Father Valan Arockiaswamy

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HOMILIES

Close Dear Audience,
For better understanding of the spiritual message behind this homily I kindly remind you to first read and contemplate the biblical texts before reading or listening to my preaching - a human reflection on the Word of God!

First Sunday of Advent (Year C)

Dec 2, 2018 Views 105 Listen 5 Downloads 0
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First Reading

A reading from the Book of Jeremiah (33:14–16)

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalms of David (25:4–5, 8–10, 14)


(R) To you, O Lord, I lift my soul.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. (R)

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. (R)

All the paths of the Lordare steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them. (R)

Second Reading

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians (3:12–4:2)

And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God as, in fact, you are doing, you should do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Gospel

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke (21:25–28, 34–36)

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see "the Son of Man coming in a cloud" with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
(R) Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Homily

The Liturgical Year, also known as the Church Year, is organized into a three - year cycles - Year A, B, and C for Sundays and Year I and Year II for weekdays. Each year is divided into six seasons: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Sacred Paschal Triduum, Easter and Ordinary Time plus several feasts and solemnities between the seasons. The year begins on the First Sunday of Advent and ends on the feast of Christ the King at the end of November. Biblical readings and prayers for Masses, colour of vestments worn by the priests appropriate to a season and feast during the year are laid out in a yearly liturgical calendar. Moreover, the Church also recommends specific sanctuary decorations according to different seasons. Most of the liturgical traditions and customs have evolved over the centuries, and are observed by the whole church.

On Sundays and holy days of obligation and on special feast days, three readings are read. The first reading is mostly from the Old Testament. The second reading is taken from the writings of an apostle. And the third reading is from one of the Gospels: In year A, we read from the Gospel of Matthew. In year B, we read the Gospel of Mark and, in Year C, we take the Gospel of Luke. We read from the Gospel of John during the Easter season in all three years.

Today, with the start of the Advent season, we begin the Liturgical Year C, and our study of the Gospel of Luke. The Advent season spans four Sundays and four weeks leading up to Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Originally, however, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas. What is Advent? The word "Advent" comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming", which is a translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly referring to the Second Coming of Christ.

The origins of Advent can be traced back to the 4th and 5th century when Christians in Spain and Gaul, which, at that time inhabited by Celtic tribes, encompassing present day France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxemburg, northern Italy, as well as parts of the Netherlands, and Germany on the west bank of the Rhine river, were required to prepare themselves for baptism. The Advent was indeed a time of spiritual preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the Feast of Epiphany, the celebration of the manifestation of Christ to the Magi or three kings and, their visit to Bethlehem, Matthew (2:1). As part of their preparation, from the Feast of Saint Martin of Tours on November 11th to Epiphany, the new converts would observe 40 days of fasting, repentance and prayer in a 56-day period of time.

Later, in the 6th century, Pope Saint Gregory the Great associated this season of Advent with the coming of Christ, and composed prayers and responses, and preached a series of homilies appropriate for the season. However, at first, the "coming" did not refer to the incarnation of Christ in Bethlehem that was anticipated, but the Second Coming of Christ, when He would return to earth to defeat evil and establish His glorious kingdom. By the 9th century, the Church had extended the Advent to include the Coming of Christ through His birth as a human being and His Second Coming. In addition to that, the number of Sundays was reduced from five to four plus the first Sunday was designated as the beginning of the Church year.

To make Advent more meaningful and fruitful, the Church has recommended many symbols and traditions that are associated with Advent.

  • Advent wreath: The Advent wreath is traditionally made of evergreen branches into a circle. While it is entirely secular and simply decorative, the Church adopted this tradition only in the twentieth century and gave some meaning to it. The circle reminds us of God's endless love and mercy. The colour green represents life and evergreen is a sign of hope and eternal life. That is to say, just as the evergreen lives through all seasons including harsh winter conditions, God through His Son, Jesus Christ, makes eternal life possible for us even in the midst of suffering and death.

    Some wreaths are made of pine tree leaves or prickly dark green leaves, and red berries. The prickly leaves symbolize the thorns worn by Christ on the cross, and the tiny red berries represent Christ's blood. Over all, the evergreen wreath depicts the immortality of our soul and the new, everlasting life promised to us through Christ's birth, teaching, passion, death, and resurrection.

  • Five candles: The most common Advent candle tradition involves four candles comprising of three purple candles with one rose or pink and, they are usually nestled in the evergreen wreath. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. Each candle represents something different, although traditions vary. For instance, some believe that four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. Others say that they represent the four virtues or gifts, such as, Hope, Love, Joy and Peace, which Jesus brings us through His coming.

    Yet, some others think that three purple candles signify penitence and the rose candle, which is lit on the third Sunday, also known as "Gaudete" or "Rejoice" Sunday, signifies joy. A fifth white candle is placed in the middle and, it is lit on Christmas Day to celebrate Jesus' birth. After all, Christ is "the Light that came into the world" to dispel the darkness of sin and to radiate the truth and love of God, John (3:19-21). Hence, the white candle is meant to remind us that Christ enters our dark world and casts away the darkness of sin to redeem us. He will come again as the light of the world.

