Sunday, December 2, 2012

Two Things

Happy New (Church) Year, everybody!

   First Sunday of Advent   C 

General Louis-Gaston de Sonis
served in the French Army 
during the Franco-Prussian War,
during which he lost a leg in battle 
on December 2, 1870. 
He was no stranger to suffering,
all too familiar with seeing 
“the nations of the earth in dismay,”
as Jesus foretold in the gospel. 
He was also a devout Catholic,
who considered himself—above all—
a soldier of Christ. 
General de Sonis once said,
“A Christian must always be prepared 
for two things:
Holy Communion, and death.”

Cuts right to the chase, doesn’t it?

We are now in a season of preparation, 
a time of getting ready.
But what are we getting ready for?
Based on the ads in the paper, 
the music on the radio,
and the twinkling lights out in the yard,
it’s understandable that people would think
Advent is all about getting ready for Christmas:
preparing for holiday parties 
and gift-giving and feasting.
This talk about preparing for death,
this gospel about the end times—
they’re a bit morbid and rather a kill-joy.
After all, ’tis the season to be jolly…isn’t it?

But when the Word of God tells us
to “be vigilant at all times,”
to “stand erect and raise your heads,”
to “beware that your hearts do not become drowsy,”
then I’d say that’s advice we ought to take to heart.

“A Christian must always be prepared for two things:
Holy Communion, and death.”
At their core, these two things are the same thing:
one is for earth, while the other is for heaven;
one is passing, while the other is eternal;
but both are about having the strength
to stand before the Son of Man—
both are about the coming of the Lord Jesus.

Inspired by the Year of Faith
and starting this first week of Advent—
we’re adding something to the Malone Catholic calendar:
every Thursday night, from 7:00 to 8:00pm,
we’ll be “leaving the light on” at Notre Dame Church,
with a priest available for confession
and offering a time of quiet Eucharistic adoration.

Why confession?
Some of you, no doubt, remember that once upon a time,
Catholics never dared receive Holy Communion
without first confessing their sins.
Now, that may have been a bit excessive.
Sure, we’re all sinners…yet probably not quite that bad.
But this practice did keep people thinking,
it kept people honest, it kept people asking,
“Is the life I’m leading outside of this church
in line with what I’m doing while I’m inside it?”
A Catholic knew and understood that,
because of the choices I’ve made, because of things I’ve done,
there are times when I ought to stay in my pew,
when I should not approach the altar to receive the Eucharist,
when I’m not really ready to meet Jesus.

In the Church today,
we have quite the opposite situation, don’t we?
Nearly everybody goes to Communion…
…and very few regularly go to confession…or ever go at all.
And based just on what I know of my own wayward soul,
I don’t suspect that’s because
we’re sinning that much less these days.

The Lord Jesus has left us instructions for living,
faithfully handed down in the Church
since the days of the Apostles.
The Church teaches us how to conduct ourselves
in a way pleasing to God,
to live in a manner that’s blameless as we await Christ’s return.
These are not heavy-handed rules
meant simply to keep us from having a good time;
they’re wise, time-tested directions
meant to keep us on the right path.
Sometimes we miss the mark;
sometimes we wander astray.
And so we need to set things right;
we need a fresh start.
That’s what the Sacrament of Penance is all about.

That’s why confession. 
Why adoration?
“People will die of fright,” Jesus says,
“in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.”
A pretty scary thought!
But it doesn’t have to be.
For those who are ready,
that day won’t catch us by surprise, like a trap.
If we’re accustomed to being around Jesus,
if we’ve regularly been spending time in his presence,
then his return won’t be frightening at all;
actually, it’ll be rather welcome.

Eucharistic adoration
is about spending quiet time with Jesus.
It is our cherished Catholic faith
that the bread and wine we offer at Mass
truly become the Body and Blood of Christ—
his real and living presence among us.
Many folks have a notion of God
as a Supreme Being who’s quite distant:
off in heaven, far removed from us and our concerns.
But that’s not what we Catholics believe!
We not only believe that God once came to earth;
we believe that God has established a tangible way
to linger right here in our neighborhood.
How, then, could we stay away?

Being jolly, you see, is perfectly in line
with our constant need to be ready
for Communion and for death—
not just during these days of Advent,
but all throughout the year.
It’s about rejoicing in the right things:
joy that the Son of God took flesh as a man
to take away the sins of the world,
fulfilling the ancient promise;
joy that he remains with us still
in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar;
and joy that he will come again in power and glory,
intent on taking us to live with him forever.
Could there be any greater, more genuine cause
for singing and feasting and all-around rejoicing?

With these additions to our parish schedule,
we now have at least two-and-a-half hours
dedicated to confession each week,
and almost seven hours set aside for Eucharist adoration.
I hope to see many of you on Thursday nights,
or at one of the other times listed on the cover of our bulletin.
Give yourself that gift this Advent,
and you’ll also give a gift to Christ.
And don’t be surprised when you see that the Lord
will not be outdone in generosity.

“A Christian must always be prepared for two things:
Holy Communion, and death.”
Let’s be sure we’re ready for both.
Indeed, our redemption is near at hand.

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