Find the Perfect Gift – Weekly Reflections
First Week of Advent: Silence
By Fr. Greg Shaffer – Our Lady of the Visitation Catholic Church, Darnestown, MD
You know the world we live in is a noisy one when silence rubs us the wrong way. Most of the noise that surrounds us is chosen – the next time you walk through the streets of a downtown area, notice how many people are using earphones. Silence usually scares us. Any of us who have ever led a discussion group know that there will be moments of “awkward silence”. But this obviously goes deeper than social awkwardness; it’s more than emotions or feelings. The truth is, silence brings us face-to-face with reality. Many people avoid reality, especially the reality of the Cross in suffering. After 17 years as a priest, I’m convinced that many people have left the Church and/or stopped practicing their faith because they don’t want to deal with the reality that the Church represents the Cross.
Sometimes, however, after a while of enduring unavoidable commotion – such as a loud election season or all the other drama of this year – silence can seem a little less daunting… Hopefully, as we enter this 2023 Advent season, silence is something we can all joyfully embrace.
I always remember one woman at my first parish assignment asking for “thirty seconds of silence” after the Holy Communion hymn. She said it is so calming, peaceful, and refreshing to be silent. She is so right! Also, and even more importantly, when we enter into silence in the Presence of the Lord, we hear the voice of God. Elijah heard God not in an earthquake or fire or wind, but in a “tiny whispering sound” (1 Kings 19). Just as God grows things in nature in silence, God speaks to us in silence. All of the world’s coping mechanisms that clutter our minds and hearts with noise can’t compete with the Lord. They might bring us pleasure, but not the peace that comes from the voice of the Lord. His voice is our best consolation for reality.
Second Week of Advent: Waiting
By Fr. Mario Majano, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Landover Hills, MD
How often are we confronted with this request? It is actually all around us. From waiting for a download, to stream a movie or show, to the voice that signals when you press the button to cross the street, to the request on the other side of the phone while you are on hold. Please wait.
Generally, these requests to wait are either seen as inconveniences that delay us from accomplishing whatever is on our busy agenda, or they are ignored while we seek a way to fill that space. Our culture rarely interprets waiting as a good thing. From next day deliveries to instantaneously receiving answers to our questions through a quick online search, there is no time between our desire and fulfilling that want.
Yet this year has in some ways forced us to stop and wait. There is something out of our control, something we cannot fix, something to which we cannot just say “hurry up and get on with it.” It has been difficult. Anxiety, fear, rage, and division have overwhelmed us over the last few months. And as we close out this calendar year, the Church begins a new one, as it always does, with this wonderful season of Advent. It reminds us, especially in this most turbulent time, to “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7).
Waiting is good, especially waiting on the Lord. It builds up the virtue of hope, an expectation of what is to come, though we cannot yet see it. That hope reminds us we cannot do it all, we are not God. That humility reminds us we need a Savior to come and deliver us. That longing for the Savior allows us to Trust in Him and not in ourselves, which actually sets us free from the anxiety and stress caused by the necessity of “having it all together.”
The fact check of 2023, and really of our whole lives, is this: we do not have it all together, nor will we ever!
But that is okay. He does, and He is coming. Wait patiently and longingly on Him!
“Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint,” the prophet Isaiah tells us (40: 30-31).
Whoever you are, and wherever you find yourself, you will at some point grow weary on your own. We need Christ. We need him to come, and soon! Learn to wait on Him and you will witness a renewal in strength which does not come from you. You will be lifted up, with a joyful expectation that Christ is coming soon. Lord Jesus, quickly come! We will gladly wait on you!
Third Week of Advent: Joy
By Fr. Robert P. Boxie, III, Howard University, Catholic Chaplain
Gaudete Sunday, which means “rejoice” in Latin, borrows its title from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon for Mass for the 3rd Sunday of Advent. It provides the theme for this week and characterizes our celebration as we move closer to the birth of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the lighter “rose” color for the liturgical vestments and the third candle of the Advent wreath symbolize joy and indicate that the wait for our long-promised Savior has reached its halfway point.
The birth of a child always brings with it a profound joy that fills our hearts. Our imaginations easily project forward to the future and the hope that a new baby embodies for a family. The first couple that I had prepared for marriage and witnessed their wedding welcomed their first child—a healthy baby boy. I had been waiting patiently and prayerfully for this baby all year, as if he were my own. This announcement was particularly special because the couple’s prior attempts at growing their family sadly ended in miscarriages. And in a year marked by a pandemic that showed no signs of letting up and which has upended all of our lives, I craved some good news. I immediately texted the father, “[T]his is the joy and hope we all need.”
Or, so I thought. While relishing in the news of that birth, it struck me that another baby was coming too…at the end of December. If the birth of a newborn can bring such joy, how much more will the birth of the Messiah bring? His had been promised from the beginning of time, foretold by the prophets, and eagerly anticipated for centuries by the righteous of Israel. He too will bring joy and hope and freedom, especially to those who suffer among us. He is the light that destroys sin and death and overcomes the darkness that afflicts us. He won our redemption and salvation and gave us eternal life. His birth sets the world on fire and ushers in a peace that the world cannot give and incarnates the infinite love the Father has for each of us.
This truly is the Good News that we all need to this conclude the year 2023 and for every day thereafter. Nothing could ever take away the joy and hope that fills our hearts from the birth of the Son of God among us and what he accomplishes for us. Whatever hardships we may have endured, whatever losses we may have experienced, however different our lives have now become, we rejoice wholeheartedly in knowing that Jesus Christ is coming.
Fourth Week of Advent: Gift
By Rev. Msgr. John J. Enzler, Mission advocate for Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Washington
I’m very pleased to offer this reflection on the theme of “gift” as we celebrate the last week of Advent. I’ve been reflecting upon one of my favorite Masses of the year. It is the Christmas Eve Children’s Mass with hundreds of children, excited about Santa Claus and presents. I normally begin my homily by asking this question, “Whose birthday is it?” Thankfully, they know the answer and sometimes they yell out in unison, “JESUS!” Then I ask them a difficult question. “Why, if it is Jesus’ birthday, why do you get gifts for Christmas?” There is almost always a pause and a look of confusion, particularly, for the younger children. When pressed, they begin to think more and more about the incongruity of that experience. On their birthday, they receive gifts and on Jesus’ birthday, they also receive gifts. I then ask them if any of them have a gift for Jesus for Christmas – a bicycle, a tablet, video games? Those don’t seem to fit, do they? So, the final question I ask is, “What can you give Jesus for Christmas?” Again, almost in unison, they shout “LOVE!”
I share that because, out of the mouth of babes, we learn a very important lesson about this fourth week of Advent. What is our response to Jesus in preparation for Christmas? Are we able to receive the gift of Jesus through his Incarnation and are we able to respond to that gift with a particular effort to help those in need? The Angel Tree gifts, the financial support for the poor, and the desire to make a difference to those around us, is the hallmark of the Christmas season. For over a decade, we in the Archdiocese have been reminded through posters, placards, and lawn signs to “Find the Perfect Gift.” In a time when things have changed dramatically for families more than ever, people need our assistance and long for our help.
So, on Jesus’ birthday, what is our gift to Him this week, in response to the gift of Himself to us?