This week, the Church begins the season of Advent, the first season of a new liturgical year and the time we set aside to prepare for the coming of Christ: both his coming into the world at Christmas and his return in glory at the end of time.
One challenge facing us—and parents especially— is keeping Advent as its own season, while all around us, the world seems steeped in Christmas, which for us doesn’t begin until Christmas Eve. With all the shopping, entertaining, and advertising we have to contend with, how do we keep Advent as a time of prayerful preparation for the Lord?
At it's core, the New Evangelization has everything to do with this question: Do I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?
If we want to be intentional disciples who live the New Evanglization in our parishes, schools, workplaces, and homes, we must begin by deepening our own relationships with God.
A central tenet of Pope Benedict XVI's teaching on the New Evangelization focused on the centrality of prayer in this mission. Benedict XVI understands prayer as holding a two-fold significance in evangelization:
Through his writings, Dante, is a man who invites us to regain the path of our human journey and the hope to once again see the bright horizon where shines the full dignity of the human person.
Happily, I have found the poem to be much more understandable and enlightening than I had envisioned. Despite its Medieval nature, the poem ignites the deadened imagination and reminds the reader of the undeniable human desire for God.
Dante’s Divine Comedy begins with Inferno, which describes the principle character’s journey through hell. I began Inferno near the beginning of Lent and have found it to be an excellent aide to Lenten preparations for confession. Journeying through the various rings of hell, and the corresponding human sins, invites the reader to make an interior journey into the depth of one’s own soul.
Dante’s punishments are carefully crafted to reflect the underlying nature of unholy human behaviors. The vivid images compel the reader to determine if one’s current state of being corresponds to the state of the punished sinners.
For example, Dante’s pilgrim encounters a group of souls who lived their life with no real purpose. They were too cowardly, or too lazy, to devote themselves completely to God or even to adamantly resist Him. As the pilgrim watches, he sees a blank banner go by:
Green is the color of most of our Church year. Green vestments on the priest and deacon, green banners hanging behind the altar, green plants adorning the sanctuary. After the glitz and glamor of the Christmas and Easter seasons, this season in our Church year can seem, well, ordinary.
The period in our Church year that follows the Christmas season, and then again follows the Easter season, has an unfortunate name—Ordinary Time. The name comes from the fact that while we are outside of special seasons, the Church simply counts the time as it passes (3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, etc). It's counted time using the ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd...) which is how it got it's name. Of course, being that it's also outside of the special seasons, it often feels mundane, routine, ordinary as well.
Rev. Larry Rice, CSP explains Ordinary Time this way...
Of all the great teachers in my life, my most surprising teachers have been my own children. Clearly, they do not help me gain basic knowledge or life skills (I do that for them), but they have opened up for me the path to virtuous living in ways that I could have never foreseen.Caring for my children has provided me with ample schooling in the virtues of patience, kindness and love, to name a few.
However, my children first taught me to practice humility, which was the gateway to desiring to grow in virtue and holiness at all.
During World Youth Day 2013, Pope Francis issued a challenge to today's church:
“[W]e need a church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a church that accompanies them on their journey; a church able to make sense of the ‘night’ contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a church that realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return.
But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture. Jesus warmed the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus.
[I]t is important to devise and ensure a suitable formation, one which will provide persons able to step into the night without being overcome by the darkness and losing their bearings; able to listen to people’s dreams without being seduced and to share their disappointments without losing hope and becoming bitter; able to sympathize with the brokenness of others without losing their own strength and identity.
September 15 is the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows.
May she who followed her Son to Calvary help us to follow him, carrying his cross with serenity and love, to reach the joy of Easter. May the Virgin of Sorrows especially comfort those who are facing the most difficult situations. (Pope Francis,
Mary, through her intercession, obtains for us many blessings in this life and the life to come, especially at the hour of death. Devotion to the sorrows of Mary helps us to get a glimpse of how much she suffered on our behalf – how she stood faithfully at the foot of the cross.
The Sorrows of Mary show us how in a life filled with suffering, there is also grace, and that a world overcome with challenges awaits our strength. Like Mary, we too can persevere and accept our struggles as paths to growing closer and understanding more deeply the power of her Son.
When we are despondent and feeling hopeless, Our Lady of Sorrows can be a wellspring of hope.
Who do you know that is struggling with great sorrow? Consider sharing a reflection on Our Lady of Sorrows with them.
Include a note that says:
"I know you've been heavyhearted and in pain recently. I just wanted to share this reflection with you to remind you that you're not alone. I'm praying for you in a special way today."
Along with the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary is one of the most widely used prayers in the Catholic Church. The first half of the Hail Mary comes from Luke’s Gospel accounts of the Angel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary that she was called to be the Mother of God’s Son (Lk 1:26-56).
St. John Paul II explains that although the Hail Mary is addressed to Our Lady, "it is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately directed" (RVM, no. 26). Every time we recite the Hail Mary, we are repeating the words of Gabriel and Elizabeth. In doing so, we enter into the ecstatic joy of "heaven and earth" over the mystery of Christ: heaven, represented by Gabriel, and earth, represented by Elizabeth.
“Hail Mary, full of grace.”
Annunciation - Fra Angelico
This is the greeting the Angel Gabriel spoke to Mary of Nazareth. Gabriel proclaims that Mary is full of grace, meaning that she is a sinless woman, blessed with a deep union with God, who had come to dwell in her.
In awe over that profound mystery of his eternal God becoming a little embryo in Mary's womb, Gabriel greets Mary. The grace with which Mary is filled is the very life of God who is the source of all grace.
Reflect: Allow yourself to greet Mary in the same way and to exult in the same joy in Mary that God had for her. Imagine yourself bowing with the deepest respect before our Queen and Mother - imitating the reverence shown to her even by such a great being as an archangel.
Husbands and wives. Fathers and Mothers. Breadwinners and Homemakers. As men and women, we have many ways of approaching our roles in family life. But what if we could find even deeper meaning in our God-given vocations by viewing ourselves as the spiritual head or the spiritual heart of our family?
On June 17, 2015 a young man entered Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and quietly joined a group of people gathered for their weekly prayer meeting. He was a stranger to them but, never the less, they welcomed him without reservation. He prayed with them for several minutes and then quietly stood up and methodically shot all but one of them, leaving nine people dead. The tenth victims life was spared so the she could, in his words, be a witness to “what happened here.”