The Pilgrims can teach us about Advent

This week we will celebrate Thanksgiving and begin the liturgical season of Advent. While the two events may not appear to be related, I believe that the spiritual practices behind Thanksgiving can prepare us to live Advent well.

The most widely accepted story about the first Thanksgiving is that it was held in November 1621 in Plymouth, Mass., after settlers from the Mayflower were able to raise their first successful crop of corn.

The tradition of setting aside a day to thank God for his blessings was one that the Pilgrims brought with them from England, but this practice has a spiritual counterpart that is often forgotten today. In times of difficulty, the Pilgrims would declare days of fasting and penance to purify themselves and to help them see how God was working in the trials they were experiencing.

The spiritual principle underlying this is one that we can benefit from as we begin Advent and get ready to renew our welcome of Jesus with the celebration of Christmas. Just as we clean our house and prepare food when we are expecting guests, we are called to prepare our hearts for Christ’s arrival. And the more ready we are to welcome him, the more thankful we will be, and the more our families will be filled with the joy of Christmas.

One passage of Scripture that illustrates this principle well is Chapter 5 of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, where he urges the Christians of Ephesus not to abandon the true God by returning to pagan practices, but to dedicate their lives to seeking God’s will.

“Therefore do not be foolish,” St. Paul writes, “but understand what the will of the Lord is … always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (emphasis added)” (Eph 5:18, 20).

The ability to give thanks “always and everywhere,” he explains, flows from the true God and our rejection of immorality. In other words, we are able to give thanks when our hearts are pure and our wills are conformed to God’s.

This is something that we should imitate, especially as we walk through Advent toward Christmas, toward the manger in Bethlehem where Jesus came into the world as a child.

If we spend Advent purifying our hearts as the Pilgrims did in the times of difficulty that preceded their first harvest, and as St. Paul encouraged the Ephesians, then we will be able to prepare a deeper and more intimate place in our hearts and families for as we rejoice at Christmas.

This is the true meaning of Christmas: welcoming Jesus, encountering him, loving him and giving thanks to the Father for the gift of his Son, Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matt 1: 23).

I encourage everyone in the archdiocese to spend this Advent seeking God’s will and purifying your hearts through his grace.  Let each of us cry out each Advent morning, “Lord, purify my heart and make it like yours.”

The world needs to see the authentic joy that comes from welcoming Jesus at Christmas, especially since attempts are made every year to remake the celebration of Christ’s birth into a secular holiday.

Just last week, SkyView Academy, a public charter school in Highlands Ranch, decided to cancel its involvement with Operation Christmas Child. The program delivers shoeboxes filled with gifts to poor children around the world, accompanied by a message inviting them to consider Christianity.

The school decided to pull out of the program because it received a letter from the American Humanist Association threatening a lawsuit if it did not suspend its involvement. The Humanist Association’s action demonstrates their lack of understanding of the values upon which our country was founded and is a rejection of the historical event of Christmas.

The local story of SkyView Academy is one example of how attempts are being made to set God aside in favor of the anti-values of atheism, consumerism, busyness, gluttony and greed. This stands in opposition to the message of the manger: the message of littleness, meekness, contentment and interior conversion.

Our society needs to see Christians transformed with the real joy caused by the good news of Christmas and Jesus’ entrance into our history. People are wondering who is right. Did Jesus really come at Christmas? Did the all-powerful God truly become a helpless child to save us? Or is Christmas just another holiday that gives us a chance to shop and make big meals?

May all of us spend this Advent purifying our hearts so that we can welcome Jesus at Christmas with joy and thanks for his love for us, and may we proclaim his message with boldness and humility in our world, following the example of the little child who changed history forever when he was born in Bethlehem.


COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.