I am writing this article as darkness envelops the evening of the day which enterprising entrepreneurs call Cyber-Monday.  Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone; Black Friday is behind us once more; the onslaught of shopping has begun in earnest.

I had the opportunity to spend a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend with my family and friends, far removed from ever expanding malls and big-box stores where shopping is the name of the game. Another event, hardly noticed by most people, also took place this past weekend. At sunset on Saturday evening, Nov. 28, the Church ushered in a new liturgical year. It happened quietly and with much less fanfare than we traditionally exhibit on New Year’s Eve. There were no noisemakers.  Football did not play a role in this event. Although the newspapers are filled with advertisements and news broadcasts report the shopping frenzy underway, the Church begins its new year and prepares for Christmas in a much different way.

The season of Advent begins quietly with the change in the color of the vestments from green to purple, the appearance of the Advent wreath and the lighting of its first candle and the replacement of the Ordo (the liturgical calendar) in the sacristy of our Churches.

Although many scarcely noted its arrival, Advent, with its hope-filled liturgies, has always been a favorite time of year for me. During this four week period, we celebrate three different “comings” of Christ: His first coming in human history, His coming to us now in sacramental mystery, and His final coming in divine Majesty. Advent is a time of preparation and expectation, making present the ancient expectancy for the Messiah and the Savior’s birth, more than a time of penance. These days are days of hope and promise as we prepare to receive the Lord in a new way at Christmas.

In our liturgical celebrations, in the hymns we sing at Church and in quiet moments of reflection we anticipate anew the gift of God’s Son. Indeed, Advent is a special season and Christmas receives a new and different meaning when our Advent includes times of prayer and reflection. In the midst of all of our preparations for Christmas — cards, cooking, decorating, shopping — we need to reflect anew on the mystery of God and His great love for us. As we journey through this early part of Advent, let the words of the second preface of Advent find a home in our hearts: “In His love Christ has filled us with joy as we prepare to celebrate His birth, so that when He comes He may find us watching in prayer, our hearts filled with wonder and praise.”

Advent is a time of patient waiting. Waiting is not something we like to do. Children are impatient for Christmas to come. Sometimes even we who are older are anxious for what it brings — family reunions, pleasant evenings, the warm glow of a fireplace, special foods that take us back to our own childhood. We are so used to having things happen instantly in our lives that we find it difficult to be patient. We are annoyed even when the internet responds slowly! Advent hope helps to assuage our anticipation for an event unlike any other event — the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

This new year of grace tells us that we have a new beginning, a new opportunity to meet Christ. God reaches out to us in the liturgy to teach and sanctify us. We need to embrace Christ as He comes to us in the Scriptures and in the sacraments. We need to listen again with awe to the Christmas story. A prayerful and thoughtful reading of the second chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel brings us back to that wondrous event. If we truly prepare for Christmas in this way, we will know new joy, new happiness, and new peace of heart and mind. God’s love, the celebration of the birth of His Son and the protective, maternal care of Mary will embrace us.

A few further notes:

I wish to express my deep and profound gratitude to all who participated in this year’s HOPE Appeal. I am pleased to announce that as of this writing we have reached $4,178,820 in cash and pledges, surpassing our goal of $4,150,000. Your generosity enables the Church to carry on its mission of ministering in the name of Jesus Christ.
The New York State Catholic Bishops have formed a statewide Catholic Advocacy Network of concerned Catholics who want to put their faith into action. Together we can speak out in support of the poor and vulnerable, the sick and elderly, the unborn, children and families. I encourage you to join this network. There is no cost. The easiest way to join is to go to: www.nyscatholic.org to sign up. Or, you can send your name, address, phone number and e-mail address to Catholic Advocacy Network, New York State Catholic Conference, 465 State St., Albany, N.Y. 12203 – 1004. Be sure to mention your parish in the Diocese of Syracuse.

Frequently people ask me to remember a particular intention in prayer. I am happy to do so. If you wish, you may send your prayer requests to me and I shall add your intentions to my list. Simply place your intention on a piece of paper and mail it to me at 240 E. Onondaga St., P.O. Box 511, Syracuse, N.Y. 13201. Please mark your envelope prayer intentions. I am only too happy to do this for you. At the same time I ask for your prayers for me and for the Diocese of Syracuse.

Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse

Advent/Christmas Season Web Site offers resources for prayer, reflection; has printable family activity calendar

WASHINGTON — For the second consecutive year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has created a Web site (www.usccb.org/advent/ ) with suggestions for daily prayer, reading, reflection and action throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons.

New for this year are printable calendars in English and Spanish with a suggested family activity for each day of the Advent season, which begins Nov. 29, and the Christmas season, which ends on Jan. 10 with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord.

The interactive online calendars present a menu of resources for reading, prayer, reflection and action for each day of the two seasons. Many of the reflections are taken from “Following Christ,” “The Priesthood,” “Mary,” and “The Saints,” four of the collections from the Spiritual Thoughts Series by Pope Benedict XVI. A Festival of Lessons and Carols, which is a service of Scripture and song that dates to the late 19th century, can be heard live online or downloaded for later listening.

The USCCB Advent/Christmas Web site also features a variety of scripture resources focusing on the Old Testament. Jem Sullivan, PhD., of the USCCB Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis, starts off the Advent season with a video explaining how families can enrich their faith by reading the Old Testament. Featured throughout the calendars are video clips of USCCB members and staff discussing their favorite Old Testament stories, passages and characters.

Decorating the Web site are photos of sanctuaries adorned for Advent and Christmas from across the country including the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, and photos of seasonal events from several Catholic dioceses.

Other resources on the Web site include a list of recommend holiday-themed movies from the USCCB’s Film and Broadcasting office, prayers and blessings from the USCCB publication Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers, and suggestions for remembering the needs of immigrants and the poor throughout the season.

The Advent/Christmas site was created by the USCCB Department of Communications with funding from the Catholic Communication Campaign.

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