Saturday, November 26, 2005

First Sunday in Advent

"Charity is that with which no man is lost, and without which no man is saved."
Saint Robert Bellarmine

"O God, thou art my God, I seek thee;
my flesh faints for thee, as in dry and weary land where no water is.
So I looked upon thee in the sanctuary, beholding thy power and glory.
Because thy steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise thee.
So I will bless thee as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on thy name.
Pslam 63: 1-4

Readings for the day:
Jeremiah 20:7-9, Psalms:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9, Romans 12:1-2, Mathew 16:21-27

Saint of the Day: Saint Augustine Read more!

Advent thoughts on the Eve of the First Sunday…

There is one homily that I will never forget. It was given by Father McNally in the early nineties, shortly after I had officially joined the Church. He was talking about Advent in contrast to the secular idea of when the Christmas season really begins. As Catholics we called to try and observe Advent while plagued with Christmas commercials and a culture plying us with all of our wants ~ disguised as needs. If you are working for a large company, as opposed for yourself, you are surrounded by peers who are planning Christmas parties. Your children if in school, (assuming Christmas is not a foul word yet for your school board), are also surrounded by festivities when we are actually suppose to be in a time of fast and prayer as we prepare for Christ’s birth.

Father addressed various ways of coping with that, while also trying to be a quiet witness to our friends and relatives. He began with the exterior means, things as simple as not turning on your Christmas lights until Christmas Eve. 'Of course put up your lights outside before the snow flies (we were living in a northern portion of Canada) but bide your time before turning them on and then keep them up and shinning until the official end of the Christmas season in the Church.' This would be the Twelve Days of Christmas, the true source for the popular Christmas Carol and begins with Christmas Mass at Midnight and continues to Epiphany (The Day of the Kings or Wise Men).

Popular merry-making. Codex Theod., II, 8, 27 (cf. XV, 5,5) forbids, in 425, circus games on 25 December; though not till Codex Just., III, 12, 6 (529) is cessation of work imposed. The Second Council of Tours (can. xi, xvii) proclaims, in 566 or 567, the sanctity of the "twelve days" from Christmas to Epiphany, and the duty of Advent fast; that of Agde (506), in canons 63-64, orders a universal communion, and that of Braga (563) forbids fasting on Christmas Day. Popular merry-making, however, so increased that the "Laws of King Cnut", fabricated c. 1110, order a fast from Christmas to Epiphany. ( )

But in today’s world it seems that all festivity ends with the Christmas dinner and is picked up in a purely temporal manner for New Years Eve, leaving us Christians in the cold and no where to go with our merry making that we have denied ourselves all of Advent. The Christmas carols that played in the malls and on our car radios disappears and life returns to its normal muted humdrum existence. Despite this, Father McNally encouraged to try and follow the traditional fast and self denying through out Advent. Some how this seems to be so much easier to do during Lent as even most of the secular world is aware of the Catholic tradition of fasting, or at least giving up something, for lent. He suggested that when there are office parties that surely we should attend but to not over indulge in the treats, but quietly avoid seconds and refrain from making a show of our sacrifice. 'We should by all means take advantage of the feast days and celebrate them with the decorum that they warrant.' This advice was easily digested but the following was the most difficult and is a struggle to this day.

He strongly advised that we forbear all Christmas Carols and try to listen only to Advent hymns such as O Come O Come Emmanuel and to not put up our Christmas tree until Christmas Eve.

So how did our family cope with these well advised suggestions from a priest who is a very holy man? At that time we were part of a strong Catholic home schooling group which helped immensely. We did not have to deal with the pressures of school festivities and Christmas (Or should I say Winter Holiday?) concerts and we could plan group activities around the feast days that are many in December. We have four in quick succession during the month December that are well known and celebrated in various fashions throughout the world. They begin with one of the most famous which happens to also be responsible for our modern Santa Claus, St Nicholas on December 6th. This is followed by a Holy Day of Obligation here in the States, which is the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and falls on the 8th. Two lesser known, but still familiar, Saint days are Our Lady of Guadalupe and Saint Lucy and these days fall back to back with our Lady’s day being celebrated on the 12th and St. Lucy’s on the 13th . Then we also have the feast day of Juan Diego on the 9th, if we really want an extra day of festivity to light the dark days of winter. In our family we rise early on St. Nicholas day to a table filled with yummy treats such as ginger bread and hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and a candy cane. Traditionally each child receives a letter or Christmas card from St Nick with a note of encouragement, as well as gentle admonishments for areas where improvement is needed. These letters are written with great love as well as with prayer and much thought. A small gift lays alongside each place sitting or on the plate. Some years that is the day the children have written their Christmas list of wishes to leave for St. Nick to take back to Baby Jesus to read. This year I am planning on suggesting a list of Thanksgivings in lieu of wishes.

Another local Catholic Home schooling group that was an hours distance from us had monthly meeting, and well in advance of Advent it would invite parents to share ideas they used to help incorporate peace and spiritual growth within their families. My favorite was the idea of having table clothes that reflected the colour of the Season. So the first Sunday of Advent the children awake to a purple table cloth or runner on the table. Then Gaudette Sunday is celebrated with a rose coloured cloth, and Christmas Eve or Morning is greeted with either a red tablecloth or a cheery Christmas themed cloth. I did this for many years until a recent move caused the misplacement of our advent tablecloths that I had sewn by hand so many years ago in Canada. The very first year that we decided to do this, we also happened to receive a care package from my Stepmother and father, in which there was a delightful cloth decorated with jolly St Nick. This adorned our table on St Nick’s day and was also laid below the red cloth we placed on the table late Christmas Eve. Sadly, they are all missing and I cannot afford to replace them this year. We will have to be content with our paper cloths that we have been decorating each birthday and make a Christmas one and perhaps one for each feast day as well.

I think the biggest struggle we have had with any of Father McNally’s suggestions vies between the listening of Christmas Carols and when to erect the Christmas tree. I have completely lost the battle with the idea of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve for the last ten years and have gracefully retreated from the battle field with the compromise being that we decorate the tree on Gaudette Sunday. (However, the fact that our two oldest children will not arrive until 22nd or 23rd may give me a card up my sleeve this year.) As to the Carols, I must admit there is very little advent music out there, and the little there is wears out fast. So as a family we have completely given into the secular tendency to start listening to carols by Thanksgiving, and this year it was even earlier I am ashamed to admit! Originally we searched for John Michael Talbot music and used his quiet cds for a year or two until they disappeared or got destroyed, not sure which. I feel that we gave it a strong shot, but ultimately we just succumbed to the lure of this beautiful music and have searched for a large variety of it so that we do not tire of it before Epiphany.

This year, in addition to our small family advent traditions we have built up, I have added a new one through the purchase a book I found online this year while searching for my advent candles. It is Jotham’s Journey and is meant to be read one portion of the story for each day of Advent with the story culminating on Christmas Eve. I am really looking forward to this addition to our family evenings this year and hope to add the other two volumes of this trilogy in the years to come. I also hope to complete a Jesse Tree this year and it will be our first attempt at one.

Largely, our family goal for Advent this year is to draw closer to each other as a family unit, continue to strengthen our family prayer life and focus on charity, starting within our own family – for if we do not learn to cherish our own brothers and sisters, how can we know how to love the rest of humanity?

I pray that each of you find peace in these coming days of waiting and that as the light expands weekly from your lit advent candles, so will the light of Christ grow within your heart and that of your family.

GOD Bless

aka Christi to her friends, Madre to her two oldest sons, mummy to the rest of her children and originally localinda to her husband!

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