Sunday, December 30, 2012

Gospel For Today

FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH

click here for readings

This is a season of feasts and celebrations!  Beginning this past Tuesday, on Dec. 25, we entered the season of Christmas with the great Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord.  The Christmas season traditionally runs to Epiphany (January 6 - hence the "Twelve Days of Christmas"), but the Church has in more modern times extended the celebration of Christmas to the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (January 13).  So don't be too quick to take down your holiday decorations!

The eight days which consist of Christmas Day and the week following are considered the Octave of Christmas, which is celebrated as one great continuous feast day in the liturgical year.  Within the Octave of Christmas we have many individual observances, which I think are telling.

Starting Dec. 25 we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the entrance of God the Creator into human history; not arriving on a chariot with a great army to be seated on a golden throne, but born as a helpless, dependent baby into a human family with a mother and a father. a manger filled with straw, where animals slept.  The world was made new and things would never be the same.

Immediately following this joyful celebration, we have on Dec. 26 the Feast of St. Stephen.  Stephen was the very first Christian martyr, the first person to die for his faith in Christ.  You can read about him in Acts chapter 7.  As he was being stoned to death, his final words were to ask God to forgive those who were killing him.  Some people may not feel that celebrating the death of the first Christian martyr fits the "tone" of the Christmas season.  It's supposed to be a time of joy and peace, right?

But I believe it is a perfect fit for this season.  Stephen's martyrdom tells us exactly what is demanded of us who rejoice at the Lord's birth in Bethlehem.  Now that the Christ has arrived in this human scene, we must be prepared to follow him -- even unto death.  Do you or I have that kind of commitment and devotion to Jesus today?  Are we willing to face those who would stone us because of our beliefs?  Even if it is just the metaphorical stoning of social pressure and derision?

On Dec. 28 we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  This is the day the Church honors all of those young people who were killed by the order of King Herod in his attempt to destroy the Christ child whom he saw as a threat to his reign.  He ordered all boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding area under the age of two to be massacred.  The magi would not divulge to him where Jesus was, so Herod had to cast a wide net to catch him.  He failed.  But he slaughtered countless innocents in the process.  The Church recognizes that these innocent babies, too, gave their life for Christ in a way, even though they did not consciously know it.

Sadly, Herod's spirit is still alive and with us today, as an even greater number of innocents is slaughtered through the holocaust of abortion.  1.5 million lives are snuffed out each year in our country alone.  Who knows how many worldwide?  Do we have the courage of St. Stephen to continue to stand up and speak out for those without a voice; the most vulnerable and innocent among us?  Can we take the stoning that today's culture may throw our way for being pro-life?

And today, Dec. 30, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family.  This is especially important in our time, as the family itself is under attack.  The foundation of the human family is marriage.  Many today mistakenly believe marriage as the union in which a husband and wife form a couple.  But that is not true.  It is a union in which a husband and wife form a family.  The purpose of every marriage is to engender children.  This is true even for those married couples that are unable to conceive a child.  There are other ways to share the spirit of selfless love that is parenting with the world -- adoption, foster parenting, community involvement, devotion to nieces and nephews, etc.  None of us are allowed to live selfish, self-centered lives because of a lack of children.  Every marriage is a vehicle for God to potentially bless with new life, and must be lived out in that spirit.

For the great majority of marriages, that means children; conceiving and bearing them, and raising them in a loving household.  This requires stability, which is why marriage is a life-long commitment.  Marriage creates a new family, and the family is the basic building block of human society.  Families make the culture, not the other way around.  Governments are established to protect and serve families, not vice versa.  But marriage and the family are under attack in a very real way in our society.  

It began back in the 1930s when the Anglican church decided to allow, with limitations, the use of contraception.  Their decision -- the first time any Christian body had allowed contraception for any reason -- said that it was permissible, only within marriage, and only for grave reasons.  But contraception is an evil, and once it had its foot in the door, it was not long before it came all the way in.  Now, contraception is considered "smart and safe" in our culture, the "responsible thing to do," and the Catholic Church alone stands as the only Christian body who continues to oppose it.  

