By Mark Zimmermann | Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Advent “is about being ready for whatever God wishes to do with and for us,” said Washington Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory said in his homily at Mass on the first Sunday of Advent Nov. 28 at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.
He emphasized Advent is a “season of anticipation” for the birth of Jesus at Christmas, and for Christ’s eventual second coming.
The season, which begins the Catholic Church’s liturgical year, “reminds us that God has done something wonderful in human history through the birth of his only begotten Son.”
“Advent reminds us that a baby — like the little ones that grace your life, the little ones who whimper and fidget in church — a Little One was born for us in time and that event was the real intergalactic moment that transformed human history,” he said.
Cardinal Gregory said Advent offers a dual message.
“This is the season that tells us that God has another momentous event in store for us. This Little One once born in a stable will, in fact, return. … We have no idea when this Son will return in glory, nor how he will enter human history once again. Advent just reminds us to be vigilant, because God still has lots of plans up his sleeve,” the cardinal said.
Warning people against losing focus about the meaning of Advent at a time when our culture seems to de-Christianize the season of Christmas, he noted, “Christmas is now often referred to as just ‘the holidays’ (to) carefully devoid of any reference to the birth of the Child that might offend others.”
Concluding his homily, the cardinal said, “It seems to me, that if we can conveniently manage to ignore His (Jesus’s) first arrival, then we don’t even have to make any provision for His return trip! Boy, do we need Advent!’
Cardinal Gregory opened the Mass with a prayer before the lighting of the first candle on the Advent wreath, saying: “Let us pray then, that this wreath of Advent may remind us to pray for his coming. … May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ’s promise to bring us salvation.”
The Mass came on the first anniversary of the Nov. 28, 2020, consistory in Rome when Pope Francis elevated Cardinal Gregory to the College of Cardinals. It also was the annual Mass for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Association of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities.
Near the end of the liturgy, Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, the rector of St. Matthew’s Cathedral, congratulated Cardinal Gregory on his first anniversary as a cardinal.
Alluding to the fact that Cardinal Gregory became the first African American cardinal, the cathedral’s rector said: “Upon that historic appointment to the College of Cardinals, he humbly renewed his deep love for the church, saying with profound gratitude that he was reaping the harvest that generations of African Americans had planted with their faith, which has been ‘lived so generously, so zealously and with such great devotion.'”
For Catholics in the Denver Archdiocese, the first Sunday of Advent also was the second Sunday in an archdiocesan-wide “retreat” announced earlier in November by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila.
“From the feast of Christ the King (Nov. 21) through Christmas, the entire Archdiocese of Denver is going on retreat together,” he said in a pastoral noted titled “In Search of a Story” and posted on the archdiocesan website. “The goal of this retreat is simple but profound to learn our Story and what it means for our lives and the life of the church.”
The content of this retreat, he said, “will be delivered in homilies each Sunday, systematically unpacking the story of salvation and leaning on four key terms to guide its telling — Created, Captured, Rescued, Response.”
“This Story will elicit wonder at the fact that God created the unfathomably huge universe simply out of love and created each of us out of delight at the possibility that you and I would exist,” Archbishop Aquila said. “The crowning achievement of his creation is man and woman, created in his image and likeness and given the blessing of procreation.”
“It will unpack how the original blessedness we were made for was lost when humanity was captured, sold into slavery to sin and death by our first parents, Adam and Eve,” who “lost trust in their Creator when they were “tempted by the Devil,” he said.
“But God did not leave us in captivity,” he continued, because the Father sent Jesus, his Son and our Redeemer, to bring “liberty to captives” and “bring us home.”
“This Story leads us to the critical question at the heart of all of our lives: If God did all of this, how should I respond? Where would your gratitude for someone who saved your life lead you? And, importantly, if others were still lost, even unaware of having been captured, would you feel compelled to be part of helping them to experience freedom?” Archbishop Aquila said.
“This proclamation of what God has done in Christ, known in theological circles as the ‘kerygma,’ is meant to do more than be an interesting retelling of events that happened in the distant past,” he explained.
Archbishop Aquila quoted from St. John Paul II’s 1979 apostolic exhortation “Catechesi Tradendae” in concluding his pastoral note:
“As this narrative is unpacked over these six weeks, my hope is that all Catholics in our pews have a chance to be ‘overwhelmed and brought to the decision to entrust (themselves) to Jesus Christ by faith,’ so that this story will begin to shape the way we see our lives and the entire world.”
Advent, with its focus on waiting, “reminds us to be patient as we wait on the Lord,” said a Nov. 24 message for the season posted by the Pennsylvania-based U.S. province of Congregation of the Holy Spirit on its website.
“In the meantime, we are encouraged to look back over our life to see how we have prepared a place for Christ to be born again in our lives and in the lives of those whom we love,” it said. “We are watchful and alert! While we are waiting, come Lord Jesus!”
In waiting for Jesus’ return, “we should stand and raise our heads for the Lord shall come to bring us peace,” the message continued. “Many things in our world can distract us and even tempt us during our spiritual journey of waiting for the Lord. All the stores, newspapers, music on the radio stations and TV commercials remind us that Christmas is coming.
“They are encouraging us to buy and spend even the little money that we may have. Adoring Christ and the gift he is and brings to the world is our focus as people of faith.”
“Let this season of Advent be a time of change and new beginnings. Let it be a time of joy and a time of hope for each of us,” the message added. “Only God can take the broken pieces of our lives and put them back together again. Through this Advent, we must listen to the angels who sing, ‘Glory, Glory, Glory to the newborn King!’ Come, Lord Jesus.”