Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Advent: new beginnings"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Dec. 7, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Life is full of endings and beginnings. The conclusion of the Church’s liturgical year provides opportunity to give thanks and reflect upon “last things.” Remembering the past and moving into the future help us recognize that the “last things” should bring us to the realization of the important “first things” each day. Of course, “first things” can quickly be reduced to the “First Thing” – the presence of God and my fidelity to that presence.

The liturgical cycle each year brings us back full circle to the season of Advent, the beginning. My sense in recent years is that Advent has taken on an increasingly spiritual significance. More and more, I encounter a spirit of hopeful expectation in the preparation for the Feast of Christmas. Especially as we reflect upon the Scripture, the readings from the Old Testament can readily be translated to our own hearts and our own day.

There is something very real and human about Advent season. The Old Testament readings often paint a picture of a very human world. Yet the Savior will come and the “wolf will be the guest of the lamb,” the “cow and the bear shall be neighbors.” We hear this prophetic language in a time of challenge and even darkness, and it gives rise to the great “light “of the Savior who comes. The events leading up to the birth of the “Word made flesh” are powerful imagery that make the Christmas story remain so alive, even in our day. Jesus comes in a very humble manner and as a helpless babe. Yet, that very act of becoming a servant of all, who identifies with all, and who loves all is a lesson that even the youngest in our midst understands quite well. The story is powerful and inspiring.

The human element of these events couples with the powerful grace of God, reminding all of us how powerfully God works in and through human situations. Too often there is a tendency today to romanticize and idealize situations, making them unobtainable. Some may want a perfect relationship in marriage or a perfect priesthood. Some search for the perfect parish or expect the perfect Church. Good luck … you won’t find it. The power of the redeeming Jesus is constantly at work in our midst. As God works in and through our humanity, our joys and our sadnesses, our successes and our failures, there is something powerful and wonderful in knowing that Jesus comes and is always with us. Idealizing and romanticizing life is not helpful. The desire for the eternal “high” of emotion and accomplishment is a chase after the wind. We are all human, and we search for holiness together.

Advent is a season of expectation. It’s a season of hope and joy. It’s a time when we can recognize the reality in our hearts and in our world, a world with all of its shadows and gloominess. Yet we should have great hope that the Savior comes and is with us every step on our earthly journey. Advent is a time to look to the gloominess of our world – and there is a lot of gloom out there these days – to look at it, recognize it, and face it squarely. That’s an opportunity that has confronted us in a most realistic way over the last three or four years of our life as Church. I am so grateful that the faithful have faced that reality, and will continue to do so as the Lord Jesus calls us to holiness, renewal of life, conversion of heart, and more conscientious spiritual stewardship of our lives and of the Church we love so dearly. The gift of peace and the call to forgiveness (of myself and for myself) are challenges that continue to be with us. Sorting out all of this certainly has been a challenge, to say the least. Yet, these days also provide the opportunity to allow ourselves to witness to the presence of Jesus, who comes and who saves.

As we continue to go through these cycles of liturgical years, we come closer to that great day of the coming of the Lord at the moment of our own transformation. Many years ago, when visiting with a priest friend on the day before he died, he made the comment that he hoped to get better physically, but if the Lord gave him a Christmas present, he would gladly and thankfully accept it. He did indeed receive his “present” the next day.

For all of us, the Advent season is a wonderful time of expectation and joyful hope. Our songs and hymns remind us in a very vivid manner of how grace-filled this time of preparation is. And it’s not only a time of preparation for Dec. 25, but the approaching time in all of our lives when Jesus comes and calls us to our permanent home. The spirit of these weeks challenges us to look at ourselves, our Church, our culture and our world; the spirit of these weeks challenges us to be more responsive to the kingdom of God in our midst. As St. Paul reminds us, this kingdom is a kingdom of justice, peace and joy.

As we enter into this special time of another beginning, may we as God’s servants help the kingdom of God be visibly present in the spirit of Jesus Who comes.

Blessings and peace to all.

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