December 2005 - Volume 10, Issue 5
Sometime on Thanksgiving Day, I learned that the stores would open the following morning at 5:00 a.m. I conveyed this news to my mother, who promptly suggested that we arise at 4:00 a.m. so as to be among the early bird shoppers. She was kidding, of course. My parents' household and their visiting son slept soundly until a shocking 6:30 a.m. By then, shoppers had overrun all the area stores. Some had even lined up Thanksgiving evening in temperatures hovering below freezing.
It may be too early to tell if the economy will get a boost from those eager customers, but it seems certain that civility suffered. Ubiquitous T.V. cameras caught some shoppers pushing and shoving in their pent-up enthusiasm for electronic gadgets, clothes, and other consumer goods. It seems they could not contain their anticipation.
Watching this scene on the Friday evening news, I had two reactions. First, I was happy that I stayed home. Of course, I'll do my Christmas shopping at the last minute!
Second, I wondered what would happen if all that enthusiastic anticipation would be channeled to the true meaning of Advent.
The season of Advent coincides with the Christmas shopping season, but it means so much more. Advent is a season of grace to wake us up spiritually. It exists to help us long for what matters most in our lives. And what matters most is to draw so close to Christ in this life that we do not fear His return in glory at the end of time. Wouldn't it be wonderful if our hearts were full of awe at Christ's first coming in Bethlehem and full of joyous anticipation over the prospect of His return in glory? If we all felt like that, we'd have to open our 87 parish churches each morning at 5:00 a.m. to accommodate the crowds!
In the course of my ministry, I do meet many people who are eager to draw closer to Christ and who anticipate with joy full union with Christ in eternity. Let me give you two examples.
Last winter, I celebrated Mass in several parishes in Florida. I was both amazed and edified at the number of people who attended daily Mass. At an 8:00 a.m. Mass on a Thursday, there must have been 700 people in church. I mentioned this to an elderly couple who are dear friends of mine. They smiled and asked if most in the congregation were their contemporaries. "Yes, they were," I said. "Well no wonder there were a lot of people in church," the husband concluded, "they're just like us - preparing for finals!" This couple went on to tell me how they approached their interior lives more seriously as they grew older. The spiritual journey they described was not motivated by servile fear but rather an increased longing for intimacy with Christ, coupled with a desire to rid themselves of whatever was hindering that relationship. I can attest that their love for Christ has made them loving members of the Church and eager to serve Christ in others.
I have also found eagerness for Christ among our young people. A few months ago, I arrived at Sacred Heart Parish in Georgetown for Confirmation. The pastor, Father Joaquin, informed me that one of those to be confirmed was unable to be present because of illness. He hastened to assure me that her illness was not life-threatening but serious enough to confine her to quarters. He added that she really had been looking forward to her Confirmation.
Neither he nor I knew how much. After Mass, while visiting with the newly-confirmed and their families, I noticed a young girl (who had not been present) coming up the aisle in Confirmation robes with her parents in tow. I couldn't help but notice that she was wearing pajamas and slippers.
As the last photo was being snapped, she introduced herself to me and explained that she was very sorry to have missed the Confirmation ceremony. I won't capture her exact words but in effect she said, "I am really anxious to be confirmed. I want to receive the Holy Spirit!" She was determined that I would not leave Georgetown without my confirming her. I was only too happy to do so. She was anxious for the Holy Spirit to bring her closer to Christ.
These two stories illustrate that we are never too young or too old to put all our hope in Christ. This Advent is the right time for you and me to take stock. What is the desire of our hearts? What are we eager for? What is the motivation that drives through our daily routines and schedules? What is our measure of success and fulfillment?
If we allow the graces of Advent to resonate in our hearts, you and I will no doubt find an abundance of mistaken and misplaced enthusiasms. We may find that we are enthusiastic for our work and entertainment but complacent about our faith. We may be anxious about ourselves and careless in responding to Christ in others. We may have plenty of time for our pursuits and no time at all for our faith, for our families, and for those who really need us. Our ill-directed enthusiasms should form the basis of a good Advent Confession.
In one of his homilies, Saint Cyprian of Carthage points out how inconsistent we are when we pray for the coming of God's Kingdom but try to delay indefinitely any thought of eternity. We will be ready for Christmas if we can say, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done... " and really mean it.
May we all have a blessed Advent!
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