An Advent lasting a lifetime-II

This reflection was written by Fr Brendan Mark Gatt, who is a Judicial Vicar (Adjunct) at The Metropolitan Tribunal of Malta.

An important theme which constantly comes up in the readings of Advent, is to be aware and stay watchful. It is very easy to be taken up with all the cares in this world and forget the next one! This is the way some people go through life: they seem to think that they will live forever and therefore they invest all their energy in this present life, never sparing a thought for what lies beyond.

Therefore our waiting, here on earth, is a joyful one. It is an attentive, positive waiting in which we tune our ears in order to stay in touch with God. It is a moment when even in our everyday chores we seek to hear ‘the rumour of angels’. It is this awareness which keeps us on our toes, in joyful anticipation of our final journey, when we meet God face to face.

Whenever I go to concerts there is a moment a few minutes before the music actually begins, when the musicians all start tuning their instruments and warming them up. There is no actual music going on, just sound, but the instruments create a kind of enchanting harmony which tells you “The magic is about to begin.” That is what our waiting is like. That is what Advent is like. If we train our ears, we will discover those magical harmonies even in everyday life, until the actual concert begins.

An Advent lasting a lifetime-I

This reflection was written by Fr Brendan Mark Gatt, who is a Judicial Vicar (Adjunct) at The Metropolitan Tribunal of Malta.

Whichever way you look at it, the basic message of Advent will always be the same one: “Wait!” Very often, as we wait for Christmas we’re like children on a long trip in the car going, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” We seem to have lost the ability to wait with patience. As soon as Advent comes around, up go the Christmas decorations, out come the Christmassy songs and we are overtaken by Christmas-present-fever. It shouldn’t be this way, and it needn’t be.

Perhaps in order to live Advent in a richer manner, we can use this time to grow in the awareness that our whole life is an Advent. Our whole life is a period of waiting for our final and definitive encounter with Our Heavenly Father. Many people view this moment in their lives with a mixture of fear and doubt. Even in the Gospels, we find texts which are very apocalyptic in tone, texts in which Jesus speaks to us of fearsome events throughout creation. And thus many people over the years have come to associate their final meeting with God as something terrifying. Yet in his Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict has some very refreshing and reassuring words:

The image of the Last Judgement is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope; for us it may even be the decisive image of hope. Is it not also a frightening image? I would say: it is an image that evokes responsibility, an image, therefore, of that fear of which Saint Hilary spoke when he said that all our fear has its place in love. God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope. And in his justice there is also grace. This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ.

The Church’s message is clear: yes, there is an element of judgement which takes place in our final meeting with God. It is the judgement in which our decisions here on earth (for God or against Him) become definitive. That same God who doesn’t force you to love Him here on earth won’t force you to spend eternity with Him! And therefore in this life we have time to prepare. We have the luxury of examining our choices and seeing whether they bring us closer to God or drag us away from Him. This is the whole sense of our waiting. It is a privileged moment to prepare for our final encounter. We can choose whether the end of our lives is going to be a moment of terror or joy. Whether it is a moment of fear and condemnation, or a moment in which we enter a state of peace and happiness, safe in our Father’s embrace.

Mary’s Yes

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“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word.” Mary’s yes is a pivotal moment in God’s plan for Salvation; it is a unique moment where God asks a simple, humble woman to be part of His plan for mankind. Many are the paintings which depict Mary in a pious, reverent position listening to the angel, it seems to me that it is too romantic to be true. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised that Mary wasn’t in such a position maybe she was cooking, doing her daily day to day housewife business. Maybe she was thinking about her future, making plans of her own.

But God had another future, another life for her, to call her by another name. Pope Benedict XVI writes: “In fact, the Angel, “appearing to her”, does not call her by her earthly name, Mary, but by her divine name, as she has always been seen and characterized by God:  “Full of grace – gratia plena“,  and the grace is none other than the love of God; thus, in the end, we can translate this word:  “beloved” of God (cf. Lk 1: 28). Origen observes that no such title had ever been given to a human being, and that it is unparalleled in all of Sacred Scripture (cf. In Lucam 6: 7).”

