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: Pilgrimage: A journey through Church history

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“Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” Paul proclaims these words the end of the book of Acts, capping off the biblical narrative of the work of the Apostles. The story of salvation history doesn’t end with the death of the Apostles, however, but continues in the life of the Church, fulfilling the words of Paul. The Gentiles have accepted the Gospel and have built up the Kingdom of God on earth. This is our story and we continue it.

If you want to know how the story continues after Acts, I’ll be teaching a class through the Denver Catholic Catechetical School this year, called “Pilgrimage: A Journey through Church History.” It begins with the early Church and follows the story to today. The class explores the Church Fathers, the fall of Rome, the building of Christendom, the High Middles ages, the Reformation (perfect for the 500th anniversary this year), the expansion of the missions around the globe, the modern revolutions, and the Second Vatican Council. We’ll be looking at and discussing the most important historical sources and exploring the art of the various time periods. We’ll be entering into the Church’s story by allowing the key figures and events to guide us.

We see one turning point in the story in the year 430. St. Augustine lay dying in Hippo as the Vandals prepared to sack and conquer the city. Augustine lived at the end of an age as the Roman Empire slowly crumbled, but also at the beginning of a new Christian one, an age he helped forge. The great doctor of the Church thought through the implications of the rise of Christianity in an age of political decline and saw right into the heart of history. History, unlike the focus of our textbooks, finds its true course not in politics or economics, but through love.

Augustine posited that all mankind belonged to one of two cities: the City of God and the City of Man. One city took its shape by loving God before all else and the other in a love turned inward on oneself. Augustine taught us that we live as citizens of our true homeland above even within the midst of this passing world: “The glorious city of God is my theme in this work. . . . I have undertaken its defense against those who prefer their own gods to the Founder of this city—a city surpassingly glorious.” Augustine’s teaching laid the foundation for a new Christian civilization, Christendom, which sprang up amidst the ruins of Rome in Europe.

One young man unexpectedly began building the foundations for this new civilization. He was studying within the ruins of the decadent city of Rome in about the year 500 and fled the temptations of town to live as a hermit in the wilderness. Eventually, others flocked to him and he laid the foundations for monasticism throughout Western Europe. The monasteries provided the foundation upon which a new society was built. St. Benedict, for this work, has been recognized as a patron of Europe and a true father of Christendom. His Rule does not seek to build up the earthly city, but looking to the City of God to “hasten to do now what will profit us for eternity.” And this is the key to Catholic culture and history: seeking the lasting the city helps us to live better in this life, with wisdom, courage, and hope.

We are all pilgrims, living in exile in the city of this world, and journeying toward the heavenly Jerusalem: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come” (Heb 13:14). And yet we have to build a city on earth and looking to the past provides inspiration for this great project. This is why we should study Church history, especially as our culture goes through a period of upheaval, not unlike St. Augustine’s time. We need the witness and the legacy of the saints and doctors to guide our pilgrimage as we continue the story of the Church. Looking to the past helps us to plot out our own path on our journey to eternal life.

Class details

“Pilgrimage: A Journey Through Church History,” John Paul II Center, Denver. Tuesdays, 9:00 AM. Information Sessions: Aug 1 and Sept 5, 9:00 AM. Classes begin Tuesday, September 12, 2017. Register at: https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1968327