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Let Us Pray Together as We Await the Birth of Christ

Advent is the perfect time to join Catholics around the world in prayer. According to the Enchiridion of Indulgences, “A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who devoutly take part in the pious exercise of a public novena before the feast of Christmas or Pentecost or the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

Join us in praying this novena every day from December 16–24, and share your intentions with other Verbum users on Twitter and Facebook.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold.

In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God,  to hear my prayer and grant my desires, [here mention your request] through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ and of his blessed Mother.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was, in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.

Amen.

Who Was St. Nicholas, and Did He Bring Children Gifts?

Is it even Christmas if someone doesn’t pause to ask, “Wait, who was St. Nick?”

As is common, legends outweigh historically known facts. Here’s what we do know about St. Nicholas and why some of our Christmas traditions are tied to his name.

About St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas has always been one of the more popular saints of the Church. Nonetheless, the only certain fact we know of his life is that he was Bishop of Myra in ancient Lycia (now modern Dembre in Turkey), during the first half of the fourth century.

Tradition has it that he was born in Patara in Lycia, in about 270, and that he died on December 6, between 345 and 352. Justinian I (emperor 526–65) built a church in his honor during the early sixth century. In 1087, Italian soldiers stole the saint’s body from Myra and transported it by sea to Bari, and the saint’s cult then spread quickly throughout Italy and the rest of Europe.

Numerous legends arose about his liberality, the most famous being his secretly providing dowries for three poor girls. Thus, he is often depicted with three bags of gold. Because of this legend, St. Nicholas became, in Europe, the secret bringer of presents to children on the eve of his feast. In English-speaking countries, his name has become corrupted into Santa Claus, the bringer of gifts to children on Christmas Eve.1

Patron saint of sailors, children, and Russia

St. Nicholas is regarded as the patron saint of sailors, and churches under his dedication are often built so that they can be seen off the coast as landmarks. He is also the patron saint of children, bringing them gifts on December 6 (whence “Santa Claus,” an American corruption of “Sante Klaas,” the Dutch for “Saint Nicholas”). He is also the patron saint of Russia. His Feast day is December 6.2

St. Nicholas in art

Fra Angelico did a marvelous series of paintings based on his life:

 

 

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Awaiting Mary’s Yes to God

We began this Advent series of reflections with the question: what are you waiting for? With the busy-ness of Commercial Christmas constantly demanding our attention, it is easy to lose sight of the watchfulness and preparation the Church asks of us this Advent season. Let us now continue with our reflection series on this Fourth Sunday of Advent….

This Fourth week of Advent will only last one day, as Christmas comes to us the following day. Even so, it is important to reflect on this final Sunday before we embrace the celebration of the Christmas season.

Anticipation

We have been anticipating the coming of Christ through the Sunday readings since the beginning of Advent. As I reflect on the Gospel reading for today, the sense of anticipation is intense, the sequence of events almost seems to unfold in slow motion.

First, an angel, Gabriel, is headed for Mary in Nazareth, with staggering news. Upon learning of the approaching angel, we are told twice in v. 27 that Mary is a virgin, a pious and observant Jew. Yet Nazareth was a city of little consequence in Judea and an unlikely place for the appearance of an angel.

Second, as the angel approaches Nazareth, what is Mary doing? Presumably she’s at home attending to everyday domestic chores and tasks. She may be making preparations for her marriage to Joseph or attending to other family matters.

Heavy News

When Gabriel confronts Mary, with “Hail, favored one!” one gets the sense of Mary’s total surprise.  She is understandably startled and confused, as an angel of God has just manifested himself in the midst of her dinner preparations or wedding planning or house cleaning.  Mary is “greatly troubled” by the words of her new divine visitor and “pondered” what these words might mean.  The angel goes on:

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom will be no end.

Wow, was this a joke?  How could any of this be true?  The Son of God?  A ruler of the house of Jacob?  Maybe she had already heard of her cousin Elizabeth’s recent miraculous conception.  One can only imagine what must be rushing through Mary’s mind as this flood of new information about her future washes over her.  Mary, understandably replies with incredulity and with the most practical of questions: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

The angel goes on to explain:

The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, as also conceived a song in her old age…for nothing will be impossible for God.

The sense of anticipation continues through the delivery of this “heavy news.” But what will be Mary’s response to this astonishing proclamation? She must have realized the position this would put her and Joseph in with their engagement. People in the community would start to talk of Mary’s “indiscretion.” Her status as a pious Jewish woman would be compromised. Who would believe such an incredible story?

The Ultimate “Yes”

Yet in the the face of this startling news and the seismic shift in her future plans, Mary famously responds:

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.

Mary gives her consent to the angel and to God to become the mother of the Son of God. As with the birth of any child, it changes the parents’ lives forever. But this birth is accompanied by a divine conception, both for her and her cousin, and a divine mandate for Israel.  What a perfectly serene response!

