This past year it has been noted by John Allen, formerly a correspondent for the Holy See and now for Crux of the Boston Globe, that recent popes have had a theme that was woven through their reflections and teaching. For example, Saint John Paul II theme was “Be Not Afraid,” Pope Benedict XVI’s was “Faith and Reason,” and Pope Francis’ is “Culture of Encounter,” in which we meet the Lord in our daily encounters with one another.
As we begin Advent, there is a clear encounter with the Lord described in the opening prayer for the First Sunday of Advent this past week. In part, the prayer reads “Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.” We run forth to meet the Lord as he comes to meet us. Advent reflects on these two comings of the Lord: the second at the end of time and the first at his birth. And in the mystery of that are our daily encounters with him in life, Word and Sacrament.
Advent, with its beautiful images of purple, rose and the wreaths, the words of the prophets, the “O” antiphons, and the various feast days is a time for us, in the midst of all of the season activities, to search out some quiet moments for our encounter with the Lord.
How are we going to do this during this new liturgical year? A new year can lead us to a new grace and new possibilities. From the book entitled “Christmas with the Holy Fathers” (Paraclete Press, 2008) we find that “The name ADVENT comes from the Latin word “Advenire”(to come to), and refers to the coming of Jesus Christ to earth. This is the time of year during which the people of God begin preparing for the celebration of the Feast of Christmas that is to come.”
In this book’s recollections of the words of the Bishops of Rome over the centuries on the season of Advent, we find these recent (2002) words of Saint John Paul II on Advent: “Advent…helps us to understand fully the value and meaning of the mystery of Christmas. It is not just about commemorating the historical event, which occurred some 2,000 years ago in a little village of Judea. Instead, it is necessary to understand that the whole of our life must be an “Advent,” a vigilant awaiting of the final coming of Christ. To predispose our mind to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, one day will come to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize him as present in the events of daily life. Therefore, Advent is, so to speak, an intense training that directs us decisively toward him who already came, who will come, and who comes continuously.”
As I remember the Advent wreaths of years past, in schools and parishes and the lives of families that I was blessed to be a part of , I pray that these sacred days of Advent will bring you unexpected blessings as we “run forth” to meet Christ, who comes to us. Maranatha, come, Lord Jesus!
The Most Reverend Kevin W. Vann, Bishop Of Orange