Thursday of the 1st Week of Advent

Jolly old Saint Nicholas?  or How a 3rd century Greek saint became a commercial icon.

Saint Nicholas (the real guy) at Saint John Nepomuk Church, Saint Louis

Saint Nicholas (the real guy) at Saint John Nepomuk Church, Saint Louis

Today we remember Saint Nicholas, the real guy, not the fat man in the red suit.  Nicholas was the son of wealthy parents.  When they died, Nicholas used his entire inheritance to take care of the poor.  There are dozens of examples of his generosity including a story of him leaving bags of gold for three young women who couldn’t afford the necessary dowery to be married.  He tossed the money through a window in the dark of night being too humble to accept credit for his generosity.  Hence the custom of leaving shoes out on the night before Saint Nicholas’ feast day to be filled with candy and other small gifts.  [Note:  Your favorite blogger has left his shoes out for years and has yet to get even one piece of candy.]

Somehow this tradition has morphed into the Santa Claus/Christmas tradition.  While many of us still celebrate Saint Nicholas’ Day on December 6, Nicholas’ alter-ego, Santa Claus, does his thing on December 25.  Where Nicholas specializes in small gifts, Santa (who’s parents must have REALLY been rich) leans more towards  video games and anything that starts with a lower-case i.  (iPads, Iphones, iPods, iCadillacs, etc.)

The thing that seems to have begun the real metamorphosis was the book published in 1823 which we now know as “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Moore.  The book was originally titled “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.”  Moore describes Santa Claus but calls him Saint Nick.  The confusion lives on.

So, as we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child, let’s remember the spirit of giving that marked the life of Saint Nicholas.  His generosity earned him a place in the cannon of saints.  We’re not distracted yet by the piles of loot that will show up on Christmas morning.  Have an orange or a Hershey Bar, find a quiet place, and reflect on our call to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Happy Saint Nicholas’ Day

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Wednesday of the 1st Week of Advent

advent candleLight is good.  Darkness is bad.  I know that these are generalities.  After all, the greatest event in human history took place at night; the birth of our Lord and Savior.  But most of the time, we associate darkness with loneliness, sadness, even depression.  There’s even a name for the depression that’s caused by the absence of light, seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

How fitting is it that we mark the days until the birth of our Savior by lighting candles?  Just one at first.  Then two, then three, then finally for the last week of Advent we light all four candles.  See, Jesus doesn’t come into our hearts all at once.  He lights our world one candle at a time.  We symbolize this by lighting the individual candles then on Christmas morning we’re flooded with light.  In Bethlehem a bright star led the way to Baby Jesus’ place of birth.

He had to be born at night so His Light could be seen by all, in sharp contrast to the darkness.  In our own lives, sometimes we have to endure darkness so we can appreciate the light that will surely come.  Sadly, some people just don’t have the patience to wait.

As we prepare for Christmas, notice all the lights.  Even those politically correct people who insist on wishing you “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” usually add more lights to their businesses during this special season.  For those of us who believe, every star, every street light, every light on every building should remind us that the greatest light of all is coming soon.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light!”

Tuesday of the 1st Week of Advent

Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I give you praise Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and learned you have revealed them to the childlike.  Yes, Father such has been your gracious will.’  Luke 10:21

This simple, two sentence beginning of today’s Gospel is very powerful.  First, it clearly describes the Holy Trinity.  Jesus, the Son, rejoices in the Holy Spirit as He gives praise to the Father.

Speaking to the Father, He praises Him for revealing the great truths not to the so-called wise and learned, but to the childlike.  As we prepare for the coming of the Lord, not as a great and powerful Rabbi or as a king riding in a golden chariot, we recognize that the all-powerful creator of the universe chose to present himself as a humble child.  He reveals his arrival not to kings, but to lowly shepherds, tending their flocks.

During this season of preparation for His coming, it’s good to remind ourselves that each and every one of us is a creation of God and no great learning is needed to be a member of His family.  All we need is a simple child-like faith.  We don’t have to be great scholars or theologian to hear his simple message.  In fact, great wisdom may get in the way of appreciating His simple message.

“Love one another as I have loved you.”

Monday of the First Week of Advent

francis xavierOn this first weekday of Advent we remember Saint Francis, Xavier.  How appropriate!  Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord.  Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuit order was a Spanish missionary who spread the Word of God throughout Asia.  He visited IndiaJapanBorneo, the Moluccas, and other areas that had not yet been visited by Christian missionaries.   Having been to Asia myself, I can’t imagine what a monumental task his work must have been, trying to convey such an important message without being able to speak the native languages.

But aren’t we all called to spread the good news?  Our vocation may not call us to foreign lands, but doesn’t it seem like sometimes, when we want to share Jesus’ message, we might as well be speaking in a foreign tongue?  When we speak concepts like charity, and love of neighbor, faith, hope, and joy, it seems like we can’t communicate the message because the listeners just don’t understand the words.

Here, at the beginning of this prayerful and joyful season, let’s pray to Saint Francis, asking him to help us in our efforts to evangelize others.

 

Saint Francis Xavier, pray for us!

Happy New Year!

Happy New YearToday we celebrate the beginning of the Church year, the First Sunday of Advent.  While the rest of the world (at least the western world) celebrates January 1 as the start of the new year, the Church recognizes today as the beginning of the liturgical year.  It makes perfect sense.  How better to celebrate the start of a new year than to spend four weeks preparing for the coming of the Lord?

I suppose we could start the year on December 25.  After all, that’s the day when it all began.  Or was it?  Did it all begin when Jesus was conceived?  Or did it really begin when Mary was immaculately conceived?  One event leads to another.  Isn’t it better if we begin with a short period of preparation before the really big event, Jesus’ birth, Christmas Day?  I think so.

But why is it that on December 31 we humans throw huge parties and attend grand celebrations (or at least watch them on TV) when the Church’s New Year’s Day, the first Sunday of Advent goes largely unnoticed.  There are no big parties.  The ball doesn’t drop in New York City.  For most of us, even Catholics, the day when the vestments change from green to purple is mostly just another Sunday.  And that’s too bad.

What really happens on January 1?  We change our secular calendars.  Heck, even the calendars we distribute in church start with January 1.  1/1/13 will be a day off for most people.  The date has significance for taxes and financial purposes, but in the big picture, the one that includes eternity, isn’t December 2 far more significant than January 1?  When you and I meet Jesus face-to-face, do you think He’s going to ask what bowl games we watched on January 1, or is He going to ask us what we did to prepare for His coming?  I think you know the answer to that.