the Christian steward that every day should include thanksgiving because gratitude is essential to discipleship.

Feeling a deep appreciation for the giftedness of our lives can’t be confined to one holiday when we spend a few minutes around a laden table remembering our many blessings. Neither can gratitude become a rote response.

Gratitude is good for our spiritual lives in so many ways. It reminds us of our neediness before the Lord, without whom we have nothing. The mere daily act of focusing on our blessings makes us more mindful, more present to God’s mystery and gifts, and more aware of the needs of others around us.

Gratitude is best achieved by daily, focused attention. So perhaps a good exercise for November would be to write down, each day, some things for which we are truly grateful. Your list will no doubt include people – a teacher who inspired you, a coach who believed in you, an aunt who made you feel special, an employer who mentored you. Your notes might include simple things – the aroma of freshly ground coffee, a lunch invitation that brightened your day, a phone call that brought a smile. Focus on things you sometimes take for granted – the warm home in which you live, the sunshine that peeked through a cloudy day, the faithful presence of your spouse.

And during this month of thanks, remember to give thanks to the risen Lord: Let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:15-17).