Monday, April 11, 2011

1st Sunday of Advent

One of the main points I try to make when I talk to people in the RCIA program, which are preparing to join the Church in Easter, is that being a Catholic is not something you do but something you become. To join the Church is much more than just following a bunch of rituals and rules. It is embracing a new identity, a new way of looking at the world, at ourselves and our relationship with the creator.
I bring this today, being the first Sunday of Advent, because I think that the few weeks before Xmas day is a period in which every faithful Catholic struggles with the dilemma of keeping this identity while living in an environment saturated by what is universally known as “The Spirit of the Season”.
30 years ago (and I’m dating myself) It used to be that the beginning of this season coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the Catholic season of Advent. However, since them our society has been subjected to a process of what I call “The de-Christianization of Christmas”, a process in which we are openly encouraged to embrace the “Spirit of the Holydays” while making make sure that we keep the celebration of Jesus Christ and His birth a private, and personal matter.
It is sad to say that in some ways this process has been so effective that in this day and age, you can spend the whole Christmas season immersed in the “Spirit of the Holydays” without encountering once our Lord Jesus, the Virgin birth, the shepherds, the wise men or the star of Bethlehem.
Of course the removal of the Christian element has created a huge vacuum in our culture, a vacuum which has been filled by a completely new and sometimes strange mythology around the celebration of Christmas. To the point that, as a culture, we have replaced what is real with what is fake, made up, and only encourages us to think about ourselves and our own personal needs.
Let me show you what I mean, like I mentioned before, it used to be that the beginning of Advent corresponded almost exactly with the beginning of the Christmas season. Today the official start of Christmas is sometime between Halloween and Back Friday, mostly dictated by when stores like Walmart or JC Penny’s fill their shelves with Christmas ornaments. Since it is not socially acceptable to refer to anything which deals with the birth of our Lord, our culture’s has developed the idea of “The Holydays”, which has produced such wonderful Xmas moments as early morning stampedes on the day after Thanksgiving to real Xmas classics such as “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” and “All I want for Xmass is my two front teeth”.
My brothers and sisters I’m not trying to be scrooge here, but to point out the fact that in this day and age, if we Catholics embrace the “Christmas Season” we are constantly exposed to, we will be abandoning our identity as followers of Jesus, as people who wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior.
Now do not think for a second that our Lord Jesus did not know this was going to be the case. In today’s Gospel He reminds us of the times of Noah, A time in which people eat and drank and celebrated without giving God a second though while Noah and his family worked laboriously preparing themselves to the coming judgment. The Lord reminds us that we, his people, also need to be constantly ready, joyfully expecting his return.
The 4 weeks before Christmas day, the season of Advent, should be days of intense spiritual preparation, in personal recognition for what should be one of the holiest times of the year, the anniversary of the incarnation of the son of God, Emanuel, God in the flesh which foretells His glorious return at the end of time.
Like I said before, I’m not saying that we should play the scrooge during this time of the year as a way of avoiding the “The Spirit of the Season”. On the contrary, we should embrace our Catholic identity, and bring this identity into our homes and out in the public square, because after all, Christmas is OUR celebration. Without Christianity, without the Church, without Jesus there would be no Christmas.
And to do this my brothers and sisters what I’m talking about is for us to return to the basics. I invite you, during this time; make the birth of Jesus the center of your own life and you family’s. Get a Christmas wreath and light the candles every night during dinner. Place a nativity set in a place of honor in your house and every day you or your kids, move Mary and Joseph around your home to remind you of their long journey to Bethlehem, read the nativity story or the story of St Nicholas Bishop of Myra, who will secretly throw money through the windows of the poor, and miraculously land inside the stockings hanging by the fire to dry. Or what about this, make a point to instead of using generic “Season Greetings” cards, use Cards which have a Christ centered message.
There are so many ways in which we can embrace our Catholic identity during this time, ways in which we can show the world who we are and what does it means to wait and hope for the salvation promised by the prophets. The things we do during this time of expectant preparation might be rejected by our culture but at the end of the day these things have an infinitely more spiritual richness than anything the “Spirit of the season” has to offer to us.
I hope that these words today encourage you to embrace your identity as a follower of Jesus and pray that this is truly a time of multiple spiritual blessings for you and your family. And from me and my family have a blessed and Happy Advent!