Advent is passing quickly! This is often the case, but this year the four weeks of Advent are actually three weeks plus one day with the fourth Sunday of Advent coming on Christmas Eve.
I always find the Scripture readings during this sacred time rich and beautiful. They call me to generosity and self-sacrifice, inspire hope and joy, and remind me to be alert and prepared for the commemoration of Jesus’ birth and His coming in glory at the end of time. Moreover, we find in the readings companions to accompany us on our Advent journey: Isaiah, John the Baptist, Mary, and St. Joseph.
Isaiah is the most frequently heard voice of the Advent season, not only on Sundays but also on many weekdays. Although Advent prepares us to commemorate the birth of the savior, it also directs our attention to the future coming of Christ at the end of time. Isaiah is a companion who turns us toward the future and speaks to our unfulfilled desires for peace, security, and deep joy.
John the Baptist, a lone figure in the desert, dressed in animal skin, eating bugs and honey, and shouting about the need for repentance, is not a particularly appealing sight. His message, however, is important. “Prepare the way of the Lord” through a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. We need a companion like John the Baptist to remind us to prepare God’s path to our hearts and cultivate an awareness of how near He is to us. Turning toward Him will always include turning away from sin and evil inclinations that are obstacles to His coming.
Rather than treating Mary and Joseph as individual companions offering us example and inspiration, this Advent let’s look at them as a young couple, recently married and about to have a child. As you know in our diocese, we began the Year of the Family on the first Sunday of Advent.
Mary and Joseph, awaiting the birth of a child, knew the anxiety and joy that accompanies the beginning days of family life. After Jesus’ birth, they experienced worries and concerns about their child’s safety and wondered what the future would hold for Him. Every family can turn to Mary and Joseph and find in them what is as vital to family life today as it was for them: listen to God’s word and make God part of family life; grow in a relationship with Christ; share the good news with others.
When I was preparing my homily for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception this past week, I recalled that this feast in many parts of the world remembers St. Anne and St. Joachim, Mary’s mother and father and the grandparents of Jesus. As one author expresses it, “On this day we celebrate Mary’s parents, their love for God and for each other, and the loving union that resulted in the conception of their daughter” (Scott Cairns, God with Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, Paraclete Press, 2007).
I believe Mary learned from her parents how to listen attentively to God’s word and be open to observe and accept the word. Joachim and Anne passed on the hopes of Israel and the longing for the savior to their daughter. The seed of Mary’s faithful response to Gabriel’s message and her pondering and cherishing of God’s word were learned from her parents.
Although we do not know about St. Joseph’s parents, I think we can assume that his willingness to accept God’s word and circumstances he did not understand were learned in his home. The family is the sacred place where faith is witnessed and nourished.
“During the Year of the Family, it is my hope that parishes throughout the diocese will reach out to parents and families in new and different ways that will result in a growing feeling of being at home in the Church and a burning desire to know, live and share the Catholic faith” (Pastoral Letter, The Role of the Family in the Life of the Church of Syracuse and Beyond,” 2017). Let’s make the Year of the Family a fruitful “pass on the faith” experience. Parishes can “pass on” the faith in new and different ways that will help families experience the Church as their home. These families, in turn, can reach out to other families to “pass on” their faith. In this way, parish and family life will become more rooted in faith, secure in love, and steadfast in hope.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.