What does this have to do with marriage?  Marriage, sex, and children have always been considered part of the same one good.  They could not be separated, for they belonged to one another.  The acceptance of contraception started to divide them.  People started to see sex as something one could enjoy without children.  And if one could enjoy sex without worrying about children, there was no real need for the lifelong commitment of marriage.  These three aspects of the same reality started to be treated as interdependent and unrelated pursuits.  

No fault divorce soon became common in our culture.  Abortion was demanded as a back-up for when contraception failed.  Sex is no longer seen as something one must wait until marriage to enjoy, but something which should be tried out before marriage (like taking a car for a test drive).  Children?  Only if you want them, and only when you are ready.

Today one can have sex with no children (and indeed children without sex), sex without marriage, marriage without children, and children without marriage, and we are taught to view each option as an equally valid choice.

The end result is that today in America 51% of all new births are out of wedlock.  For the first time in our history more children are born to unmarried parents than to married parents.  How many of those children will never know their father, or see him only every other weekend?  More than half of all marriages end in divorce, with multiple marriages being far too common - even expected.  The birthrate in many western nations is falling below replacement level, which means the population in most European countries is actually shrinking.  The only factor keeping American births above replacement level are minority birthrates, which are higher than for whites.  

And now, more and more people -- Catholics included -- no longer believe that gender has any bearing on marriage, and people of the same gender should be free to enter into marriage just as a man and a woman.  This is advocated for under the banner of fairness and equality, but it is only conceivable today because our culture has lost sight of what marriage truly is.

Today, we celebrate the Holy Family.  Mary and Joseph were married for the explicit purpose of raising a child.  Their marriage was devoted to their son, the Son of God, our Savior.  They were devoted to each other and to Him.  He was obedient to his mother and father.  This is the model family for us.  Please join me today in praying for the intercession of the Holy Family, for the healing of families in our world today.  And pray that Christians would have the courage of St. Stephen, and St. Thomas Becket, whose martyrdom we celebrated on Dec. 29, to stand up for our faith and convictions; to stand up for the family.

Please also say a prayer for my wife and I, who started our own family on this day twelve years ago, as we entered the sacrament of marriage.  She has been like a fruitful vine in my home, and given me children like olive plants around our table (Ps 128).  I am a blessed man, and give thanks to God each day for the family He has given me.

God bless, everyone!  And Merry Christmas!

--

WCU Catholic Campus Ministry

Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister

www.WCUCatholic.org

  

(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gospel For Today

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C)

Good things come in small packages.  We are reminded of this around any gift giving occasion, such as Christmas.  (I also get told this often because my wife is 13" shorter than I am).  We are saying this a lot in our household these days, with our kids inspecting the gifts under the tree, trying to see whose is the biggest.  I tell them, "You know a big present only means it's in a big box -- you don't know what's in the box."  My clever children soon get the point.  One says, "It could be a smaller present," and another, "the box could be empty!"  So they are learning not to judge things by their size.  

Neither does God judge things by their size.  Some of His most powerful and amazing gifts come in small packages.  In the first reading we hear proclaimed at Mass today, we hear God telling Bethlehem that it is "too small to be among the clans of Judah," yet regardless of size, "from you shall come forth from me one who is to be ruler in Israel...  his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace" (Mi 5:1-4a).

O little town of Bethlehem, how many in the world dismissed you as an inconsequential, quaint little village; a small settlement hardly worthy of note?  Yet the Master of the Universe came into the world in one of your humble stables.  No one would have looked at that manger from the outside, with its feeding trough and beds of hay, a rough shelter for animals, and imagined that it held within it the Author of all Creation.

The same could be said for Mary herself.  In today's Gospel reading from Luke, we hear Elizabeth's greeting of her cousin, those famous lines that have become part of the daily prayer life of Catholic Christians across the globe for millennia.  "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"

Mary is the mother of the Lord.  This humble virgin, of no consequence to the political powers that be, with no wealth to her name, no boastfulness about her -- she is the theotokos, the Mother of God (literally "God bearer").  How can a human women, a creature made by God, herself be the Mother of God who exists unbegotten from before all time?  