Mary is held up throughout the Scriptures as the model disciple, responding to God and His messengers with perfect obedience and submission. This was undoubtedly not easy for Mary to accept, but she does accept and embraces this new divine mission for her life.

As we await the coming of Jesus, how can we say a more perfect “yes” to God? 

  • What does that need to look like in our final days of Advent? 
  • Can we say “yes” to God in how we prioritize our time for prayer each day?
  • Can we say “yes” to God more often in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
  • What relationships in our life are in greater need of a “yes” to God?

 

Gospel Reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of
Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a
man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the
virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he
said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said and
pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then
the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for
you have found favor with God.
“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear
a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be
great and will be called Son of the Most High, and
the Lord God will give him the throne of David his
father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I
have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit
will come upon you, and the power of the Most
High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to
be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And
behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived
a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for
her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible
for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the
handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according
to your word.” Then the angel departed from
her.

We await new heavens and a new earth


This weekend St. Peter reminds us that waiting for the Lord is not something passive, but something that requires vigilance and diligence on our part. It is about serving the Lord. A waiter at a restaurant isn’t called that because the person sits around doing nothing, but instead they are waiting to serve. So this Advent we are reminded to “wait on the Lord’s table.” The short clip from above is a reflection on today’s New Testament reading that that touches on this theme. As we continue in this season, “be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace” (2 Peter 3:14).

2 Peter 3:8-14

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved,
that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years
and a thousand years like one day.
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,”
but he is patient with you,
not wishing that any should perish
but that all should come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,
and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar
and the elements will be dissolved by fire,
and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.

Since everything is to be dissolved in this way,
what sort of persons ought you to be,
conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion,
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God,
because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames
and the elements melted by fire.
But according to his promise
we await new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you await these things,
be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.

Waiting for more? Check out the entire lectionary devotional series.

What to do while we are waiting

A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

Last week, on the First Sunday of Advent, we were exhorted: “Be watchful! Be alert!” We posed the question: What is it that you are waiting for? This week, on the Second Sunday of Advent, we ask: what practically does watching and waiting mean? John the Baptist has the answer for us!

Preparation for the Way

“The Way” was an early designation for the Christian community. We see “the way” referenced several times in today’s reading. John the Baptist symbolizes the preparation that was necessary for the early Christian community. Life in these communities and house churches was literally dangerous, with both Jewish and Roman authorities leaning heavily on them.  One could be called on at any moment to give up one’s life in the name of Christ. Therefore, potential new community members needed a period of waiting and preparation before being fully initiated into the community through Baptism. This preparation required would-be Christians to to be very clear about their priorities and how much of a priority God was for them.

Amidst our holiday preparations, are we prioritizing time to spend with Jesus?

Asceticism

The preparation for “the Way,” as symbolized by John the Baptist, was marked, as we are shown in the readings today, by a rigorous asceticism. The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us:

The word asceticism comes from the Greek askesis which means practice, bodily exercise, and more especially, athletic training. The early Christians adopted it to signify the practice of the spiritual things, or spiritual exercises performed for the purpose of acquiring the habits of virtue.

John’s camel hair tunic, diet of locusts and honey, and generally radical lifestyle is the archetype of early Christian asceticism. The desert was always associated with fasting, prayer, and a stringent, focused way of life. We see the beginnings of the tradition of desert asceticism in John, which, coupled with Jesus’ forty day fast in the desert, forms the basis of the entire desert monastic tradition that arose in the second century around St. Antony the Great and the other Desert Fathers.

How can you be more focused and deliberate with your spiritual practices this Advent?

The Voice Crying Out in the Desert

Life in Mark’s Christian community was marked by much chaos and confusion. The Gospel of Mark was written around 70 AD, which is the year the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. This injected significant fear and confusion into the Christian community, particularly for the Jewish converts. The Christian community, with its rituals of Baptism and Eucharist, was the antidote to that chaos. The Church then, as it does now, saw itself as initiating the restoration of creation itself in Christ. If we cannot discern the voice in the desert, we miss what Christ has in store for us.

How much time are you spending each day listening for that “voice crying out in the wilderness?” What is the voice saying to you?

Proactively waiting

The theme of waiting is central throughout Advent. Last week we asked: “What are you waiting for?” This week we ask: “What do we do while we are waiting?” The “answer” that John the Baptist presents is ultimately paradoxical. On the one hand, we can wait and anticipate the Lord’s coming by ascetic discipline. On the other hand, we would also do well to wait and anticipate by not doing, by pausing in the midst of the chaos of holiday preparations to observe some prayerful silence so we can have the opportunity to hear the voice that is crying out to us from the desert.

Many Advent Blessings! See you next week.

Gospel Reading for the Second Sunday of Advent, Mark 1:1-8.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”
John the Baptist appeared in the desert
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People of the whole Judean countryside
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
John was clothed in camel’s hair,
with a leather belt around his waist.
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
And this is what he proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

What are you waiting for?

