Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Advent: God’s Spiritual Stimulus Plan

With the economy a mess, jobs at risk and many families pressed to pay just for groceries and gas, it isn’t only wallets that need a boost. Our spiritual life always suffers when a crisis afflicts the body and mind and the current recession is no exception. Advent has arrived at the right moment, for this beautiful season prepares us spiritually for the coming of the One who saves us from every source of oppression in this world by opening heaven to us.

The season of Advent, what I call God’s “Spiritual Stimulus Plan” sends a fresh breeze of grace through the Church and the world. Wearied by news of evil at work as hundreds die in the Mumbai terrorist nightmare, a store worker is trampled by a materialistic mob and two die in a toy store shootout, we reach out for relief. God sends this period in the life of the Church to revive and refresh us with hope.

Pope Benedict reminds us that a strong interior life is one of hope. In his homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Benedict calls us to “be” hope, to live this theological virtue by the life of grace. He says, "The word that sums up this particular state in which we await something that is supposed to manifest itself but which we also already have a glimpse and foretaste of, is 'hope.' Advent is the spiritual season of hope par excellence, and in this season the whole Church is called to be hope, for itself and for the world.”

We cannot give what we do not have. If we are to pray and struggle for improvements in the world that will bring work for the unemployed, shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry and relief for the sick we need first the tending of a loving God who offers His own “first aid” for the soul.

In the Scriptures of our Advent liturgies, we hear of the “comfort” God offers His people and a promise that “the eyes of the blind shall be opened”. The prophecies of Isaiah and others proclaimed in these days truly comfort us with the voice of God who hears our “cries unto heaven that our warfare” is over for He guarantees the victory over iniquity through His pardoning love. “He is our peace” in Jesus Christ whose birth at Bethlehem we await.

In the “work” of our worship in the sacred liturgy we make a “highway” for our God, given the breath of the Spirit through proclamation of the words of sacred Scriptures. God alone can “make the crooked ways straight and the rough places plain” and in the Savior whom we await “every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low.” He who has power to vanquish every enemy by Himself being the way to heaven for the world is the basis of our hope and for whom we prepare in these weeks of Advent.

As we hear the promise that the Messiah will “purify the sons of Levi that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness” we rejoice in its fulfillment in the presence of the Savior, whose “glory is risen upon us" in the word and Sacrament of holy Mass. And we “arise” as we are bidden and we proclaim the “good tidings” of Zion unto the cities of Judah, crying out with full voice “ behold the glory of the Lord”. Our foretaste of heaven is the promise fulfilled of the Eucharist, and thus the Lord gives us sacramentally the courage to be a people of hope as our Holy Father urges us.

Benedict calls us to give special attention to the prayers of the Psalms, through daily proclamation making them our own prayer and, in the process, making Christ our Hope. He says, “The whole spiritual organism of the mystical body assumes, as it were, the 'color' of hope. The whole people of God begins the journey, drawn by this mystery: that our God is 'the God who comes' and who calls us to come to meet him. In what way? Above all in that universal form of hope and expectation that is prayer, which finds its eminent expression in the Psalms.”

The Church, dressed in the violet of hopeful expectation, makes the Psalms the core of her life of prayer in the Roman Breviary, or Liturgy of the Hours. This prayer of the whole Church is her principal means of sanctifying the hours of the day and night and extends the graces of the Eucharist, the source and summit of her entire life of prayer. This prayer is recommended for all of God’s people and provides a fruitful Advent invitation for us. The psalms of holy Mass, the Church’s perfect prayer in Christ, also give room to the Holy Spirit of hope and make God’s Word of prayer our own.

Though the world may “walk in darkness” and “dwell in the land of the shadow of death” we are called by faith to see a “great light” shine in Christ, above all through the grace of prayer by which He enlightens all our days. God’s spiritual stimulus plan each Advent feeds His flock with the grace of Hope in Emmanuel, God with us.

+ mcitl

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