The Church struggled with this question in the fifth century when it defended Mary's title as theotokos from the Nestorian heresy.  The reason had little to do with Mary and everything to do with Jesus Christ.  The Nestorians claimed that Mary was only mother of Christ's human nature, not his divine nature, and so could only be called mother of his humanity.  The Church argued that one could not divide Christ in this manner.  Christ has a human nature and a divine nature, but he is one Person.  Mothers do not give birth to natures, but to persons.  Saying that Mary is the Mother of God does not mean that she created God, but only that the person she bore in her womb was, in fact, God incarnate.  (We celebrate Mary's title of Mother of God on her feast on January 1, a holy day of obligation).

It seems impossible to us that a woman could carry the very God who made her in her womb.  But nothing is impossible with God.  This is the miracle and the mystery of Christmas.  It is a mystery that, I confess, I did not truly appreciate until ten years ago when I sat in a church pew holding my infant daughter, my first born.  She was only five months old her first Christmas.  I sat listening to the readings at Mass, looking down at her tiny face.  

She was totally helpless.  So tiny and frail, still learning how to move her arms and legs, and discovering her fingers.  She was utterly dependent upon her mother and I for all of her needs; her food, her health, her comfort and happiness.  So fragile.

And yet the Lord God, the Alpha and the Omega, all powerful and eternal, my Savior and my Judge, chose to be born into this world as a tiny, helpless, humble baby, just like the one I held in my arms.  

The love between a parent and a child is one of the strongest things in the universe, and it is into this love that God desired to come into the world.  When we say that "he humbled himself to be born of the Virgin Mary," we need to realize just how humble a newborn truly is.  Can you imagine changing God's diaper?  Giving the Lord a bath?  Nursing him at your breast?  Putting little socks on his cold feet?  Are you even worthy of doing such things?  No.  Nor was Mary.  But God allowed her to anyway, and that is the great gift.

None of us today are worthy enough to approach the Lord; but He approaches us.  He invites us to come near, to know him intimately; indeed to take his very life into our bodies and carry him with us wherever we go.  He stands at the entrance to that Bethlehem stable and beckons us to come inside and see him at his smallest, so that we might learn of his greatness.

This is your Christmas gift.  The Lord of the Universe who came into creation once as a newborn babe comes again today under the appearance of bread and wine.  He wants to make his home in you.  Good things do, indeed, come in small packages.

In anticipation of the great Feast of the Nativity this Tuesday, a Merry Christmas to all of you!  God bless!

     



--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gospel for Today

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near.

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete is Latin for "rejoice," and the name comes from the opening word of the Entrance Antiphon of today's Mass.  Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.  Dominus enim prope est.  Which means, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near."

This joyful theme is repeated in today's readings.  In the first reading from Zephaniah (Zep 3:14-18a) we are told, "Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!  Sing joyfully, O Israel! ... The Lord, your God, is in your midst."

In our responsorial psalm today we acclaim, "Cry out with joy and gladness, for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel."

In our second reading (Phil 4:4-7), St. Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again: rejoice! ...  The Lord is near."

Today is a festive day indeed.  In the penitential season of Advent, a season of preparation, we pause and express our great joy and excitement for we know that the one we are preparing for is just around the corner.  His arrival is imminent.   In today's world, it is as if a family member you have not seen in a very long time sends you a text message saying, "the plane just landed, I'll be home soon."  His arrival is closer to being a reality.  It changes from something you simply long and hope for, to something you can actually see on the horizon.  Excitement and anxiety builds.  Last minute preparations are made.

What last minute preparations do we need to make for Christ's arrival?  That is the question put to John the Baptist in today's gospel (Lk 3:10-18).  His answer seems simple. If you have two cloaks, share with the person who has none.  To the tax collectors, he tells them to stop taking more from the people than the law asks for.  To soldiers, stop extorting people.  In other words, behave yourself.  These are lessons parents teach their children: share, be fair, play nice.  

The heart of John's message is this: be generous; be selfless; think of others before yourself.  Be satisfied with what you have.  

We prepare for Christ's coming by "being on our best behavior" because, as John describes it, Jesus is coming to clean house.  "His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

One may find it a bit unusual to read about burning in unquenchable fire on a Sunday that is supposed to be about rejoicing.  How is eternal punishment joyful?

