Those familiar with the Adirondack Mountains know that there are 46 High Peaks. When I lived in the North Country, I knew priests who would spend their days off or vacation periods climbing mountains or going for a hike in the Adirondacks. I always admired their enthusiasm, but never quite gave into the temptation to follow their good example. (The only mountain I climbed was Whiteface and I did it in my car!)
On the First Sunday of Advent, the prophet Isaiah invited us to climb the mountain of the Lord. In Scripture, the mountain heights are often considered special places to encounter God. Isaiah wants us to climb the mountain in order to draw near to the divine, to meet God. At the same time he reminds us that mountain climbing is not a casual experience. It must be preceded by preparation. The Church offers us the Advent season as a time to prepare ourselves for the journey that will bring us once again to the mystery of Christmas and the revelation of divine love made visible in Jesus. As always, the best preparation for the journey is prayer. Reflective prayer based on the Scriptures offers us endless preparation for our climb.
I have always found a great deal of peace in the beautiful and somewhat subdued liturgies of the season focused on the coming of Christ. In reading the Scriptures for this time of year, it is easy to pick out several themes. The readings speak to us of expectation, of waiting and the need to be patient and alert as we wait. There are images of darkness and light, night and day, despair and hope, death and life, hell and heaven that find their way into our prayer during this season we are privileged to begin again.
Advent has a twofold character. It is both a season to prepare for Christmas, when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered, and a season that directs our mind and heart to await Christ’s second coming at the end of time. It is a time of devout and joyful expectation.
Pope Benedict speaking on the First of Sunday of Advent reminded us that waiting — standing by — is a dimension that crosses all of our existence: personal, family and social. “This waiting is found in a thousand situations, from those little, everyday ones all the way to the most important things, those which completely, deeply, wrap us up. Among these, let us think of the waiting for a child by a couple; those of our relative or friend who comes to visit us from afar; let us think, for a young person, of the waiting for the results of an important test, or a job interview; in emotional relationships, of the waiting for one’s encounter with their beloved, of the response to a letter, or the acceptance of an apology …. It could be said that man is alive while he waits, that in his heart hope is alive. And from these waitings man comes to know himself: our moral and spiritual ‘stature’ can be measured by that for which we wait, by that in which we hope.” (Angelus Message, Nov. 28, 2010)
What is it that you are waiting for during this Advent season? What are your hopes? What will bring you peace of mind? There are so many challenges today in our very real world! Family relationships, economic concerns, sons and daughters serving our country in war-torn lands, relatives estranged from the faith, issues of health affecting ourselves or others close to us. These concerns may come crowding into our lives and drain from us the hope that is characteristic of this season.
As you wait for family relationships to mend, the improvement of economic concerns, the safe return of those you love, a loved one’s return to the faith, better health … or whatever it is for which your are waiting, Advent reminds you to wait patiently and with steadfast hope that these challenges are part of the preparation for climbing the mountain and encountering God. Surely Advent prepares us to remember Christ’s birth and His coming again at the end of time. But it also calls us to recognize God’s presence among us now … through grace, divine life living within us, and through the joys and sorrows, triumphs and challenges of daily life. All of these concerns can be the object of our prayer. Please know that during these days I accompany you in prayer and invite you to do the same for all in the diocese who need a convincing sign of the Lord’s presence.
I encourage you also to make this season of Advent a time of conversion, especially by making a good sacramental confession. Through the forgiveness of our sins and the reception of sanctifying grace, fortified by our prayerful reflection, we will rejoice with deepened faith on Christmas morning and know the peace that Jesus alone can give.
If you would like your name or your intentions to be remembered in prayer, please send them to me at P.O. Box
511, Syracuse, N.Y. 13201.