  • Vestments: The four most common colours for liturgical vestments worn by priests are green, white, purple or violet, and red. Like Lent, vestments of purple or violet are used during Advent. These colours are associated both with the sovereignty of Christ and with penance. However, in some tradition, a dark or deep blue is used interchangeably with purple as a way of distinguishing the hopeful expectation of Advent from the penitential nature of Lent.

    Blue is also very important colour in the artistic traditions of Christianity. Particularly, in many paintings, Mary is depicted wearing a blue mantle, because of her significance as the mother of the Lord Jesus. So, the colour blue reminds us that, with Mother Mary, we also await the arrival of our King and Saviour Jesus. Rose-coloured vestment is worn on the third Sunday, as a reminder of the coming joy.

  • Floral arrangements: The Church encourages the use of fresh flowers in the sanctuary as a way of engaging in the beauty of creation, of which God is the Creator and Sustainer, plus to enhance the worship experience. However, as in Lent, during advent the floral decorations on and around the altar are discouraged so as to not to reflect the anticipation of the full joy of Christmas.
  • Biblical readings: For the four weeks of Advent, the Church has carefully selected passages which talk about the Messianic expectation of ancient Israel in the Old Testament, the Second Coming plus the Final judgment, and the announcements of Christ's arrival by John the Baptist and by Angels in the New Testament.
  • Music and songs: Since Advent is a time of hope and of waiting patiently for the coming of the Lord, the Church recommends the omission of the Gloria and Christmas carols until Christmas Day. Instead, she suggests a selection of quieter, more subdued and contemplative music and songs appropriately reflecting the anticipation of the Lord's coming. It is a reminder that we, as Christians, wait until Christmas to celebrate Christmas. Because it seems like Christmas celebration gets to be earlier and earlier every year.

    Christmas is overly commercialised: businesses are taking the celebration out of Christmas by starting it all too early. Shops start advertising and selling Christmas paraphernalia as early as August. Putting up Christmas decorations, playing Christmas music and singing Christmas carols too early might improve one's mood, bring up feelings of nostalgia and evoke strong feelings of belonging, in a world full of stress and anxiety.

    At the same time, however, getting into the Christmas spirit too early may cause Christmas fatigue, meaning it takes the happiness out of one's celebration on 25th December. Because, by the time you are really celebrating, you may be tired of the music, decorations and the overall atmosphere. The actual beginning of Christmastide may feel like the end of Christmas.

  • Penitential Fasting: Even though fasting was a central aspect of Advent observances in the past, the Church has no longer set a requirement for fasting during Advent. However, as in Lent, fasting can still be a way to spiritually prepare for Christmas. Fasting is one of the ways to show one's humility and sorrow before the Lord for our sins.

What is the message for us?

  • Even though, each liturgical year, we follow the same course of the seasons, observe the same set of traditions, and celebrate the same feasts and historical events like the birth of our Lord Jesus, we must not see this as repetitive but rather as an opportunity to participate in the saving events of Jesus as they are made present again in our lives.
  • With this new liturgical year, we begin reading the same biblical stories again. But it is repetitive in a good way. There is an old Latin proverb that says, "Repetitio est mater studiorum". It means, "Repetition is the mother of all learning". And it's true. Every time we read the scriptures, we shall find there is still more and more to be learned out of them. The more we read and reflect, the more frequently do we discover the truth about God, His Word and our relationship with Him. So, when we read or hear the scriptures, we must not say, "Oh! I have read this passage so many times; there is no way I can learn anything new from it", nor do we become short-sighted or frustrated or annoyed or angry, but rather utilize the opportunity for a deeper study of the Bible and personal relationship with God.
  • Our liturgies are rooted in ancient tradition and symbolism. We do not have to learn the intricacies of these traditions and practices. However, we can utilize them to deepen our understanding of the Catholic faith and integrate them into the liturgical celebrations to create a meaningful time of reflection as part of our worship service.
  • Even though there are no particular rules on how we should observe fasting during Advent, I recommend observing some form of fast. We can resist the instant gratification, materialism, and gluttony that increasingly characterize Christmas celebrations, and we can give the money saved to the poor or to charities.
  • Today, we regard Advent as a time to prepare our minds and hearts not only to celebrate the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago and His Second Coming in power and great glory at the end of time, but also His coming in all the events of daily life, especially through the Sacraments, the Scriptures, the community and at the moment of our death. Hence, while we prepare ourselves with lights and decorations, joyful songs, shopping and food, we must also truly share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and be alert to His coming.

We must reflect on the scriptural promises and purify our hearts by repentance, renew our minds according to God's expectations, and transform ourselves into Christ's image.

(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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