We rejoice because we can avoid that fate.  This is John's message.  Repent, ask for forgiveness, and change your selfish ways.  Begin living for others, and you may save your own life.  For those suffering from oppression, hardship, and injustice, the coming Reign of Christ is indeed a cause for rejoicing, for all will be set right.  The wicked shall be punished, while the lowly and righteous shall be exalted.  

For those whose hearts are turned to God, today is a day for rejoicing.  St. Paul's tells us to have no anxiety at all.  In everything, give thanks to God.  "Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

John the Baptist tells the soldiers to be happy with their wages. St. Paul tells us to be thankful in all things.  Can we make those sentiments a reality in our lives?  As children, we look forward to Christmas often with more anticipation about the new toys we expect to get, than excitement over the birth of Christ.  Suddenly the games and gadgets we already have look tired and old.  They fail to satisfy us; we long for the new toys that Santa will bring.  Even as adults we are groomed by society to feel a certain amount of dissatisfaction this time of year.  As the year draws to a close we are expected to make "New Year's Resolutions" and think about how we can make things better for ourselves.  I want to get a raise next year.  I want to loose weight.  I want to make better grades.  

Improving ourselves is a noble goal, of course.  But the biggest improvement we can make is to be thankful for what we have now.  Do we recognize the gifts God has already given us in our lives?  Are we satisfied with them?  If we are, then, like St. Paul, we need feel no anxiety.  We know we are being cared for.  We know we are beloved of God.

So today, be joyful.  Be calm.  Be thankful.  And stand ready to accept the gift of God's peace that He longs to give you.  The Lord is near.  Gaudete!

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Weekly Update from CCM

Good afternoon, all students!  Catholic Campus Ministry hopes and prays that you are having a successful and stress-free exam week.  We pray that you be free from anxiety and that you find joy and peace this Advent season.  Have a wonderful Christmas break.

Our regular weekly schedule of activities is on pause until the spring semester (i.e. no dinner this Wednesday).  We will be spending the break getting geared up for another great semester at CCM.  Here are some important dates for you to mark on your calendar.

Jan 13:  First Mass on campus of the new year (7:30pm).
Jan. 25:  March For Life (DC)
Feb. 13:  Ash Wednesday
Feb. 15-17:  Give Your Heart Away service retreat
Mar. 15:  Bishop's Lenten Pilgrimage (Belmont)
Mar. 23-28:  CCM Alternative Spring Break trip (DC & Baltimore)

We hope you can join us at some of these events.  Of course we will have our regular Wednesday night dinners at 6:30 and will continue to offer opportunities for Adoration, the Rosary, Catholic discussion, Bible study and other faith enriching occasions, so stay tuned.  

Study hard, be safe, and have a great break!
Pax,
Matt


--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gospel For Today

Reminder:  Today will be the last Mass on campus for the year.  Masses on campus will resume on Jan. 13.  Enjoy your Christmas break, everyone!

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C)

And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ...  Phil 1:9-10

What do you want for Christmas?  That's what everyone asks this time of year, as we prepare for our holiday gift giving.  But among all of our holiday preparations, are we preparing ourselves to receive the only gift that matters?

In today's Gospel reading we encounter the figure of John the Baptist, whose role as the last great prophet was to prepare the people of Israel to receive Christ.  "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.  Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low.  The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (Lk3:5-6).  

Christ did not come to straighten out the hair pin curves on 107 between Cullowhee and Cashiers.  When John the Baptist is talking about making winding roads straight and filling in the valleys, he is talking about the roads and valleys of the human soul.  Are we prepared to receive Christ?  John may have been speaking to first century Jews at the time, but the message is still pertinent to us today.  Are we ready to receive Him?

I don't think the answer to that question can be a simple yes or no.  Preparing the way of the Lord in our hearts is not a one-time event, some activity we can do and then have it over with.  If we are not prepared, we need to get prepared.  And if we feel we are prepared for Him, we still need to continue working on it, making sure we stay that way.  It is an ongoing process.

