Could've, Would've, Should've: Keeping Advent Practical
“The crowds asked John the Baptist, ‘What should we do?’” I have always delighted in this question asked of St. John the Baptist by the crowds that went out to hear him preach in the desert and be baptized as a sign of their repentance. They were honest enough to ask and his peaching had convicted them of their need to change their ways. The Baptist’s response to the question was exceedingly practical and also specific for people in different walks of life: one exhortation to the crowd in general, another call to tax collectors, and something else for the soldiers who came to him asking how to be better. Sharing one’s blessings with those less fortunate, dealing honestly with others, being humbly content with what one has—all good starting points! These are the attitudes and behaviors towards which John exhorted the crowd, but I do wonder if it made a real and lasting difference in those people’s lives.
The same could be asked about our Advent exercises. Does our observing the Season of Advent by coming to Mass and listening to homilies, our efforts at greater prayerfulness and generosity make a real and lasting impact on our lives or do we make excuses that allow us to stay unchanged? Do we ‘give ourselves a pass’ by convincing ourselves that we are pretty good people, glowing exemplifications of ‘Minnesota-niceness’? At times we priests wonder if our preaching is leading souls forward into holiness. We reassure ourselves by remembering that for those who seek to listen and grapple with the Gospel, our preaching is not futile but an invitation to transformation of life.
The people in today’s Gospel sought out a preacher who would challenge and convict them, not one who confirmed them in self-righteousness and spiritual contentment. As we hear moral and spiritual exhortations we should grapple with what they mean for us, asking how we can embrace the change of heart and conversion that the Lord is calling us to: What needs to go? What is getting in the way? What pattern of sin have I become comfortable with? What needs to change—not tomorrow but today? Where am I falling short in love? What is missing in my life? In other words, what should we do?
Advent is a time to pose these questions and to put ourselves in the ‘near occasion of grace’ that allow us to embrace the Lord’s call to change our ways. One of the most tried and true Advent exercises is a thorough Examination of Conscience that leads us honestly and humbly to the Sacrament of Confession. Keep it simple, keep it practical, don’t be afraid to let Advent be the time to be changed. This Sunday St. John the Baptist is preaching in every Catholic parish around the world: “Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people” – As we hear the simple directness of his preaching this weekend, let’s be open to being changed!
+ Calling all Lectors – Current lectors and any interested in becoming lectors are invited to St. Hedwig this Sunday—today, for an Advent Lector Gathering from 11 am-noon. Meet in church for a spiritual reflection on the scriptures, some practical training and an opportunity for Q&A. If you haven’t seen the renovated sanctuary there yet, it would be a good time to consider coming to 10 am Mass. The work is winding down just in time for Christmas!
+ Advent Recollection and Extra Confession Times – Everyone is invited to Holy Cross this coming Wednesday evening, December 19 to a 7:15 pm Advent Parish Mission reflection by Dr. Erika Kidd, a professor of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. Her talk will be followed by exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and an opportunity for confessions until 10 pm. See page 7 for more details. Additionally, there are numerous seasonal confession times available at each of our campuses. Don’t miss out on this profound means of conversion, even if it has been a long time since your last confession.
+ Christmas Decorations – Advent is not Christmas! I offer a simple encouragement and challenge to embrace a little discipline to make sure that Advent doesn’t get eclipsed by a premature celebration of Christmas. If you already placed the Christ-child in your nativity scene, remove him and wait until Christmas Eve. Don’t worry there is plenty of time for savoring all the Christmas decorations: after all, the Church celebrates Christmas clear through to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (this year, January 13). Our greatest need for help decorating for Christmas is at St. Clement. I would like to invite you to join us for a festive church and hall decorating evening at St. Clement on Friday, December 21st beginning at 6 pm. Once the decorating is finished we will enjoy some snacks and warm drinks and join in some Christmas caroling together.
+ Parish Christmas Wish List – We have identified some specific hopes and needs at each of our campuses that we can’t accomplish without your help. Perhaps you might consider funding these needs in honor or in memory of a loved one. You will see copies of our Parish Christmas Wish List at the doors of the church over the next few weeks. Thank you for your generosity!
+ Notes about Year-End Contributions – This is the time of year when many people consider making charitable contributions to their favorite charities. I would invite you to consider the opportunity to make a year-end contribution to sustain our parish. If you choose to make an additional 2018 donation to Holy Cross Catholic Church, please note the following:
· To properly reflect donations on your 2018 giving record, contributions mailed to Holy Cross must be postmarked no later than December 31, 2018.
· Gifts made via Simplified Giving online: checks or savings accounts must be completed by 3:00 pm on December 28. Gifts made via credit card must be completed by 3:00 pm December 31.
· The parish office will be open from 8:00 am – 4:00 pm on Monday, December 31 if you wish to drop off your contribution in person.
On behalf of our parish clergy, staff and leadership, I thank you for your generosity and support of our parish. We wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.
Blessings to you and yours this Gaudete Sunday. Next weekend we will bring Advent to a close with the forth Sunday of Advent and our final preparations for Christmastide. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, this weekend let us take up St. Paul on his invitation to rejoice, for the Lord is near!