What is it that you are waiting for? Advent is here, and we typically think of this season as a time of waiting for Christmas. This may be true, but there’s more. The word Advent has its root in the Latin word for “coming.” In this season we are also reminded that we are awaiting the second coming of Christ. The gospel reading from today’s liturgy makes this emphatically clear: Jesus reminds us to always be ready, because we cannot know at what time he will return.

Waiting and being ready go hand in hand; we can’t adequately wait unless we are ready. We all know what it’s like when we wait in the checkout line, but we don’t have our money or all our items ready. That’s why this time of Advent is intended to help us shift our focus from our regular way of doing things and remind us that we should always have our minds on conforming to Christ. And if we truly believe that Christ is present to us now, we will realize that ultimately it is Christ who is waiting for us, knocking at the door of hearts. And to deepen the mystery even more, we become humbled when we realize that we cannot truly wait for Christ without the life of Christ in us—without the power of the Holy Spirit.

Below you will find a short clip from a reflection on today’s gospel reading that touches on this theme. As you enter into this busy season, think about the importance of what you are waiting for. Are you being distracted by the hustle and bustle around you, or are you being watchful and alert?

Mark 13:33–37
Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’ ”


Waiting for more? Check out the entire lectionary devotional series.

Deacon Kevin’s Reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent

This guest post is by Deacon Kevin Bagley, DMin, Director of Verbum.

“Prepare the way of the Lord.” These were John’s words as he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The season of Advent is the time of year when we prepare ourselves to welcome the newborn Christ child into our lives.

As citizens of the modern world, we are bombarded with advertising urging us to purchase the right gifts, try the newest electronic gadget, and prepare ourselves for the gift giving season. As Catholics, we should be focused on receiving the greatest gift of all: the Savior of the World. The things we buy today may be broken or lost tomorrow. Developing a loving relationship with God will not only last a lifetime, but forever.

As we prepare to give gifts, host gatherings, and celebrate, we must also make room in our homes and hearts for the coming of the infant Jesus. Get rid of the clutter and debris of resentment and shortcomings, plan to be reconciled, be open to receive and provide forgiveness, and make way for the Christ child.

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Deacon Kevin’s Reflection for the First Sunday of Advent

This guest post is by Deacon Kevin Bagley, DMin, Director of Verbum.

Are you ready? Have you prepared as well as you can?  If tomorrow was your last day on this earth, would you be ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?

As we enter the season of Advent we prepare.  This is the beginning of the new church year and we eagerly await the day we celebrate when the Word became flesh.  We prepare ourselves for the coming of the Savior and we should ensure that we are ready to greet him whenever and however he comes into our lives.

We also prepare for Christmas gift giving, prepare our homes, prepare food and shop for groceries.  As we prepare for this wonderful event, I encourage you to seek out an opportunity to enrich your spiritual life by attending an Advent retreat, do some spiritual reading or participate in a corporal work of mercy remembering the true meaning of Christmas.

Over 2,000 years ago we received a gift more precious than anything we could buy or make.  Christ came into the world to bring us the wonderful gift of salvation.  We should take time to remember that Christ is the light of the world, and that we are guided through his Light.

Through God’s grace, we make it through the mall, the shopping, and the crowds; at home we take care of the cooking, cleaning and decking the halls; all to arrive at the beauty, peace and joy of Christmas.  May the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, guide you through this season to the joy and peace of Christmas morning.

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Free Advent and Christmas Sermons!

Deepen your spiritual life with Sermons of St. Bernard on Advent and Christmas, free this month. St. Bernard of Clairvaux is a doctor of the church and speaks with wisdom and insight about the scriptures leading up to Christmas:

It is now fitting that we should consider the time of our Lord’s coming.
He came, as you know, not in the beginning, nor in the midst of time, but in the end of it. This was no unsuitable choice, but a truly wise dispensation of His infinite wisdom, that He might afford help when He saw it was most needed. Truly, “it was evening, and the day was far spent”(Lk 24:29); the sun of justice had wellnigh set, and but a faint ray of his light and heat remained on earth. The light of Divine knowledge was very small, and as iniquity abounded, the fervour of charity had grown cold. No angel appeared, no prophet spoke. The angelic vision and the prophetic spirit alike had passed away, both hopelessly baffled by the exceeding obduracy and obstinacy of mankind. Then it was that the Son of God said: “Behold, I come”(He 10:7). And “while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, the almighty word leaped down from heaven from thy royal throne” (Wi 18:14,15). Of this coming the Apostle speaks: “When the fullness of time was come, God sent his Son” (Ga 4:4) (Sermons 11-12).

st bernard

You can also add St. Bernard’s On Consideration for 0.99.

This offer ends December 1st–download your free book today!

 

 

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