Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Preparation for the Celebration and Consummation

Father John J. Lombardi

When John the Baptist made his appearance as a preacher in the desert of Judea, this was his theme: "Reform your lives. The reign of God is at hand!" -Mt. 3:1

There is a two-fold, special character of Advent according to the Church's wisdom and liturgy: we await both the spiritual phenomenon of Christmas (the Birth of Jesus) and also His Second Coming (at the End of the World). So, now, amidst all the December decadence, ask: Am I making preparation for the Celebration and for the Consummation? That is what Advent is about-and we, as Catholics and Christians, need to remember this and claim back this Season before Christmas and not be caught in drunkenness and revelry (Lk 21:34).

The first reading in this weekend's Mass (Baruch, Ch 5) is an inspirational description for the Jews returning from exile-hundreds of years before Christ's birth. It is a message that, in spite of all the suffering and tribulation, the world will be changed-by God, and He will keep them as His people - always with the condition: if you keep the Covenant. Their world and land was turned upside down and, because of faithfulness, God was gracing them. What we need today: Faithfulness! How about your life, your walk with the Lord? This Advent (the word means "to come to"), make a spiritual inventory: am I being faithful to God by prayer, sacrifices, and love toward others? Am I making preparation for the celebration?

The prophets - like St John the Baptist in the Gospel (Lk 3) speak-in words or actions-for God. Their message is in opposition to a fallen culture (including religious people!) and world. Jeremiah, in last week's reading (Ch 33) was preaching to those who didn't always want God, or make time for Him, or place Him at the center of their hearts. Simply put, some people today (even some Christians and Catholics but also agnostics and atheists) don't always want God in their lives. Instead, they denigrate the Divine Presence-God in His Commandment-Laws (written upon our hearts thru "natural law"), or Jesus in the Eucharist, or the Indwelling Trinity within one's soul, in various ways.

God wants to be with us (Emmanuel) but some people don't want to be with God. The Birth of Jesus answers all this. How will you make preparation for the celebration; how will you be prophetic? To be prophetic, perhaps today, means that while the world revels in Christmas parties before Christmas, you are mourning-spiritually speaking. You become sorrowful for your sins and make a confession to Jesus in the priest and Sacrament of Reconciliation (do this soon)! In the Gospel Jesus tells us He is coming back-we do not know when, but His message is clear-be vigilant, be ready! Meditate upon this spiritual poem:

Prepare a spiritual room…
in the womb of your soul…
Pluck out the sinful, selfish straw…
So into your heart the Savior may draw…

God is the Cosmic Re-arranger of life. Jeremiah and the prophets said God will change things that not even religious people will want to, or can, change. This is why we have an Incarnation, because Jesus came to undo the devil's work "Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3). At His birth in Bethlehem, Jesus changed the world; even the stars and planets followed Him. In the Second Coming He will change and judge all things; the entire universe will change. That causes us reflection: What do I need to change, re-arrange, in my life? How do these need changing? Work on the things you know need changing-"in fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12) and also ask God for the grace to change the things you, yourself cannot change.

We can now see various people changing and re-arranging things in American life: the Ten Commandments, the Pledge of Allegiance, even God Himself--being removed from our creeds and public life. We should be alarmed and do everything we can to change that. People are trying to re-arrange marriage and make it a union of people of one gender. People are trying to re-arrange families and make them almost anything without two parents and children…People are trying to re-arrange our church and make it respectful to disrespect the Pope and the authentic, challenging and compassionate teachings of the Church… We should be alarmed like Jeremiah, Jesus and John the Baptist-"Make straight that which is crooked"(Lk3:4 ). But-we should, ourselves, also re-arrange in our hearts, our families, and individual lives, a place where God, Christ can never be removed. We can't always leave it up to others, to the government or "the Church"-we need to do what we can, in the places where we now exist, work, and live. So, think, what needs straightening up, re-arranging, and purification?--your marriage…your apparent powerlessness over gods of this world-mammon, materialism, money?. your sensuality and sexuality…your spiritual life or lack of. Remember, it's Advent-are you making preparation for the celebration?…

Now, apply the following words to your life of prayer-keep repeating them frequently (as an aspiration, which means to lift the spirit of prayer in the heart at all times): Here…Now…Within…Commentary: How is your prayer life and union with God? Are you always hoping it will be better, thinking that the "spiritual grass is greener on the other side" of your life? You do not necessarily have to go to Jerusalem, to Rome or some "other place" to be holy. No-become holy and prayerful, right here-where you are. And you don't wait for "tomorrow" for union with God, or futuristic deeper prayer and holiness. Right now, as time colludes with eternity, flee the outside world, embrace the Lord within-in your soul, underneath your breath, stripped from the outside culture and crustations of noise, time and space, and be like the Virgin suckling the Divine Jesus within. Here's an Advent challenge: make a holy hour-at church-or at home-at least once a week. Give one whole hour to God-talking and listening to Him; but the more silent and still, the better. Regarding the length of time and silence, hear: "Be not afraid"(Lk.2:10). Remember-you may have time for t.v., friends or shopping or recreation, but do you make time for God? "If you're too busy to pray, you're too busy." Be with--and like-- the Virgin, and the prophets: await the Savior-especially in your heart…

