Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Setting the Advent pace

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 2, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Did you have a favorite class in high school? Was it physics? Geometry? Social studies? History? P.E.?

Mine was Latin. Yes, Latin! There’s something about the orderliness and exactitude of Latin that matches my personality, I guess. My teacher was both entertaining and skilled in making this ancient language come alive.

My mind drifts back to Latin class as we once again enter into the season of Advent. These weeks of Christmas preparation – and especially the Sunday readings at Mass – echo a common call: to change, to convert.

Now, if we were sitting in Latin class, the teacher would stop to explain the roots of this taken-for-granted word, “convert.” Two Latin roots: the prefix con, meaning “with,” and the verb vertere, meaning “to turn.” Helpful or not? To convert literally means “to turn with.”

This little bit of knowledge provides depth and perspective to the pace of our spiritual walk during these four weeks of Advent. Usually when we hear the word “convert” we often think of someone who changes religious denominations. That’s a correct use of the word, but it’s far from the root meaning of the word itself. Advent certainly is not a call to change religious affiliations! But it is a time of conversion.

The key figures in the Advent season are St. John the Baptist and Miriam of Nazareth – the Blessed Virgin Mary. The first calls us to conversion, and the other manifests in her life the perfect example of a convert.

To convert entails more than backing away from sin or eliminating godless habits. John the Baptist’s cry on Jordan’s bank was far more than an appeal to stop sinning. It was more than a demand to pay more attention to God in one’s life. Turning to God is but one of the first steps in Advent conversion. True conversion calls for more than turning to God. It calls for a turning with God – faithful to the true Latin roots of the word.

John’s call is an appeal to get in step with God’s plan of salvation. On Jordan’s bank he called people to cease sinning, yes. He called them to pay attention to God in their lives, yes. But more importantly, the prophet John summoned a radical, open-hearted faithfulness to God’s unfolding plan of salvation. To convert is to walk into the embracing arms of God’s unknown grace and mystery – to open one’s life to the saving love of God, who is our life and our destiny.

Our Blessed Mother Mary is the perfect example of a convert. Conceived without sin, Mary obviously had no sin to reject. As a participant in the Jewish faith, she certainly had developed the devotional life which paid attention to God. The depth of her conversion, however, came in the Annunciation scene when she was asked to be the mother of the Savior. This was God’s unique plan for her life, but her “yes” was critical for its fulfillment. Would she “turn with” the plan of God? A “no” would not necessarily have been sinful, but the completion of God’s plan depended upon a free and loving response.

Would Mary convert?

The Advent season prepares us for the celebration of the result of Mary’s fiat – yes, another Latin word! – “let it be done.” Her willingness to cooperate with God’s plan for the salvation of the world has allowed our participation in the gift of salvation in her Son, Jesus. Her willingness to convert – to “turn with” the way of God – allowed the Word of God to become incarnate in her womb, sharing intimately in our human condition in every manner except sin.

If Advent is to be a fruitful time for us, our lives must be responsive to the call of John the Baptist and the witness of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the Word of God proclaimed in faith communities throughout the world again this season, John calls us all to a time of real conversion. Yes, there may be sin in our lives from which our hearts beg liberation. Yes, the four weeks of Advent should be a time for more prayer and reflection – time to pay attention to God and to get into the right frame of mind for the celebration of Christmas.

Advent must be more than a countdown of the shopping days until Christmas. If we take our faith seriously, Advent most importantly is a time for opening our hearts to the mystery of God’s love, for letting God lead us, and not the other way around. Advent is a time for questioning prayer: What do you want of me, Lord? What is the unique way you are asking my cooperation in the unfolding plan of your Kingdom? Where do you seek my free and loving “yes”?

It’s risky business to be a true convert. To convert calls for a free decision of the heart and a willingness to be led and to be shown God’s way. It calls for a radical response, a response from the roots of our being. Mary has shown us how radical our response needs to be. Mary’s “yes” made all the difference in the world.

Our “yes” makes a difference, too. Only Mary was asked to be the Mother of the Savior, but our conversion is needed if the Good News of God’s Kingdom is to be born anew. Christmas is a celebration for true converts!

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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