During the blessing given to the mother and father of a newly baptized child at the end of the Baptismal Liturgy, we hear these words: These parents will be the first teachers of their children in the faith, may they be also the best of teachers by what they say and do. The Second Vatican Council called each home and family “the domestic church.” With this in mind, the season of Advent provides an excellent opportunity for parents to share their faith with the whole family.
Buying (or making) an advent wreath and then setting up a prayer area in your home (somewhere near the living room or dining room, where it is clearly visible) to place it on is a good first step. Blessing the wreath, and then lighting the candle(s) before or after dinner each evening can become a way of keeping the focus of this Advent season on the coming of the Light of Christ.
Setting up a Jesse tree (especially a homemade one) can be another way of marking the days during Advent until we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Setting up Christmas lights inside or outside the home can be another way of remembering the light of Christ, especially as our days grow shorter and the nights grow longer.
Traditional Posadas or praying the rosary together are another way to fully prepare for the coming Christmas season. And of course, the best way to prepare is to attend Mass together during the season of Advent—it will help to prepare the whole family to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus at the beginning of the Christmas season.
In whatever ways your family prepares, remember that Jesus can stay at the center of our lives only with our attention and devotion to him—may we give God the best gift we can ever give him this Advent and Christmas season—our time.
Blessings & Peace,
Hugo De La Rosa III
Each month at Our Lady of Sorrows we explore a particular parable of Jesus, a saint from the great cloud of witnesses that surround us (see Hebrews 12:1), and a virtue (generally taken from the fruits of the Spirit [Galatians 5:22-23, 2 Corinthians 6:6, Ephesians 5:9, & 2 Peter 1:5-7] or the cardinal & theological virtues). The parable, saint and virtue are incorporated into our morning prayer, religion bulletin boards and religion classes. This focus on one parable, one saint and one virtue complements our Words of Wisdom program and serves as a supplement to our religion curriculum. This month we focus on the parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 15:1-10), the virtue of Joy, and the Holy Family.
Jesus told them another parable:
What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.
(Matthew 18:12-14, NRSV-CE translation)
Most of us spend much of our time with family, friends, and co-workers - it’s the nature of our lives and schedules. However, Jesus challenges us to always be on the lookout for the unwanted, the undesirable, the ones that others shun, the ones who are on the fringes of polite society. We are challenged to visit and serve the sick, those in prison, and especially those who are different from us (in culture, religion, philosophy, politics, etc.). And Jesus sends us forth to do this because, he tells us, that’s what the Father does. The Father constantly looks for the one who is different, who is set apart, who is outcast, who doesn't feel like they belong – and, Jesus tells us, when the Father finally breaks through to that person, all of heaven rejoices.
That joy felt in heaven is a mirror of the joy in our hearts this Advent month. That joy is different from happiness – happiness is an ephemeral feeling that is dictated by external circumstances; it can be triggered by a new item, a passing remark, the state of the weather, or any number of other external circumstances to our lives. Joy, on the other hand, is a deep-seated attitude towards life, regardless of the circumstances surrounding us. It’s a way of looking at life that accepts both good and bad, happy and sad, positive and negative. When we can walk through life in a state of acceptance, we are on our way to practicing joy.
The Holy Family (Jesus, Mary & Joseph) encapsulate both our parable and our virtue. When Mary gave her "yes" to be the Mother of Jesus, the profound joy it brought her (and eventually St. Joseph) helped them weather the gossip that their little village would have thrown in their faces. As Jesus grew in wisdom and grace, all three of them would have taken time to speak with anyone who would speak to them, pray with those who needed it, share a meal with those who were hungry, and serve the other people who no one wanted to help. The man Jesus grew into was partly a result of the overflowing generosity and joy he witnessed and experienced with his family.
This month then, as we prepare ourselves for the celebration of the Christmas season by journeying through the holy season of Advent, let us pray that we can strive to practice joy in our hearts, attitudes and actions, especially with those people who are part of our earthly family.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” - Mark 13:33-37, abridged
Advent is a time to wait in joyful expectation for the coming of the newborn Son. Think of the first few weeks of falling in love with someone: you can’t wait to see them again, you yearn for the intimacy of their presence, you imagine what your time together will be like. This is what the season of Advent brings to us: time to anticipate the birth of Jesus.
The gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent emphasizes this theme of yearning and anticipation. We are reminded that Jesus can come at any moment, and we are commanded to be on the lookout for his appearance.
But this is not just a one time “end-of-the-world” moment that we’re asked to watch for. We are challenged to be watchful for the unexpected encounters where we catch a glimpse of the presence of Jesus: a kind word from a stranger, a smile just when we need one, a word of encouragement when life is difficult, a hug from a child, a kiss from a spouse—in all of these moments of our life we are asked to look beyond the surface to the gentle, watchful presence of the Word made flesh.
May our Advent preparations help us clearly see the presence of God all around us, and may the celebration of the Christmas season find us prepared in body, mind, soul and spirit for the celebration of the birth of the Son.
Blessings & Peace,
Hugo De La Rosa III