The Angel’s annunciation to Mary and most importantly her acceptance, brought about a new and much awaited phase in God’s plan of salvation. A phase which was to change forever man’s relation with God, whereby mankind had the opportunity to look at Truth, when it looked at Christ, to be filled with everlasting hope when reflecting on what he said. Mary’s yes was indeed a yes for everything which one finds in the Church. On Mary’s role in establishing the Church, Pope Benedict XVI writes: “The icon of the Annunciation, more than any other, helps us to see clearly how everything in the Church goes back to that mystery of Mary’s acceptance of the divine Word, by which, through the action of the Holy Spirit, the Covenant between God and humanity was perfectly sealed. Everything in the Church, every institution and ministry, including that of Peter and his Successors, is “included” under the Virgin’s mantle, within the grace-filled horizon of her “yes” to God’s will.” 

It has always amazed me how a simple yes from a frightened, unsure, puzzled yet faithful woman from the least known corners of the world was to change history and humanity forever.

Prayer: Mary’s yes to you O Lord, changed lives and divided time before and after its pronunciation, may we accept whatever you have in store for us Lord, a yes for your plan and an affirmation of your will. We ask you Lord to grant us the faith to accept your wish, so that we too like Mary would be granted the joy of knowing you and come to love you.

 

Fulton J. Sheen: Life is Worth Living

 

Today is the 37th Anniversary of the passing of Fulton J. Sheen. He was an American Roman Catholic prelate known for his preaching and his work on television and radio. Fulton J. Sheen was born on May 8,1895 in El Paso, Illinois as Peter John Sheen. His family later moved to Peoria, Illinois where he served as an altar boy at St. Mary’s Church. On September 20,1919, he was ordained a priest. He served time for a while in London. In 1926, Bishop Edmund Dunne of Peoria, Illinois asked Sheen to take over St. Patrick’s Church. In 1930, he began his preaching career with The Catholic Hour which was broadcasted Sunday weekly. During World War II, he addressed on his radio show that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was an example of the “Anti-Christ”.

His radio show lasted until 1950 and in 1951, with the advent of television he began his first show which ran from 1951 to 1957, called Life is Worth Living. That same year he was consecrated as an Auxiliary Bishop for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York under Francis Cardinal Spellman. During the height of his evangelization career he was instrumental in bringing many famous figures into the Catholic faith: Heywood Broun (an agnostic writer), Clare Booth Luce (a politician and wife of magazine magnate Henry Luce), Henry Ford II (an automaker and grandson of Henry Ford), Louis F. Budenz (an-communist turned anti-communist activist), Jo Mielziner (theatrical designer), Fritz Kreisler (violinist and composer), Virginia Mayo (actress), and Bella Dodd (an ex-communist turned anti-communist). He was also staunchly anti-Communist, in February 1953, a few days before Communist leader Joseph Stalin died, he gave a dramatic reading of the burial scene from Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser substituting the names of prominent Soviet leaders Stalin, Lavrenty Beria, Georgy Malenkov, and Andrey Vyshinsky for the original Caesar, Cassius, Marc Antony, and Brutus. He concluded by saying, “Stalin must one day meet his judgment.” The dictator suffered a stroke a few days later and died within a week. In the 1950s, he had a falling out with Cardinal Spellman in a dispute and in 1957, Sheen resigned his television show. In 1966, Cardinal Spellman had him reassigned to the Diocese of Rochester, New York. On December 2,1967, Cardinal Spellman died.

Despite the dispute, Sheen always praised Spellman. In 1961, he came back on the air with The Fulton Sheen Program which lasted till 1968. In 1969, he resigned his position as Bishop of Rochester, New York. He was also strongly opposed abortion, he denounced the January 22,1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Roe vs. Wade that legalized abortion in the United States. In response he wrote a little prayer invoking the intercession of the Holy Family, he pleaded for divine protection over unborn babies in danger of being aborted. Sheen continued to write books, numerous articles, and columns. On October 2,1979, two months before he died, Pope John Paul II visited him at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and embraced Sheen, saying, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are a loyal son of the Church.
On December 9,1979, Fulton J. Sheen passed away at the age of 84 of heart disease. His up for Beatification in the Catholic Church.