One of our great treasures as Catholics is the rhythm of the Church calendar in which the hopeful message of God’s great love for us is renewed each year in a way that is familiar yet always new. A new Church year has just begun with the First Sunday of Advent, November 28.
Advent is a joyful period of waiting and preparation for Christ’s birth. St. Luke, in this year’s Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent, quotes the prophet Isaiah: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Lk. 3:4; cf. Is. 40:3).
Advent is a season of hope precisely because it looks forward. The first readings of the Sunday liturgies for Advent present Old Testament prophets foreseeing a Messiah, whom we know to be Jesus. But Advent is not just about awaiting the Nativity of our Lord. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming” (CCC 524).
Advent reminds us that God keeps His promises now, as He did in the past and as He will in the future. As St. Paul assures us, “hope does not disappoint” (Rom. 5:5). The Advent candles we light on each of the four Sundays before Christmas remind us that Christ, for whom we are waiting, is the true light and hope of the world. When we radiate Christ, we share that light and bring that hope to others.
Christ is alive and present in His Church, which is still charged with making disciples of all nations. This is our sacred mission. That does not mean, however, that we can act as though nothing has changed over the past several decades. It would be irresponsible to do so, for the Church stands in the stream of time.
As joyful witnesses who must also be good stewards, we are called to make the best use of all the resources in our local Church. It is therefore appropriate to ask, are all our resources – human, physical and financial – properly ordered to missionary discipleship? Are they working in concert to continuously draw parishioners and attract new members into a more intimate relationship with Jesus? Or are they consumed by efforts to maintain the status quo and spread too thinly to be truly effective?
The Beacons of Light pastoral planning process is designed to address exactly these questions. I am convinced that this initiative, born in great hope, will enable us to form stronger parishes, centered on the Eucharist, that radiate the love of Christ and the joy of the Gospel. To the thousands of parishioners who recently gave feedback to help shape the final Families of Parishes, thank you. I am deeply grateful to you.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (CCC 27). God the Father has offered fulfillment to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus has come so that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn. 10:10). Advent is when we prepare to welcome Him into our hearts.
May the peace, joy, and fullness of life that only Christ can bring be yours this Advent and Christmas!