Advent and Christmas offer a needed break from the noise of the current clerical abuse crisis, Church divisions, and secular obsessions with politics. It’s a needed opportunity to think about and to contemplate on the “reason for the season”.
A REASON FOR THE SEASON
Over the years there have been many clichés for emphasizing the right things during the Christmas season. “Put Christ back in Christmas,” is a popular one for turning away from all the consumerism and glitz surrounding the “main event” and for refocusing on the celebration of the birth of Christ.
The Church is in crisis and the turmoil, expressed in both the secular and Catholic media, seems never ending. In turn, the situation has placed the Church, as an institution, at the front and center of our attention. The start of a new liturgical year—Advent and Christmas— could not come at a better time to remind us of what is important in our faith. So, another “reason for the season” is to refocus our attention on the Church in a different way.
THE CHURCH IN PERSPECTIVE
Many today see no need for a Church. Often one hears the refrain, “Jesus yes, church no”. There is an assumption that spirituality is something between you and nature or you and God; consequently there is no need for the Church as an intermediary. Unfortunately, it is a narcissistic delusion to think that we can know God without help – without a context. Pope Benedict XVI in his book Introduction to Christianity emphasizes that we come to faith through “community”.
The Churc has provided such community and context for over 2000 years. Would we even know about Jesus Christ if there hadn’t been a Church that provided the gospel and story of Jesus through Sacred Scripture and Holy Tradition? The Church provides what we cannot do for ourselves: instruction to explain basic beliefs (doctrine) and how to act (morality). And perhaps one of the greatest benefits the Church provides is the faith based liturgical year.
MOVING FROM A SEASON OF SCANDAL TO A SEASON OF HOPE
One teaching that left a strong impression on me as a convert was the day by day guide for following the faith the Church provided, a schedule that went beyond Sunday Mass. This day by day focus for our faith completely altered my sense of calendar time. Advent “kicks off” the liturgical new year.
Advent is not just the celebration of the anticipation of the Messiah but of the expectation of a whole new year. The observances of that new liturgical year, in turn, can offer a needed opportunity for renewal. I once heard a priest say that we can use it to make “faith based’ new years resolutions. As a penitential season, Advent has been termed a “mini-Lent.” It is a season that encourages one to reflect, think and pray about our relationship to Jesus Christ. In that sense, it opens the door for reconciliation – to recognize and confess our faults. Such reconciliation, in turn, highlights our need for hope. For me, that is the overriding theme I associate with Advent: It can allow us to move from a season of scandal to a season of hope.
SETTING THE STAGE FOR RECONCILIATION
No matter how bad things may appear for our Church, the hope that Advent and Christmas brings us can set the stage for reconciliation, not just within ourselves, but also for the greater Church. I pray that our bishops and priests use Advent and the rest of the liturgical year to renew their fidelity to faith in Jesus Christ, and all that involves for needed reform.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.