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This weekend, the Church begins the season of Advent.
It also begins the use of biblical readings from Year B of its three-year cycle.
Advent also marks the start of a new liturgical year. Each liturgical year is carefully planned so that the seasons, and the major feasts, guide us through our worship into a closer relationship with God in Christ.
Finally, and important for everyone, this is the weekend when the Church begins to use the new English translation of the Roman Missal.
The first reading is from the third section of Isaiah, composed when the Jews were in a quite difficult situation.
Years before, the exiles had been allowed to return to the Holy Land from Babylon, but this return brought the exiles home to a place that was far from paradise. Life was miserable for them there.
The prophet called for faith in God, not only as the Almighty Lord, but also as true to the covenant, to the belief that God would protect the Chosen People.
The prophet appeals to God, in the name of the people, for relief, but without saying that the people are being treated unfairly, at least in terms of God’s care for them.
The prophet makes clear that sin has led the people away from God, and this estrangement has produced their woes.
St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians provides the next reading.
Counseling the Christians of Corinth was a challenge for Paul. Not only did temptation and vice surround them at every side, the people also argued among themselves.
Paul had to call them to faithfulness, and also had to try to influence them to put aside their differences with each other.
He saw disciples as having enormous religious potential, able to draw more closely to God and to infuse the goodness of Christianity into the circles in which they moved.
St. Mark’s Gospel is the source of the last reading.
It offers us a theme found quite often in the New Testament, namely that Christ will come to Earth again. In this Second Coming, the Lord will be the great victor and the judge of all creation.
By the time the Gospels were written, even in the case of the Gospel of Mark—perhaps the oldest of the four Gospels as they now exist—Christians were numerous enough, and geographically distributed widely enough, to catch the public eye, but not numerous enough or powerful enough to stand against their enemies.
The culture was an enemy. Soon the political system would be an enemy.
Problems, if not dangers, lay ahead for the early Christians. The atmosphere was tense, uncertain and frightening.
Thoughts of the Second Coming were naturally quite appealing to the people.
The reading, quoting the Lord, reminds us that we, in fact, do not know the future. For any one of us, life can change dramatically and suddenly.
The only permanent reality is God. If we are with God, we need not fear what lays ahead in life.
The new translation of the Roman Missal means much more than semantics and translating Latin into English.
True, it is an attempt to conform the English version of the Missal to the Latin edition. It also provides an opportunity to ponder what the words of the Missal, of Catholic worship, say to us. In turn, this study prompts the question of how much religion means to each of us. Are we good Catholics?
St. Mark’s Gospel greatly assists us. Nothing else is as permanent, or as important, as the reality of God.
Advent is an opportunity to achieve union with God, to realize God’s love for us.
The very busy nature of the season merely serves to remind us to sharpen our focus. If we respond to this opportunity, then Christmas becomes not just a national holiday and religious commemoration, but also the moment when we truly bring God into our lives, having prepared ourselves for this wondrous encounter. †