Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Beginning of the New Liturgical Year

I always feel a bit of a rush when, after saying the morning office, it is time to switch to volume I of the breviary, Advent and Christmas.  With the vigil Mass this evening we begin a new liturgical year.  After the homily some recent photos. 

1st Sunday in Advent
Is 63:16-17, 64:1,3-8
Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
1 Cor 1:3-9
Mk 13:33-37

“Veni, Veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel!”

“O come, O come Emmanuel! 
And ransom captive Israel!”

Today we begin Advent.  We begin a new Church year.  It is the year during which the majority of Sunday Gospel readings will be from Mark.  It is also the day on which we use the new translation of the Roman Missal for the first time.

Unlike Lent, which begins with the visible sign of ashes on our foreheads, Advent simply begins, with little fanfare, on the first of the four Sundays preceding the Great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.  Advent ends with the commemoration of Jesus’ birth.   Advent ends  with the commemoration that Jesus, fully Divine and fully human, was born and lived in this world, the world where we now live and breathe, study and work, celebrate and mourn.

The Latin roots of advent, ad and venire, mean “to come to.”  But that translation does not convey the full meaning of advent.  Pope Benedict writes that advent is the translation of the Greek word parousia  that means presence, but even more specifically means arrival.  Arrival is the beginning of another’s presence but it is not the fullness of that presence. Think about that.

Arrival is the beginning of another’s presence.  It is not the fullness of that presence.

The birth of a baby is only the beginning of a presence that will change and mold the family forever.  Jesus’ birth changed the world.  His ongoing presence continues to affect the world in ways that will never be fully understood or articulated.

Presence is never complete. It is always becoming, it is always unfolding anew.  Presence is always changing and evolving, whether or not the other is physically present.  We have all been— and are even now being—influenced by the presence of others who are physically distant or even dead.  Parents.  Teachers.  Mentors.  Friends.  Though they may never be in the same place as us again, their presence in our lives is tangible.  It is so real as to be almost palpable.  Their presence influences how we live our lives.  Their presence determines in part our decisions and actions.  Their presence in our lives may soothe and comfort us during times of stress or may be a permanent source of anxiety and pain. 

It is impossible not to respond to another’s presence.  Even “ignoring” another’s presence is responding to it. 

Jesus’ presence is an advent presence.  It is an always active presence of “coming to” and of coming “into.”  Coming to our world.  Coming into our lives.  During advent we become particularly aware that Jesus came into this world at a specific time and place.  During advent we become particularly aware that Jesus is also becoming present in the world, in this place at this very moment.  But, it is only the beginning, not the fullness, of His presence.  A fullness that will be known only when each of us passes from life into eternal life. 

Jesus is present in the community of believers, especially when the Church prays as one as we are doing now.  Jesus is present in the Word as it is proclaimed in the assembly.  And, most tangibly, Jesus is present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, bread and wine that will be consecrated, broken, and shared in just a few minutes.  

The Gospel today advises us to watch, to remain awake and alert, for the time that the lord returns.  The Gospel illustrates how the Lord’s presence influences us—or should influence us—at all times. 

We do not know the day or the hour when we will see the Lord.  We do not know the hour or the day when we will be asked to give a full account of our lives.  We can only remain prepared at all times, awake, alert, and engaged in our task. 

As advent progresses toward the great Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord we will be reminded of the events of the distant past.  We will also be reminded of events to occur in a distant future.  On the second and third Sundays the Gospel will focus on John the Baptist; the herald of the Lord, the bridge between the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New.  And on the fourth Sunday the Gospel will relate Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth.  We will hear of a presence, of a coming to, of a coming toward, and a coming into.  A presence that changed, and continues to change, the universe. 

As you leave this church today and during the coming weeks recall that, despite the pressure from advertisers, despite the pressure we place on ourselves, despite the carousing and drunkenness of the annual “holiday” parties and despite the governments’ attempts to remove all vestiges of Jesus from Christmas, advent is not a time of preparation for a holiday.  It is the time of preparation for a Holy Day.  A Holy Day on which we commemorate the birth of :

The Messiah.
The anointed one.
Son of God.
Son of David.
Son of Man.
Born of the Virgin Mary.
Like us in all things but sin.  

We are preparing to commemorate the birth of Jesus who came into the world to ransom us from sin and death. 

“Veni, Veni Emmanuel!
Captivum solve Israel”!

Last weekend I was in Plymouth carrying the camera as I walked down Main Street.  This is a photo of the window from Broadmarkle's.  The store was owned and run by two sisters who are probably long dead given that when they were my patients over 30 years ago they were already elderly.  I don't think the store ever reopened after the flood of '72, or perhaps it did for a short period of time.  It has been shuttered for decades but nothing seems to have been done with it.   Where else can one find a display of American flags for sale; flags with only 48 stars?  
I spent Thanksgiving with friends in Marblehead, MA.  Stopped in Lynn, MA while driving up Route 1A along the water.  This is a view of the Boston skyline from a small park and recreation area on the water. 

Chris cooked a terrific Thanksgiving dinner.  There were about 12 of us around the table.  This is the view from the entry foyer. 
The winery at Sevenhill, where we made the long retreat during tertianship (many photos earlier in the blog), is now exporting to the U.S.  The first city to which it is sending its wine is Boston.  I was able to take a bottle of  merlot bottled under the Inigo label (Ignatius' baptismal name) to dinner.  All who drank it enjoyed it.   If you are in Boston look for it.  It is quite good. 
One of the great things about computers is the ability to capture and share old photos via a scanner and a bit of software processing.  This is my parents' wedding photo from 77 years ago.  
+Fr. Jack, SJ

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