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First Sunday of Advent

St. John, Severna Park / St. Bernardine of Siena, Baltimore

I. Introduction
Dear friends in Christ: Welcome to Advent!

Today not only begins a new season of grace in the Church, a time of preparation and expectation for Christmas, but it actually begins a new year in the life of the Church too: the Year of Grace 2013. So Happy New Year! Also, we are in the first weeks of the Year of Faith, called by our Holy Father, to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

So let’s begin this Advent together by asking ourselves two simple questions: What does Advent mean in the context of the Year of Faith? And what does this have to do with my life – with my day-to-day existence, with my thoughts, my choices, my priorities?

II. Full of Trust in Christ
Well let’s start here. Advent is the time the Church sets before us each year to prepare ourselves inwardly for the coming of Christ at Christmas – to welcome the Child in the manger ever more deeply into our minds and hearts. A good goal, you might be thinking, but how can it happen in my life?

We might do well to turn to the Pope who convoked the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII or “Good Pope John” as he’s sometimes called. A man of radiant goodness and joy, he was beloved by the whole world. And on the night of the first day of Vatican II, Pope John appeared at the window of his study overlooking St Peter’s square. It was a clear, crisp evening. St. Peter’s Square was filled with people holding lighted candles. Up in the sky was a bright, beautiful, full moon, bathing the square with light.

He gave an unforgettable address that night, which he concluded with these words: “When you head home, find your children. Hug and kiss your children and tell them: 'This is the hug and kiss of the Pope.' And when you find them with tears to dry, give them a good word. Give anyone who suffers a word of comfort. Tell them ‘The Pope is with us especially in our times of sadness and bitterness.’ And then, all together, may we always come alive – whether to sing, to breathe, or to cry, but always full of trust in Christ, who helps us and hears us, let us continue along our path.”

III. The Best Way to Live Advent
This, then, is the very best way to begin Advent: “full of trust in Christ.” The goodness and kindness which overflowed from the words of Pope John are but a dim reflection of the goodness and kindness which the Child of Bethlehem comes to brings us.

And yet, the when the Word become flesh, he did not come into a perfect world – He came to be one of us precisely because of the imperfection, precisely because of the darkness and sin and vice which is found in the world. Jesus came to set us free, and to give us authentic life: “I have come that they might have life,” Christ says, “and have it to the full.” Or, as Blessed John Paul II once put it, “To receive Jesus Christ means… believing that in the history of humanity; even though it is marked by suffering and darkness, the final word belongs to life, and to love, because God came to dwell among us, so we might dwell in Him.”

This authentic life is something we all want for ourselves, and for the people we love. Advent is the perfect time to re-focus on that, particularly in a day when living our faith is becoming increasingly difficult, when the prevailing culture would seek to dismiss and marginalize us, and when the whole world seems to have gone crazy. All of this can wear us down, and we can become unwittingly distanced from the goal of our lives, namely, growing in holiness and attaining to eternal salvation. How clearly the words of Our Lord resonate within us, when he says so bracingly in the Gospel today, "Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man."

IV. Obedientia et Pax
Where to begin? How can we respond to that? Let’s go back to Blessed Pope John XXIII. His motto as a Bishop and as Pope was, as he was, both simple and profound: Obedientia et pax. Obedience and peace. There is a link between them.

The Faith of the Church was given by Christ to the Apostles and handed down in its integrity through every generation. During this Year of faith, we need to rediscover its beauty and transforming power as something worthy of our acceptance, as worthy of all our love. The Catholic Faith is not an arbitrary set of tenets which has developed over the years, from which we are free to pick and choose. Christ himself “has the words of eternal life.” And he has entrusted these words to His Church, until the end of time. As Saint Ambrose of Milan reminds us, “All that is visible in the life of Christ has passed over into the sacraments of the Church.”

So it is through hearing Christ as he comes to us through His Church, and receiving him, in the communion of the Church, that we are able to grow in friendship with Him; then it is that our wills become more closely conformed to His. And in this way he gives us his peace.

Pope Benedict puts it so beautifully. He says, “Friendship is not just about knowing someone, it is above all a communion of the will. It means that my will grows into ever greater conformity with his will. For [God’s] will is not something external and foreign to me, something to which I more or less willingly submit or else refuse to submit. No, in friendship, my will grows together with his will, and his will becomes mine: this is how I become truly myself.”

So let this Advent be a time for all of us to rediscover the beauty of the Faith, to rediscover the love and the kindness and the tenderness of God, to grow in our friendship with the living person of Jesus Christ. And the formula for this is simple:

  1. Making extra time for prayer each day.
  2. Making the decision to pray well when we come to Mass.
  3. And making a good, thorough, unburdening confession sometime this Advent.

V. Conclusion
Finally, as we begin this season of Advent together, let’s let Saint Augustine put everything in perspective for us, remembering that this world will never fully satisfy us, because we were created for eternity. Getting us safely to our true home is why the Church exists. So, in words that echo down through the centuries, St. Augustine writes,

“I implore you to love with me
and, by believing, to run with me.
Let us long for our heavenly country.
Let us sigh for our heavenly home.
Let us truly feel that here, we are strangers.”

And in this way, as never before, let us open our hearts and our minds in love and friendship this Advent to the One who came from heaven to earth, that he might take us from earth to heaven.

May God bless us and keep us in His love!