November 28, 2008


Starting afresh from Christ

Several years ago, Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando inaugurated a diocesan synod with a pastoral letter based on themes of conversion, communion, solidarity and stewardship. The bishop observed that Advent was the proper time to begin planning for the future because it is the season of hope.

The Church’s year of grace begins with Advent and the opportunity to start afresh from Christ.

As Christians, we are people who firmly believe that the promises of Christ will be fulfilled—both now and in the age to come.

We are realistic about the state of humanity and the world. We do not expect Utopia, a perfect world here and now.

Many regions of the world are not at peace, the global economy is in crisis, and the gap between rich and poor continues to increase dramatically. There is much discouraging news these days. But we do not despair.

Each year, the Church gives us the opportunity to begin again—and to prepare ourselves anew for the coming of our friend and brother, Jesus Christ.

We believe that the promises God made to his people in the Old Testament have been fulfilled in Christ. The reign of God has begun, the new age that is Christ is upon us and, so, we are profoundly hopeful about the future. As we pray each day in the liturgy, we Christians wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ!

The four Sundays of Advent help us to start afresh from Christ. This Advent season, the Old Testament readings from Isaiah recall for us the profound longing of the Jewish people. Like us, they longed for peace and for justice, they longed for prosperity and joy, and they longed for the One who would save them from the bondage of slavery and sin.

The words of St. Paul and St. James to the original Christian communities rekindle in us the heartfelt longing for Christ’s return that so vividly characterized the early Church.

And in the Gospel readings for this holy season, St. Matthew invites us, once again, to a personal encounter with Jesus, the Lord of history and the Savior of all humanity.

A personal encounter with Christ makes serious demands on each of us. We are called to grow—to change the way we live. And we are challenged to see things differently—with the eyes of faith in Christ. We are free to accept the call to discipleship or to reject it (like the rich young man in the Gospel story) but, if we seek to follow Jesus, we must give up our old ways of life and start afresh in him.

Beginning again in Christ means entering into communion with him and with all our sisters and brothers in the one family of God. It means sharing in his evangelizing mission and proclaiming the Good News through our words and our example.

Experiencing Christ in a personal way compels us to lead—to be proactive in reaching out to our brothers and sisters—especially to those family members who are poor or suffering or alienated in any way. Once we have been touched by Christ, once we have encountered his loving kindness, it is impossible to remain isolated or alone.

Self-giving is the hallmark of Christian life, and we are blessed with a perfect model of generous self-sacrifice in the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In response to God’s call, Mary said, “Yes.” She responded wholeheartedly—without counting the cost to herself. Mary was absolutely unique in all of human history. (There was no “runner-up,” only Mary, and only she was destined to be the mother of our Lord.)

But each of us also receives a unique and unrepeatable call. No one can say “yes” for us or take our place in the journey to salvation that is uniquely ours.

Cardinal John Henry Newman once said that “God gives every person something to do that no one else can do.” There was no runner-up for Mary, and there is also no runner-up for each of us. And, yet, we are not alone.

We are each called to live out our faith in solidarity with the entire human family, and to accept responsibility for building up the Body of Christ and continuing his work on Earth.

Finally, the call to start afresh from Christ challenges us to see ourselves as stewards, people who share all the spiritual and materials gifts we have received from God. In truth, nothing that we have (or are) belongs exclusively to us.

Everything—including the air we breathe, the water we drink, the bread we break, the clothes we wear and the roof over our heads—comes from God as pure gift.

As disciples of Jesus, we are challenged to be grateful, responsible and generous stewards, to develop our gifts and talents, to use our material possessions responsibly, and to share generously with others all the blessings we have received from a good and gracious God.

Communion with Christ, and with all our brothers and sisters who make up his body, is the meaning and the ultimate goal of all human life. The Lord gives us the gift of himself in the Eucharist and in the sacraments of new life, healing, vocation and mercy that the Church administers on behalf of her Lord.

These are the promises of Christ that are being fulfilled in and through the work of the Holy Spirit.

During Advent, we recognize and celebrate the profound spiritual longing that compels us to “wait in joyful hope,” confident that he who is with us always will come again in glory at the end of time.

—Daniel Conway

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