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Advent Peace, Advent Promise
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, December 2, 2012
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When I was a child, Advent was a big part of my family’s seasonal celebrations. An Advent calendar and a Jesse Tree hung on the wall. The Advent wreath occupied the center of the dining room table and every evening we knelt around the table and took turns reciting the Advent novena, beginning on the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30) and ending on Christmas Eve.

My next encounter with Advent was when I was a stressed and overwhelmed graduate student. I was home early for Christmas and let myself be persuaded to go to an Advent reconciliation service that ended up changing my life.

Ever since then, Advent has always been a time of darkness and quiet, the calm before the bustle of the Christmas holidays. But it is also a time of much-needed rest, even solitude, time to sort out priorities and seek healing for life’s inevitable stress.

Advent is a time of resting and waiting. My favorite images betray my upper Midwestern roots: early winter sunsets, deep blue tinged with lavender, fallow fields marked with a dusting of snow, bare trees etched black against the sky.

During Advent we recall both the beginning of Jesus’s time on this earth and his return in glory. Our readings remind us that we who have been baptized into the life and death of Jesus have nothing to fear from the end of time.

This is not to say we have the luxury of waiting passively for the Second Coming, secure—even complacent—in the confidence that Jesus was born, died on the cross and saved us, and all we have to do is wait until he comes to take us home.

The promise of the Second Coming contains an insistent challenge. The Gospels show us the way to work for the fullness of the kingdom. Though Jesus tells us that our “ransom is near at hand,” he does not tell us to stop what we’re doing and wait. Rather, our confidence in salvation comes about only if we are on guard against “indulgence and worldly cares.”

Jeremiah tells us the days are coming when the Lord will fulfill the promise made to his people. The prophet is filled with the love of God’s Word, with the power and promise of the message he’s called to proclaim.

Speaking to a people in exile, a people longing for the day when they would return to their home, Jeremiah knows how much they need to hear the message of God’s love and enduring care for them.

Paul praises the Thessalonians for the growth that has taken place in their lives, for the abundance of love in their community. Then he challenges them to make still greater progress, to continue to grow. But growth is never easy. No matter how often we move forward and grow into new ways of being, it still hurts to leave behind the familiar, to face the unknown, to try something new.

We are called to constant conversion by the promise of Jesus, who is already among us, and the promise of the kingdom, which is not yet fully here. If we are frightened by the signs of which Jesus speaks and the horrors of the evening news, perhaps we need to look again at our own lives and into our own hearts to see if we are doing what we can to bring about the kingdom of God and so prepare ourselves to stand up straight before the Lord.

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Francis of Assisi: Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance. 
<p>Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi's youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: "Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy." </p><p>From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, "Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down." Francis became the totally poor and humble workman. </p><p>He must have suspected a deeper meaning to "build up my house." But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor "nothing" man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels. He gave up all his possessions, piling even his clothes before his earthly father (who was demanding restitution for Francis' "gifts" to the poor) so that he would be totally free to say, "Our Father in heaven." He was, for a time, considered to be a religious fanatic, begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, evokng sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking. </p><p>But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realize that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: "Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff" (Luke 9:1-3). </p><p>Francis' first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no idea of founding an order, but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed to support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly exemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church's unity. </p><p>He was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decided in favor of the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa, but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. </p><p>During the last years of his relatively short life (he died at 44), he was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death, he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. </p><p>On his deathbed, he said over and over again the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, "Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death." He sang Psalm 141, and at the end asked his superior to have his clothes removed when the last hour came and for permission to expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.</p> American Catholic Blog The joy of the Gospel is not just any joy. It consists in knowing one is welcomed and loved by God…. And so we are able to open our eyes again, to overcome sadness and mourning to strike up a new song. And this true joy remains even amid trial, even amid suffering, for it is not a superficial joy: it permeates the depths of the person who entrusts himself to the Lord and confides in him.

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