Blessed Advent! I hope that this year, Advent will be a time of renewal in faith. Even as we have now closed the Year of Faith, I am impressed with the need to continue the call to deepen our own Catholic Faith within our own church communities and beyond. There are many things that can become obstacles to living our faith, some of which I would like to address here.
Advent and Christmastime have been overrun with a commercialism that can really distract us from what it is all about. On may way back from a visit to the hospital, I was delighted to see the Knights of Columbus billboard which read, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Amen to that! It is not that we can’t enjoy some of the secular festivities that also surround us at this time, but the Incarnation of Christ is truly the reason for this season. During this time, the college football bowl season begins. There is nothing wrong with enjoying such entertainment. We simply need to make sure that it doesn’t become our focus or a distraction from our Christian preparation that is Advent. Personally, I enjoy watching football, but must be clear that it is just a game and not let the outcome of such events determine my mood. In fact, the best part of these games are when displays of faith are made and good sportsmanship is present. Yes, I hope for the Beavers, the Ducks, and other favorite teams, but let us set about being Christians first, especially when with our friends enjoying these forms of entertainment.
Often during this season as well as around Lent and Easter, various TV programs air which presuppose doubt about the things of the faith. Just this past week, Pope Francis called for the public display of the bones of St Peter to be made available for the first time ever. Initial digs below the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in the 1930’s revealed various human and animal remains. There was some evidence of the presence of St. Peter’s bones, but it was not clear at that time. However, when further archeological research was done in the 1940’s and 50’s, it came to light that some skeletal remains were transferred in the initial dig and were then being re-examined. The studies that followed led Pope Paul VI to declare that they had truly found St. Peter’s earthly remains. This discovery was highlighted in the March 17th, 1950 edition of Life Magazine. This amazing discovery was held with high esteem among many scholars at the time and since then. However, with the recent event of Pope Francis’ exposition of these relics, the reports I saw and heard mostly revolved around their dubious identity. It is amazing how far we have come in our culture to become so skeptical. It just reminds me of how we need to be careful of how the mainstream media reports issues of our Catholic Faith. Personally, I have found their ability to accurately report on the things of the Church to be sketchy at best. So, be ever mindful of this assumption of skepticism that so often permeates our culture surrounding issues of faith, especially during this season.
In the coming days, we have the distinct opportunity to give praise to God for the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary on four different occasions: the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 9th this year), Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec.12), the granddaddy of them all, Christmas itself, and finally, the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God (Jan. 1). A non-Catholic visitor may critique us for giving Mary so much attention and even distraction and misdirection in our faith. So, it is very important that we all understand that while these celebrations bring an opportunity to venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary for all the roles she has played in salvation history, she is, ultimately not our focus. Yes, Mary is the pre-eminent member of the Church and model for us all. Prayer to her and her mediating support has brought about miracles. However, she is not an end unto herself, nor is she competitive with Christ. Rather, all these festivals involving our Blessed Mother are meant to focus us on the things that are critical. Mary, herself, does not desire misdirected attention to be given to her, but rather through the celebration of these mysteries, we offer greater praise to God.
In a way of speaking, all Marian feasts are essentially christological feasts, meaning they are ultimately about Jesus Christ. And we all know that all christological reflections draw us to the Father and the mystery of the Trinity. We seek out Christ through the aid of our Blessed Mother Mary, the model of the Church. Sometimes, this is offered as, “To Jesus through Mary.” Mary is the most pure and blessed “pointer,” if you will, to her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. So, be fervent in your prayers. When offering a Rosary, we know that Mary desires that we imitate her example of focus on her Son. When participating in these liturgical feasts give praise to God, thank Mary for her “yes” to God’s plans, and give God all the glory. And when someone challenges you about all this focus on Mary, be prepared to give a clear christological reason for Mary’s presence in our prayers.
Advent, as a preparation time for Christmas, is a perfect time to re- move the obstacles of sin in our lives. This month, we have many opportunities to receive this Sacrament. At St. Patrick of the Forest we will be offering a communal reconciliation service on Monday, the 16th, followed the next day at St. Anne’s on Tuesday, the 17th. Both are at 7 PM. We will continue to offer the Sacrament on Saturdays between 4 PM and 5 PM. We will also offer a special time for those who cannot get out when it is dark on the Wednesday, the 11th, from 9:30 AM to 11:30 AM. Our sins are the biggest and most dangerous obstacles to faith. I urge you to make a concerted effort to come and celebrate God’s forgiveness in your life. With our hearts cleansed of sin, we will be more open to the awesome power of God in our lives. This can be the most dramatic form of preparation you can do next to Mass itself.
Finally, know that I hold you all in my prayers during this time of Advent. I pray that these feasts will help you to prepare your hearts for the Light of the World. Put up your lights, creche scenes, swags, stockings, Christmas tree, and the like. Make all these things remind you that the darkness has not overcome the light, that Jesus has con- quered sin and death, that Mary is a great advocate in our faith jour- ney, and that Advent is a wonderful time to, once again, make room for God to dwell in our hearts even more than before.
Fr. William Holtzinger