Story: A young man visited the Grotto last Sunday morning. He said his friend's daughter had tried to commit suicide, and was put in an institution. So, this guy began praying for the girl; he prayed and, three days later-like Jesus out of the tomb-she was released. Many times he's raced by the Grotto in a hurry, but this particular time, he stopped to pray, to give thanks, and, as he indicated, enjoy the beauty of God's Grotto. So: prayer and stillness brought beauty-and healing. So, again: stop, sit, meditate-give thanks, beg, plead, intercede: pray and make preparation or the celebration…

Try to think: Mary and Joseph are walking toward Bethlehem (no coincidence--Beth-El / Bethlehem, means "House of Bread"-Jesus says: "I am the Bread of Life"- Jn 6: 35). And so, spiritually, in the "liturgical time" of the Church's Advent preparation (and yours)-- they are in the last month of the Pregnancy. Walk with the Holy Couple all thru Advent-in each moment (once again, don't be a victim of busyness: take and make the time!) and then be with them in the final hours before the Birth: frequently stop and think of them-their emotions, their hopes and fears, their struggles and joys. Converse with them and the Lord, collude with eternity-spiritually replay the liturgical-Advent tape of the Journey to Bethlehem in your soul, by using the Bible, sacred images and Heavenly reminders of the spiritual heroes of Advent-Christmas, to prepare your heart more interiorly for the Savior's Birth! If you're too focused on Christmas parties, shopping, Mammon-materialism, music and miming the culture, then your gonna' miss the real meaning of Christmas--it's like having a party before the birth of the baby, without the baby--and the baby needs your undivided, loving and spiritual attention.

In the frantic pace of Christmas shopping, of parties and visiting friends and relatives, be prophetic, and like St Paul, in the Second Reading, love others-show that love in action: Are you really making time to serve Jesus as He "appears in disguise"--in the sick, the poor and dying? Really? Heroically? We may not need any more government money, church programs or international companies to "save the poor"-if only everyone, where they lived-could serve, and serve heroically and regularly-"that your love may increase ever more and more" (Phil. 1:4ff).

What we really need is a conversion of heart so that each of us, heroically and consistently, gives to Jesus as He passes thru this world, in His disguises-then we will be making preparation for Christmas …St Gregory the Great, though Pope, everyday, would invite a dozen beggars and poor persons-in honor of the Twelve Apostles-to sit in his dining room and have lunch with him…If a man so great and busy and important did that, what about us?. Make preparation for the celebration.

Meditate upon a beautiful saying of St Leo the Great: "When you give to the poor, you are not giving away what is yours, but what is God's, to God Himself."

Consummation: Jesus will come and judge the world-"Watch, therefore, the Lord of the House is coming…" (Mk 14:35). Many times throughout history people have tried to discern His Second Coming, the End times. Sure: we're all curious and want to know. But, while we should always be prepared, we should always be prudent. It is good this time of year to remember what our Faith and Catechism teach us:-"We are already in the Endtimes." Since the Ascension, Christ's coming in glory has been imminent; the glorious Messiah's Coming is suspended …until his recognition by all Israel…the full inclusion of the Jews… Before Christ's Second Coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the mystery of inequity in the form of religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.

The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah" (CCC: #673-675)… The italicized words above are the signs of the Lord's return-it seems we are not near the fulfillment of them, since the conversion of all Israel (to the Faith) has not occurred. But: that should not slacken our spiritual preparation for the consummation of the world, the Endtimes. How are you being vigilant - ready at all times for the Lord's Return? Are you making preparation for Christmas celebration and Second Coming consummation? Are you rooted in the Lord enough so that, when He returns, nothing, no one can pull you from Him?

Are you evangelizing others-bringing Christ to them, to the House of Israel, or to other Christians, or non-believers-so His return will be hastened? Or do you not believe in evangelization? …St Bernard of Clairvaux beautifully helps us make Preparation for both the Celebration and Consummation: "We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The Third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming He was seen on earth, dwelling among men. In the final coming all flesh will look on Him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it the elect see the Lord within their own selves and they are saved."

And so: wait for the Christmas parties till after Advent and actually offer them in Christmas Season (which lasts until Baptism of the Lord-Jan 11). Think: Christmas is not only a date; it is a state of mind. How is Jesus being born in your heart and soul?. Think less of spending money on loved ones and more on spiritual substance: give a Bible, a Crucifix or holy item-card, picture, icon-reminding them of the true meaning of Christ-mass (get it?!) and life. Try to attend Holy Mass daily during the week in addition to the obligatory Sunday attendance this Advent. Try also to follow the readings which are specially selected to build up the spiritual hype in the soul…With young ones put a few pieces of straw in the empty Manger each day to prepare for the Savior's Birth. Old ones (!): make a vigil (late at night, early in the morning to be with the Holy Family).  Fast from t.v. and new and entertainment and enjoy the Winter Silence and Chastity.

Briefly Noted*

Confessions: Just got a news story, with subtitle: "Fewer attend and emphasis is on spiritual guidance." First part is true; second part not. Preparation for Christmas means making a good, fearless moral inventory; getting rid of the gunk; removing the plaque; flossing your soul…recently a young protestant person asked a priest about confessing sins and implied it was all right to confess to God. The priest agreed and then he said God directs us (James 5: 16 ) to confess sins to one another, and Jesus does that by giving authority to loose and bind sins (Jn 20: 22ff). The youth then asked if all her-and other's-sins, confessed privately to Jesus alone were the right way. The priest said there is a more perfect way-go to a priest, as the Bible counsels, and Jesus-in-the-priest, forgives sins, not the priest-person alone. The youth then said: "When is the next confession time?"…How about you?

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi