Fourth Sunday of Advent [12/24/17]
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today we celebrate the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. It is truly amazing how quickly this season comes and goes. Depending upon what day of the week Christmas falls, we either have a whole week to wait until Christmas, or like this year, Christmas is tomorrow. However long we must wait, this Sunday provides us with an important mystery of our Faith and should not be overlooked.
In the gospel, we hear of the mystery of the Annunciation in which the Angel Gabriel comes to Mary and informs her that she will become the Mother of God. “You will bear in your womb a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus.” From this mystery of our Faith, we can grasp the power of our Christmas joy and celebrate the Nativity of the Lord in proper perspective.
God had planned to come among us and save us by being born into our world. Although He could have saved us through any means, He had chosen this as the most perfect. As Saint John states in the gospel, “and the Word became Flesh, and dwelt among us.” Only through the mystery of the Incarnation does the rest of our faith in what Jesus has done make any real sense. Many people in the past have tried to explain the Catholic faith by assessing that Jesus was only God or only man. Every time that has been attempted, it has ended in absolute failure. The truth, of Who Jesus is, remains in accepting that He is fully God and fully man. He is one person, a divine person, with two natures, both human and divine. This we call in theology the Hypostatic Union.
The Hypostatic Union is the reason why the preaching of Jesus is so significant. It is because He is the Word made Flesh Who is fully God. Likewise, the reason His tears and groaning are of such importance is because He is fully man. Ultimately, the reason His suffering, death and resurrection makes any sense is because He is both.
As you can see, the whole edifice of the Christian faith rests upon the foundation of the person of Jesus Christ Who is God and Man. Therefore, before we celebrate the Nativity of Jesus, let us meditate for this brief time today on the Annunciation, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Fiat of the Blessed Virgin coordinated to bring Jesus into the world.
Third Sunday of Advent [12/17/17]
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday or Rejoice Sunday. The priests of the Church don the rose colored vestments that give us a momentary respite from the rigor of the season. You have heard me over the past two weeks speak to you about the nature of the season of Advent. Advent, much like Lent, is a season of preparation and spiritual renewal. It affords us the time to reflect upon our lives and prepare ourselves with increased prayer and devotion for the coming celebration of Christmas. This includes examining our consciences and seeking to make a good confession.
Because these purple seasons can be taxing, Holy Mother the Church has included within them a Sunday in which we pause to reflect upon where we have come and what more needs to be done; a resting point as it were. Gaudete and Laetare Sundays roughly mark the mid-way point of the [two] seasons. After today, the season shifts toward a greater focus on the feast of Christmas rather than the generic focus on the manifestation of the Lord that permeates the first part of Advent.
Gaudete Sunday also serves as a reminder to the faithful that Christmas is soon upon us and that the time to ready ourselves in running out. If you haven't gone to the Sacrament of Confession thus far, please try to make a concerted effort in the week ahead. The best way to prepare for any major celebration in the Church is to go to confession. As you know, the Sacrament of Confession has a two-fold nature and purpose. Of course, everyone knows that Confession is for the forgiveness of sins, which we all have committed. It is also for an increase in sanctifying grace. Every sacrament brings us closer to Christ.
The Church makes every effort to provide Confession during these holy seasons. Please examine the times and places below where confessions will be offered. I beg you to make a promise to God and yourself that you will go and avail yourself to this gift that comes to us from the hands of Christ; the gift of mercy.
The churches in the area will provide the Sacrament of Confession with a number of priests in attendance. You will not have to wait in long lines and you will have the priest of your choice. The remaining Confession Schedule for our area is as follows:
- Sunday, December 17, 2017 at 7:00PM - St. Cecilia, Rochester
- Monday, December 18, 2017 at 7:00PM - St. Frances Cabrini, Center
- Monday, December 18, 2017 at 7:00PM - Holy Family, New Brighton
- Wednesday, December 20, 2017 at 7:00PM - Our Lady of Fatima, Hopewell
- Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 7:00PM - Sts. Peter and Paul, Beaver
- Saturday, December 23, 2017 at 10:00AM - St. Titus, Aliquippa
In addition to these special times of the seasonal confessions where multiple priests are available, the Sacrament of Confession is offered regularly here at St. John the Baptist Church, Monaca on Saturdays from 12noon to 1:00PM and on Thursday evenings from 6:00PM to 6:45PM.
