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A message from the bishop

Placing our hope in the Lord
(November 2014)
 
My dear friends,
 
For Christians, Advent is the most countercultural liturgical season of all. Advent coincides with the end of the year. The whole secular world is bent on buying and selling, partying, rushing around and, yes, worrying. Psychiatrists say that this time of year is the most stressful of all. People worry about what kind of decorations to put up. They are afraid of feeling guilty if the gifts they give are not as good as the ones they receive. They fret over who to invite or not to invite to holiday parties. How ironic that this should be so as we prepare to welcome the Prince of Peace! It is not the ideal time for the calm and quiet that can help us pay attention to what is of lasting value, of what is truly important. 
 
What Advent and the other liturgical seasons offer is a remembering of, and focusing upon, what is truly important: God’s guidance and intervention in human history, which has brought us salvation. We believe that God continues to act in our world according to what has been revealed in biblical history. We are guided by God’s inspired word as he continues to speak to us today: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts!” And “Your words, Lord, are spirit and life!”
 
To hear God’s word demands that we pay attention. This is one major theme of the Advent season — paying attention. The main figures we meet during the Advent season — Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary — are all examples of paying attention. They concentrate upon what is important, pursue what is important and wait in hope for what is important. In their example, we find ways to clear the clutter
from our lives and focus more freely and serenely on what really deserves our time and attention. We are to love God with all our heart, soul and strength — and our neighbor as ourselves.
 
Throughout salvation history, the people of Israel clung to God’s promise of sending a Messiah. During Advent, we do not simply call to mind the longing of devout Jews, such as Simeon and Anna, who desired
to see the salvation God had prepared in the sight of every people, the coming of the Messiah who would be a light for all the nations. When we remember their longing as recounted in the Advent readings,
we can more clearly see our own longings and hopes. Our priorities, the things that best motivate and direct our use of time and energy, determine who we are and what we really want. We live in a time
when the second strongest allegiance for most Americans, after being an American, is being a consumer. The active advertising industry spends billions of dollars creating new desires for us, and reinforcing old
ones.
 
Advent can help us to sort out these things, which seem to be urgent in their desirability and  attractiveness, from what is really important and of lasting value. What is of lasting value is a seat at the table of the heavenly banquet; the salvation offered us by Christ and the possibility and promise of eternal life.
 
We can ask ourselves: Where are our hopes and desires ultimately headed, and from where do they spring? What or who is it that we seek? Advent can be a time, as its scriptural readings remind us, for filling in valleys and making crooked ways straight. Our hearts will be restless and never whole until we are convinced that God loves us and that God matters to us. Only then can we seek the Lord with undivided hearts.
 
Is it possible to really live without looking forward to someone or something? Can we live if we do not have hope? Only the Lord and his kingdom are worth hoping for! The season of Advent reminds us
of the hope that is ours. When our hope is connected to the hope of God’s people, the Church, what we hope for is Christ himself and the renewal of the world. At the end of Advent, we will celebrate Christmas, the coming of the Eternal Word made flesh, the Messiah; yet we still hope for, and await, his second coming in glory.
 
The message of this holy season offers us an opportunity to ponder the meaning of human history and the meaning of our individual lives. Catholics believe that Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. No one knows when that day will come, but he will indeed come to gather his faithful
from all corners of the earth. In the meantime, we have with us the presence of Jesus, Emmanuel,
God-with-us, who is the Beginning and the End. May God increase our strength of will for doing good, that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming — now, and every day of our lives!
 
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak