Less somber liturgical colors, more joyful music and subtle flowers in the sanctuary reflect our joyful anticipation. The third Advent candle is a rose color - the color of sunrise; the dark midnight of Advent is brightening.
Fruitfulness was considered a sign of God's blessing in the Hebrew Scriptures. It was a blessing to have many descendants, abundant harvests, prosperity and success. Lack of such obvious benefits could reflect God's disfavor.
It would take the Suffering Messiah to turn our hopes and expectations to spiritual blessings, not necessarily material ones, but it is not an easy message.
There's a rarely used English word from the Latin fructificare or fructus, to fructify - to make fruitful or productive. Isaiah is filled with such images: the waves of the sea, a flowing river, grain producing crops, countless grains of sand.
Such will be our spiritual harvest; our Messiah comes as a pennyless babe so that we cannot overlook his material poverty and human helplessness. Come Lord Jesus, not to fulfill our wants, but to satisfy our deepest needs.
Jesus the Messiah, heralded by John the Baptist is the fulfillment of the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures. Our salvation and our vindication comes, not from our own efforts, surely not in a prideful or vain hope, but from the Lord.
Every Advent, John the Baptist helps us prepare for Jesus' coming by his preaching and his ascetic life. His courageous witness in the face of Herod's skepticism and the hostility of those who expected a militant messiah is an example for us when we are faced with the rationalism of the educated and the consumerism of the marketplace.
May John the Baptist help us re-center our priorities on the Lord and his coming.
The Virgin of Guadalupe's appearance to Juan Diego is a well know story by now, as is Juan Diego's attempt to avoid the Virgin by taking a detour around the site of the apparition so that he would not have to convey her message to the bishop. The image impressed on his cape or tilma is the most famous Catholic icon in the Americas and the basilica in which it is enshrined is a site of international pilgrimage.
The controversy over whether or not Juan Diego is an historical figure or only a mythical one was not even completely quelled when John Paul II canonized Juan Diego during the papal visit to Mexico. Some critics maintain that the pope and the commission empaneled to investigate the existence of Juan Diego were lenient on the evidence of historicity in order to make a politically-correct canonization. Even the icon of Juan Diego used during the Pope's visit and the saint's canonization stirred criticism that Juan Diego's image resembled a European more than a native Mexican.
Juan Diego's humble words to the Virgin in protest to the mission she was giving him are edifying no matter what your nationality: "I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf." Nevertheless, he brought her message to the powerful and accomplished his mission.
This just released DVD is a docudrama about the Marian apparitions at Fatima. It will surely stimulate you to read more about Fatima and confront the nature of the Three Secrets of Fatima. Many thought they were left behind after Vatican II, a pre-conciliar, supersitious embarassment. But John Paul II's visit to Fatima and his assertion that it was Mary who saved him from death after his attempted assasination forces us to rethink our opinions on Marian apparitions.
The film depicts the childrens' courage in the face of skepticism from their mother and outright hostility by the local government. The film is mostly black and white, with fleeting glimpses of color during the apparitions. The DVD is published by Ignatius Press and comes with a booklet describing the film, a brochure on how to pray the rosary and even a pair of rosary beads.
Interesting family viewing, though parents should be warned the visions depict (vaguely) hell fire and the assasination attempt on the pope. The films draws its title from the fact that the six apparitions occured on the 13th day of consecutive months.
Francisco Zurbaran's Immaculate Conception
With Christmas approaching, it's possible that we may confuse the virgin birth of Jesus, i.e. Jesus' virginal conception, with Mary's biologically normal, but immaculate conception. Macula, is Latin for "stain" or "blemish" and so, immaculate means without stain or blemish. You may have seen Mary referred to as the Immaculata in some writings.
Mary, from the first moment of her existence, was preserved from the stain of original sin by virtue of the redemptive powers of Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection (even though Jesus had not yet been born in human time). Since Mary was a human person, she, like all of us, needed to be redeemed by Jesus; the dogma of the Immaculate Conception does not exempt her from this, it avows that she was redeemed differently than the rest of us.
We might recall one his famous students, St. Augustine. In fact, more people might know St. Augustine than St. Ambrose. Those who teach can hope that one, even all, of their students outshine them.
We might wonder why he is sometimes pictured in art with a beehive or bees. Tradition has it that a swarm of bees alighted on the infant Ambrose and left a drop of honey - an omen that his words and teachings would be sweet.
Some in the church today might be envious of his rapid rise to the episcopacy. During his reign as local governor he visited Milan to keep the peace between factions arguing over selection of a new bishop. When he arrived to quell the crowd, they demanded that he become their bishop. One slight problem - he wasn't even baptized. Within one week, he was baptized, confirmed, ordained to the diaconate, priesthood and made bishop of Milan!
As one of the first to write systematically about the Christian faith, Ambrose is one of the earliest four doctors of the Western Church along with Sts. Jerome, Augustine and Gregory the Great.
Congratulations to 6A, Mrs. Nancy Tooker's class, who will be awarded the Holy Cross to keep in their classroom this week.
All flesh shall see the Salvation of God
Only two days ago, Pope Benedict reminded us that the source of true Christian hope comes from outside ourselves, from God. That is the promise of Isaiah's mountaintop feast of fine food and choice wines and the bread and fish all-you-can-eat meal from Jesus himself.
It is not only through our own resourcefulness that we succeed or fail, but with God's help. Sometimes we feel that is a frustration but truly, it is a blessing.
For the greatest hopes, our hope for peace, our hope for everlasting life, our hope for good to triumph over evil, we turn to the Lord in Advent and always.
Thanks to alert parishioners for finding these photos of the Highlands Bridge Blessing several weeks ago. These photographs were taken by Paul Scharff, with whose kind permission we post them. See the whole collection on his webpage.