What saints teach us about living Advent

Archbishop Aquila

“Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come,” Jesus counsels us in the Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Advent. Throughout this season the readings carry a similar, two-fold message: be alert and attentive so you can hear God’s will for you and cleanse yourself so you are ready to receive him when he comes, both in your life and at Christmas.

Advent is a forgotten season for some as it gets swallowed up in the blitz of advertising, decorating and buying gifts. But Advent is not a time for busyness; it’s a time to grow in awareness, to be quiet and to prepare for Christ with repentance.

God gives us St. John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus, as a model for how to live Advent. He lived in the silence of the desert, ate simply, and was attentive to the Holy Spirit as he trained to announce the coming of Jesus. We can do this through spending time in attentive silence with the Blessed Sacrament or reading Scripture in a quiet setting, examining our consciences and going to confession, and through acts of charity.

The importance of being attentive is underscored by the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast we will celebrate on December 12.

As the humble commoner Juan Diego was on his way to Mass in December 1531, he heard the sound of beautiful singing, unlike anything he had ever heard before. As he looked at the hill from which the singing was coming, it ceased and was followed by silence. Then he heard a voice saying, “Dear Juan, dearest Juan Diego.”

The fruit of his attentiveness and silence made St. Juan Diego able to hear Mary call him. It’s worth asking ourselves, “How often do I spend time in silence so I can hear God?”

For many of us, silence is difficult to be in. We are so used to constant noise that we don’t realize it until silence arrives. This is where the second important aspect of Advent that John the Baptist shows us comes in. Through his practice of self-denial, John the Baptist was able to hear God’s message for his people and call them to repentance. When we are in right relationship with God the Father, silence can be filled with his peace and his will becomes more apparent.

To the humble St. Juan Diego, Mary revealed that God wanted to bring his mercy to the inhabitants of Mexico and all who love her.  She told Juan Diego, “I want very much that they build my sacred little house here, in which … I will give Him to all people in all my personal love, Him that is my compassionate gaze, Him that is my help, Him that is my salvation. Because I am truly honored to be your compassionate mother.”

At the time of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s appearances, the people of the region were experiencing great uncertainty and into that void the Blessed Mother came to personally show them her love and guide them to Jesus.

It is through Mary that Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, bringing joy and God’s compassion to a world in great need. In our own time of uncertainty and waiting for the Lord, Mary desires to be our compassionate mother. Let each one of us open our hearts to Mary so she may guide us in our preparation for receiving her son in our lives and at Christmas.  May Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Juan Diego and St. John the Baptist help us to stay awake and to cleanse our hearts so they may be more receptive to the love the Father offers to the world in his son, Jesus.

 

COMING UP: Father Jan Mucha remembered for his ‘joy and simplicity’

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When Father Marek Ciesla was 11 years old, he encountered a priest in his hometown in northern Poland who was visiting his parish on mission.

“I was impressed,” said Father Ciesla. “A couple of my friends and I were talking about how energetic, how wonderful this priest was. I think in this way he inspired us a little bit to follow the call to the priesthood.”

The priest was Father Jan Mucha, and little did Father Ciesla know that decades later and an ocean away, he would reunite with the man that inspired him and his friend to pursue the priesthood.

In 2010 when Father Mucha was retiring from his role as pastor of St. Joseph Polish Catholic Church in Denver, Father Ciesla was sent from Poland to the Archdiocese of Denver to take his place.

The priests spent two days together, and Father Ciesla was struck by the familiarity of Father Mucha.

“For some reason, the way he was talking and the words he was using, something rang a bell,” he said. “I asked him if he remembers visiting my parish. And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I had it on my list. I remember.’”

Father Ciesla was amazed that the man he was there to replace was the same one who had impacted his life all those years ago.

“God works in mysterious ways,” said Father Ciesla. “I never thought I would meet him again.”

Father Mucha passed away March 21 after serving the archdiocese for 40 years. He was 88 years old.

Father Mucha was born March 16, 1930 in Gron, Poland to parents Kazimierz and Aniela Mucha. He was one of five children. Father Mucha attended high school in Kraków and went on to study philosophy and theology at a seminary in Tarnów.

Father Mucha was ordained December 19, 1954 in Tarnów by Auxiliary Bishop Karol Pękala. He served at St. Theresa Parish in Lublin, Sacred Heart Parish in Florynka and as a Latin teacher at Sacred Heart Novice House in Mszana Dolna.

He was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Denver on April 20, 1978. Before he was granted retirement status in August of 2010, he served at St. Joseph Polish for nearly 40 years.

“Father Mucha was dedicated to his people and there was a joy about him,” said Msgr. Bernard Schmitz, who had known Father Mucha since his own ordination in 1974 and more recently within his former role as Vicar for Clergy.

“I admired his joy and simplicity,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He seemed to have no guile and what you saw is what you got. He was very proud of his Polish heritage and was unafraid to be Polish.”

Father Mucha’s move to the United States came about after he visited St. Joseph Polish while on vacation. The pastor at the time was sick, and parishioners asked Father Mucha to stay.

After receiving approval from his superiors in Poland and the archbishop in Denver, Father Mucha did stay, and ended up serving the parish for nearly four decades.

“He was happy to serve here,” said Father Ciesla. “All the time, he was a man of faith. He kept his eye on Jesus.”

Msgr. Schmitz believes Father Mucha’s faithfulness and tenacity as a priest will leave a lasting impression on those he served.

“He was dedicated to the priesthood and didn’t want to retire until he was sure his people would be well taken care of,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He could come across as tough, but really he was a compassionate person [with] a heart open to the Lord’s work.”