Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Blessed Advent

Sunday, November 29, marked the beginning of Advent. Advent has nothing to do with "The Holidays!" but everything to do with Christmas---because there cannot be a feast without a preparation for that feast, just as food cannot be enjoyed by the sated. As the house must be made clean for the coming of a guest, the soul must be prepared for the coming of Christ.
Advent has been described as a "little Lent". Like Lent, it is a period of prayer and fasting and abstaining from meat. In the bad old days, married couples, to whom was reserved the privileges of sexual intercourse (yes, really!), abstained from sex during Advent as they did during Lent. Even today, a dispensation is required to marry during this season.
But prayer and fasting are a fitting way to prepare for the Christ Child. They help us to recall the desperate longing of the old faithful Jews for the Messiah---How long, O Lord?
O Come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom Captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear!
Advent means waiting and longing and preparing one's soul. How does one prepare one's soul? For the Catholic, it means partaking of the sacrament of Confession. Yes, I know it's called Reconciliation now, in Newchurch Speak, but that rather misses the point and smacks of slapping the Savior on the back and inquiring, "Hey, are we cool, Lord?"
No, one must rid oneself of the filth and garbage one has accumulated before one dare approach Our Lord, not as a "bro", but as the prodigal son approached his father: "I am not worthy to be called your son. I have sinned against you."
Confession calls to mind the gravity of really facing our sins and being accountable for them. It's a hard task, and not everyone is mature enough, or courageous enough, to seek out and face up to his own sins. Facing one's sins requires action. It requires reparation, when possible, and it requires change. It may require losing some habits with which we have become very comfortable, but that is what's required.
Now the Protestants argue that Confession to a priest is not necessary and that it should be between you and Jesus---and in one sense they are correct, because the very admission to yourself that you are indeed committing certain sins should immediately bring about such severe contrition and such heartfelt prayers of sorrow for your sins that the formal act of confessing to a priest should be almost an anticlimax emotionally. But it is very necessary, simply because God wills it so. "You are Peter. Whatever you hold bound on earth shall be bound in heaven."
And so we tell our sins to the priest and in doing so we humble ourselves and convict ourselves. The priest listens with Christ's ear to our sins and, in the name of Christ, by the power of Christ's Holy Church, he gives us absolution while we intone the Act of Contrition: O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.
"...to amend my life."
It's a terrifying proposition.
But all lives were changed with the Incarnation.
Have a Blessed Advent and save Christmas for the twelve wonderful days alloted to its celebration. Remember Good King Wenceslaus who was celebrating heartily on the Feast of Stephen (the first martyr) which falls on December 26 when he spied the poor beggar and went forth through the blizzard to bring him food and cheer. Remember the Beloved Apostle John on the 27th, and the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, slain by Herod, on the 28th. Remember Thomas a Beckett, the great Martyr of Canterbury, and Pope St. Sylvester. Celebrate the Circumcision of Our Lord, and the feast of St Basil the Great! Remember the joy of the Magi who traveled across continents to follow the Star that brought them to Our Lord on Epiphany, or Twelfth Night. Don't let them take away your Joy on Christmas afternoon. Hang onto it as long as possible, but make it your first priority to ready yourself so that you can enjoy it fully and appreciate it completely.

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