Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
by Bishop William S. Skylstad
(From the Dec. 4, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
The Feast of Christ the King at the end of November is the last Sunday of our liturgical year. Now we look toward the beginning of Advent. Not only does the First Sunday Advent mark the beginning of a new liturgical season, we look to the preparation for the coming of the Lord.
When you think about it, Advent is a season with special emphasis on Mary. We reflect upon the special privilege of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her unique role in the birth of the Savior Ė the Word made flesh. The Solemn Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8 and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 reminds us of her place in salvation history and her message to humanity as the Mother of Jesus. St. Juan Diego, an Indian and a poor man, was the messenger chosen to share the appearance of Mary to the local church leadership. From the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich: all of us are people in Godís kingdom. But this event at Tepeyac in Mexico City in 1537 happened to one of the ďlittleĒ ones. The message of salvation comes to all. Everyone is precious in Godís eyes. That is the great message of salvation.
Once again, we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Infant Savior. That preparation is never finished in each of us individually, nor is it ever finished in the Church. And certainly it is not finished in the world in which we live. Advent season is a time for hope and a time for rejoicing in the message of salvation that Jesusí coming has shared with us.
The coming of the Infant Savior easily touches the human heart. Our society places great emphasis on the buildup to Christmas Day, but at the end of Dec. 25, the celebration comes to an abrupt halt. Itís interesting that when a team wins the World Series or some achieves a similar milestone, the celebration doesnít stop after the win. People continue to rejoice in what has happened. So the Church at Christmas marks the great event in Bethlehem, and the celebration continues through Dec. 25 and beyond with the Christmas season.
We have just concluded a very intense election season. In Washington State, we Catholics opposed I-1000, the physician assisted suicide initiative. Iím sorry to have to say that the Initiative passed by a considerable margin. What was unthinkable a few decades ago is now permitted, and we as a society will be the poorer for it. We cannot allow this setback to discourage us. One of Adventís lessons is that the proclamation and the living of the Gospel have never been completely successful, not even in our own hearts.
Another thing to remember is that Advent is a time of hope. The Churchís message is clear. Our message is the message of Jesus, a message that has been a longstanding tradition for centuries. We are called to deepen our spirituality of suffering; we are called to assist one another in appreciation of that journey. Those of us who knew Father John Rompa have been deeply touched by his dying and his death last month (Editorís note: See page 9 of this issue). He spent the last 10 days of his life in a Hospice facility. None of us will ever forget his deep sense of faith and his good humor, even in the face of approaching death.
Our work is cut out for us. We will continue to assist those in difficult end-of-life situations, striving to help them see these times as great opportunities of grace. As we help people recognize this opportunity, as we help them come to a deeper appreciation of the cross, we pave the way for others to enter into that same understanding and appreciation. As St. Paul reminds us, our suffering makes up for the suffering of Jesus.
A great Advent in our Church would be the healing of polarization and self-righteous judgments. This past election season saw several instances of some individuals and groups trying to move beyond Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the statement on political responsibility that the U.S. bishops issued last year. You might have seen some press reports of a pastor in another state who told his people they needed to go to confession if they voted for a certain candidate (a position, by the way, that was immediately corrected by the diocesan administration there) (Editorís note: See page 20 of this issue). We need a deeper sense of mutual respect for one another within the Church. Complex issues always can be addressed thoughtfully with a reminder of our deep commitment to the dignity of life, from the moment conception to natural death. The lessening of self righteousness and ďspiritualĒ arrogance will be a great Advent as well. All of us can help make it happen!
Best wishes and prayers to all of you for a great and fruitful season of Advent. Blessings and peace.
© The Catholic Diocese of Spokane. All Rights Reserved