Second Sunday of Advent [12/10/17]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As we celebrate the Second Sunday of Advent we are presented with the figure of Saint John the Baptist, our patron. There is perhaps no other individual, aside from our Lord Jesus Christ, who better represents this holy and privileged season. It was to St. John the Baptist to 'prepare the way of the Lord and make straight His paths'. To be, as it were, that voice crying out in the desert as foretold by the prophet Isaiah. What is perhaps most amazing is the proclamation that St. John the Baptist makes when Jesus finally arrives to be baptized in the Jordan. Recall, that the Baptist cried out, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!" I believe this was the announcement for which St. John was born. Before his birth, St. John the Baptist, although not able to make this proclamation, showed forth his joy and excitement when he came in proximity to Jesus during the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We hear in sacred scripture from St. John's mother, Elizabeth, that "for at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy." It is this title as Lamb of God announced by John that we should reflect upon in this Advent Season. The lamb bears an enormous weight of meaning that calls us to once again see this season as pulling together the past, the present, and the future.
During the ancient Jewish temple rituals, an unblemished lamb was sacrificed to almighty God. After the animal was put to death, it would be divided. The portion that was offered to God was called the holocaust and was burnt. The other portion of the lamb was shared among the priests. Thus, this sacrificed lamb became a prefigurement of Jesus Christ. He is indeed the Spotless Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. He is put to death upon the cross as an offering to the Father.
The past is united to the present as we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We share in this sacrifice by our participation in holy communion. Remember at each Mass, the priest repeats the words of John the Baptist, when he holds the consecrated host before the people and says, "Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb." We take part, through communion, in eating of the Lamb of Sacrifice Who is Jesus Christ, in a fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Finally, we see once again the Lamb of God make an appearance in the book of Revelation written by St. John the Apostle. He speaks of seeing the Lamb upon the throne Who breaks the seals on the scroll to bring about the end of the world.
So you see, my brothers and sisters, the Lamb of God as proclaimed to us by Saint John the Baptist does indeed unite the past, present and future. The lamb of sacrifice of the Old Law in the temple is a prefigurement of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, to Whom St. John was called to announce. It is that spotless Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, of which we partake in the New Covenant as we receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist here and now. As we receive His sacrifice at each Mass in the Eternal Present, we look with expectation to the Lamb seated upon the throne Who will come again in glory as prophesied by the Book of the Apocalypse.
This week, let us reflect and meditate upon the Lamb of God and see in the words of our patron, St. John the Baptist, the fulfillment of past, present, and future in the person of Jesus Christ. Let us indeed, prepare the way of the Lord!
First Sunday of Advent [12/3/17]
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today we begin the liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent. As you can see, the tone and tenor of the liturgy has changed from last week when we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King. Although simple, this beautiful season prepares us for the celebration of Christmas and the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ by calling the faithful to watch and wait for the Lord.
If the Season of Advent could be reduced to one word, it would be found in the gospel today when Jesus exhorts his disciples to watch. The idea of watchfulness includes both waiting upon the Lord and preparation for His arrival.
The season of Advent unites the two comings of Jesus Christ. On one hand, we prepare to celebrate the past event of Jesus being born of His mother, Mary, and look with expectation to the fulfillment of His words that He will come again on the Last Day. In a truly mysterious way, we are found between these two advents of Jesus. We look back to the past as we remember the Incarnation; and to the future, when the glorious King will return.
Although the season of Advent is not as ancient as the season of Lent, it is believed that Advent was celebrated long before 480 A.D. The purpose for this season was to take on some of the qualities of the season of Lent as we prepared for Christmas. However, there is discrepancy throughout Europe as to how strict Advent mirrored the season of Lent. Although fasting and penance were part and parcel of both seasons, these practices did not take pride of place in Advent as they do in the Lenten Season. Rather, Advent was a time of preparation in which we wait upon the Lord to return in His glory within the context of remembering His coming among us born of Mary. Therefore, the main emphasis to Advent was joyful expectation which would include preparation as manifested through prayer and fasting; whereas, Lent focuses upon becoming more like Christ through the graces of our baptism and the practices of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving.
As we begin again another year of our Lord, liturgically speaking, let us take an assessment of our lives and ask the question: "Are we being watchful?" In another way, are we preparing ourselves for the Lord? Each year on January 1st we attempt to take on a New Year's Resolution in which we put forth a concerted effort to better ourselves. In this new liturgical year, starting today, perhaps we can make a resolution to better our watchfulness. Some examples could include, but are not limited to: praying the rosary daily, praying a novena to our patron saint, reading the scriptures for fifteen minutes a day, attending a weekday Mass, abstaining from meat on Fridays, visiting the sick, etc. There is much we could be doing to keep ourselves alert and ready for the Lord when He comes.
May this Advent season be a time of blessing and holiness for all of us as we live the command of Christ to "Be watchful, be alert."