I really like St. Paul's prayer in the second reading today, from his letter to the Philippians.  His prayer is that they may be prepared for "the day of Christ," which is to say His Second Coming.  He wants them to be pure and blameless when they meet Christ.  And the path he maps out for them is to increase in love, which will lead to more knowledge and better perception.  This love, knowledge, and perception will then allow them to "discern what is of value."

Discernment is a crucial aspect of our lives as Christians that often gets neglected.  Do we actively try to discern what is of value in our daily lives?  We participate in, and are influenced by so much each day.  Just think about what you see on Facebook, Youtube, on Pinterest, your email, your favorite blogs, television, what you hear on the radio, from your friends, your family, your professors, magazines, billboards, newspapers, movies, the list goes on and on.  Even beyond the media and the people in our lives, the general culture influences us.  From campus to the coffee shop, to the mall and museums, everything around us potentially molds and shapes our perceptions and thoughts.  

In the midst of all of this, we Christians have a great measure -- and that is Christ himself.  We have our very Maker, God Incarnate, Emmanuel (God is with us), the one who proclaimed boldly not the have the truth but to BE the Truth.  He is the way, the truth and the life.  He says, "Be not afraid," and also, "Come, follow me."  In Christ, and through His Church, we have a yard stick against which to measure every aspect of our lives.  If we increase in love of Him, as St. Paul prays, our eyes will be open so that we may "discern what is of value" amid everything we see and hear.

This does not, as some might fear, mean rejecting everything in the world.  It does mean, as Paul puts it in another letter, that we should "test everything; retain what is good" (1 Thes 5:21).  Everything can and should be tested against the mind of God, expressed in Christ, through His Church.  If it measures up, we should keep it.  If it fails to pass the test, it should be rejected as false and unworthy.  

This is true for small and large things. Every year around this season I hear some grumbling about "pagan" holiday traditions; things such as Christmas trees, wreathes, kissing under the mistletoe and yule logs are said to be of non-Christian pagan origins and therefore should not be endorsed.  Even the date of Dec. 25 is criticized as being the date of the pagan Roman festival to the God Saturn, celebrating the "Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun."  I say, so what?  We do not know the precise day of the year on which Jesus was born.  It is still an important enough occasion that we wish to celebrate it.  If people were used to celebrating the birthday of the Unconquerable Sun on Dec. 25, let's test that and retain what is good.  We retain the festival, the celebration, the joyful spirit; we reject the false Sun god and instead embrace the true Unconquerable Son, the Rising Star, Jesus Christ.  

The instruction to test everything and discern what is of value is even more important in our personal lives.  In choosing what it is we allow into our homes and into our minds, are we being discerning?  Are we testing everything against Christ and his love?  In choosing what we watch, what we read, the music we listen to; even the food we eat; even the friends we associate with; are we testing these things against what we know to be true in Christ? 

Only be doing so, by making Christ our rule and measure, can we begin to prepare the way for Him in our hearts, making straight the winding paths of our soul, and filling in the valleys.  The truly mystical thing about it all is that we need Christ in order to do this.  In order to prepare ourselves to receive Him worthily, we need to let Him into our hearts right now, as we are.  Christ is the end of the journey, but He is also the beginning.  He is the Alpha and the Omega.  He is the source and the summit.  He is the true Christmas gift.



--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Weekly Update from CCM

Happy Advent!

This is the first week of Advent, but the last week of classes before exams.  It's also therefore the last week of regular activities in Catholic Campus Ministry.  We know you are busy cramming for exams, but we really hope you come and join us for our end of year holiday party!

This WEDNESDAY at 6:30pm, we have a special treat for dinner.  Our dear Maria is returning to Spain after this semester, and she wants to share with us a taste of her home before she departs.  She's whipping up some authentic Spanish omelettes for us, with a little help from Joseph.  You don't want to miss this meal!

After dinner, I'll do my famous rendition of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and we will have our annual Grinchy gift exchange!  Please bring a wrapped gift of $5 value to participate.  (I'll have some wrapping paper on hand at the Catholic Student Center for anyone who needs it -- just come by early before dinner).  

Then our choir will lead us in a round of Christmas carols.  Finally, those who want to continue the holiday spirit for the evening will be invited to wander the campus with our choir, singing Christmas carols and spreading good cheer.  

