November 30, 2007

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Past and future come together at end of year

Sean GallagherNovember is coming to a quick end. The start of December and, with it, the season of Advent and a new Church year is right around the corner.

This ending of one liturgical year and the start of another calls Catholics to take some contrasting perspectives on time.

November, in some ways, is a month that is focused on the past. It starts with All Saints Day, when we pay honor to the holy men and women throughout the 2,000-year history of the Church.

The tone for the rest of the month is set by the next day’s feast, All Souls Day.

November has traditionally been a month when we are especially invited to pray for our deceased friends and relatives and all the dead.

My wife, Cindy, and I introduced this custom to our sons this year by taking them on a daylong pilgrimage on All Souls Day.

We started the day with Mass then drove to the four cemeteries where Cindy’s grandparents and my grandparents are buried. At each grave, we said prayers for the repose of their souls.

Along the way, stories were told about our grandparents. We also told our oldest son, Michael, about purgatory, what it means to pray for those who have died and how they’re still a part of our lives.

But now November is ending and Advent will soon begin.

Instead of looking back, we’re called to set our eyes on that great day when Christ will return in glory.

This important aspect of Advent gets easily lost nowadays when we’re so focused on the present.

Children of all ages have their minds set on the gifts that will soon be exchanged and the social gatherings that fill our December calendars.

As materialistic as Christmas has become, it’s very easy for us to lose sight of the spiritual meaning of Advent.

One way that my wife and I have tried to help our children keep their hearts at least somewhat focused on the coming of Christ is by making a homemade Advent calendar that has doors for each day of the season.

Behind each door, there might be a small drawing commemorating the saint of that day, a Scripture verse from the day’s Mass readings or other reminders of the season’s spiritual meaning that is so filled with joy.

Like many families, we’ll also have an Advent wreath on our dinner table. Our boys especially enjoy blowing out the candles.

An Advent addition to our mealtime ritual is to pray “Come Lord Jesus” after praying the traditional meal blessing.

Unlike so many retail stores that roll out their Christmas decorations shortly after Halloween, we’ll wait a good bit to “deck our halls,” and give Advent its due.

In recent years, we’ve started a tradition of decorating for Christmas around the third Sunday of Advent, which has traditionally been called “Gaudete Sunday.”

“Gaudete” is the Latin word for “rejoice.” The Mass readings for that Sunday often encourage us to rejoice in Christ’s future coming. In our home, we try to show that joy by putting up our Christmas decorations.

Hopefully, these little efforts, combined with some big help from God’s grace, will give our young boys as they grow up a balanced perspective on the past and the future that will help them live joyfully in the present. †

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