THURSDAY
"Tea @ 10" will meet as usual at Starbucks at 10pm for some good Catholic discussion.  (Several of us will also be going to see the Nutcracker at the Bardo Arts Center at 7:30pm, so perhaps we'll see you there!).

FRIDAY
Our final "TGIF" is here!  Get in one more power-hour with God before exams.   Come for Bible Study at 3pm.  Stay for Adoration at 4pm.

DEC. 8 - IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
Saturday, Dec. 8, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  It is a Holy Day of Obligation in the United States, as the patron saint of our nation is Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.   There will be a Vigil Mass at St. Mary's on Friday at 6:00pm, as well as a Mass on Saturday morning at 9:00am.  To organize rides and car pooling, please see our Facebook Group.  

SUNDAY
This Sunday, Dec. 9, will be our last Mass on campus for 2012.   Our next Mass on campus will be January 13.  See you there at 7:30pm.  Come get your final blessing -- or is that a blessing for your finals?  :-)

God bless and have a great week!
Matt

--
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Gospel For Today

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C)

"Don't do drugs."  Everyone is told this message many times over growing up, from teachers, counselors, police officers and parents.  Let's imagine one students goes to a college with very low tolerance for drug use, where very few students abuse drugs, and it's not really part of the culture; so this student successful avoids drugs throughout their college years.  Another student attends a university known as a party school, where a large part of the student body abuses drugs on a regular basis as part of campus social life; this student also avoid using drugs, though they have to constantly and consistently resist temptation and say no to their peers.  

Both students have done good.  But which would you describe as more heroic?  Obviously the second student, who had to pluck up the courage to say no.  The first student is in a situation where it is easier to live a virtuous life.  This is the type of situation we would want to create for ourselves.  But the difficult situation faced by the second student is also an opportunity to increase in virtue.  That student is surrounded by sin and so must exercise greater discipline to remain pure.  Thus an occasion of difficulty and duress can be looked upon as an opportunity to exercise heroic virtue and thus draw closer to Gd.

In today's Gospel reading, Christ leaves his followers with a warning.  The situation sounds dire indeed...  "nations will be in dismay... people will die of fright."  Christ encourages them to "be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent..."  He is speaking of the situation on earth before his Second Coming.  But he could be speaking to any of us, any generation (for indeed, no one knows when the Lord may return).  Each generation has faced trials and tribulations, some more dire than others.  

But the Lord says, "when you see these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand."  Remaining pure and holy through times of trial is a great occasion to draw closer to God.  It is through difficulty that we are redeemed.  How can we do this?

We must first learn to rely on the Lord.  One of the reasons Jesus says it is so difficult for a rich man to enter heaven is because people who have easy lives are not used to relying on others and asking for help.  And that is precisely what we need to do to invite God into our lives -- rely on him and ask for his gracious help.  Difficult times can teach us this lesson.

When we ask the Lord to strengthen us in difficult times, how does he respond?  Not by making us cold and hard hearted, to protect us from being hurt.  No, he does the opposite.  He increases our capacity for love.  In his first letter to the Thessalonians (today's second reading) St. Paul prays, "May the Lord make you increase and about in love for one another and for all... so as to strengthen your hearts..."  Love makes us vulnerable, it is true, but it is the only path to true strength.  A Christian overcomes trials and difficulties by love.

What does love gain us?  In addition to strengthening our hearts, St. Paul says it will make us "blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones."  In short, love gains us God; which is to say, it gains us everything.  

Advent is a season of expectation.  The name Advent means "coming."  We look forward to Christmas when we celebrate the first coming of our Lord at his birth over 2000 years ago.  That first coming is an historical fact.  So too will be his Second Coming.  Our entire lives should be a season of advent as we wait in joyful and loving expectation for that day.  There will be difficult times between that day and now.  Jesus assures us of this.  It will be hard.  But if we stay close to God, if we live our lives full of love and humility, joy and courage, we will remain close to him and by our heroic witness do glory to his holy name on that day.  Come, Lord Jesus!

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WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
  
(828)293-9374  |   POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723