I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving and are getting back into the swing of things at school for a few weeks before Christmas is here! This can be such a busy time of year with family activities, Christmas parties, school events, and much more. Once Thanksgiving is over, it seems like the Christmas season has officially started. There is definitely nothing wrong with starting to think about Christmas now. In fact, the Incarnation of Jesus, that we celebrate on Christmas, is something that we should contemplate and have on our minds throughout the entire year!
This Sunday is the 1st Sunday of Advent. A fun fact for 2017 is that December 3rd is the latest date that Advent can ever start because the 4th Sunday of Advent will be on Christmas Eve this year. As we approach this Advent season, I want to encourage you all to remember the Advent season and not to skip straight to Christmas this year. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops website states, “The Advent season is a time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and also to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas.”
Advent is a time to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, and the readings at mass the next four weeks will reflect this. While we usually associate Lent with penance, the Church also considers Advent a penitential time of the Church year. During Lent there are some minimum requirements that the Church prescribes to help us with our penance and preparation for Easter like not eating meat on Fridays. There are no such requirements during Advent. This gives us a great opportunity to take the initiative ourselves to implement some things in our lives that will help us prepare for Christmas. One thing I suggest would be spending some extra time in prayer and reading the Bible. On December 4th our parish is going to start having Adoration from 10 AM – 10 PM every Monday through Friday. It would be great to stop by Adoration sometime during Advent to spend some time with Jesus, even if you can only spend 10 or 15 minutes. I would also recommend attending daily mass some time if you are able to. Our parish now has daily mass at 7 am on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays and other parishes throughout Des Moines have it at other times. Advent is also a great time to make a point of going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I would also encourage you all to make some type of sacrifice that you offer to God during Advent. This could be not eating meat for a day or skipping dessert or passing on some other food you like. It could also be not watching TV or playing video games one evening and praying the Rosary instead. There are all kinds of options! The great thing about this is that you get to choose what you do, and it is a totally voluntary gift to God. The Church doesn’t tell you exactly what to do to prepare for Christmas, so it is up to you to do what is best for you to deepen your relationship with God and show Him your love.
While Advent is a time of preparation, also remember that it is a joyous time. We are preparing for Christmas, and we know the end of the story! Jesus came to earth as a man, conquered death, and is coming again to establish His eternal kingdom. I hope you all have a great Advent!
"The Lord is our shepherd." We have heard it before. This Sunday’s readings are full of this imagery. I don’t know much about sheep but from what I have heard, they are rather dumb animals so I used to not understand why Jesus would refer to himself as the shepherd and we the sheep. But upon further reflection, I totally understand and appreciate the analogy.
Sheep are dependent on their shepherd and they like to be a part of a group. They are easily led by the Shepherd. In the Gosepl, Jesus compares the sheep and the goats and says they will be separated at the end of the world. While sheep are gentle and dependent on a shepherd, Goats on the other hand are much more independent and stubborn. Jesus is our good shepherd:
"Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths
for his name's sake." (Psalm 23)
The shepherd protects his flock, he guides them, he feeds them and he knows what they need and gives that. The flock usually sticks together with the occasional sheep that goes astray (to which he will come and get them to bring them back!) but the key phase is that the sheep need their shepherd.
Goats don’t need nor want a shepherd. They are not dependent. Could this be the distinction that Christ makes when speaking about separating the sheep from the goats? Could he also mean that sheep, who exist as a flock, help to take care of their own while goats just worry about themselves?
Either way, I think it’s a good questions to ask ourselves, “are we a sheep or a goat?” If we claim to be a sheep, do we depend on Jesus? Do we consider ourselves to be an active part of a flock? If not, I’d start to inspect yourself this advent!
Do you ever compare yourself to others? I once heard the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy” and I couldn’t agree more. Oftentimes when I read Proverbs, 31, for example, I read about, “The Perfect Wife” or “The Perfect Woman” and if compare myself, I know I have a long way to go. But that’s not why the readings this Sunday include Proverbs 31. She, of course, is an example for all of us women, but she is so great because she fears the lord. The Psalm goes on to emphasize, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord.”
So what does that mean to fear the Lord? I think this is where the other readings can fill us in. Paul writes to the Thessalonians reminding them that they are children of God and are in the light of God, not darkness. Those who are in the light ought not be lazy, and not ‘sleep’ or stand idle, but stay alert and sober.
Then the gospel reading is the Parable of the Talents. (Talents are a measurement of currency back in those times.) There are three different servants who were asked by the master to keep his valuables safe. The master entrusts each man a few talents according to his ability, and when the master returns, he expects that his servants DID something, invested in something and gained interest for him and two of the three do just that, and he is happy. BUT, the third servant just buries his talent. Out of fear of losing it, he just hides it so no interest can be earned. The Master gets mmmmaaaaaadddd! So mad, in fact, that he says, “You wicked and lazy servant!” Then continues, “throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
So what we can get out of the gospel message and Pauls letter is this: To fear the Lord, you must PUT SOME EFFORT INTO IT! So many times Christians simply accept Jesus into their hearts, but don’t DO anything about it. Jesus is good, but work needs to get done and WE are his hands and feet! We are called to be like the Proverbs 31 woman and work constantly for those around us. Paul tells us to always be awake and alert, doing God’s work, not lazy and resting all the time.
So ask yourself… Are you working hard in your faith? Are you always learning more about scripture? Do you pray, even when you feel super busy? Do you help others? The poor and sick?
The readings this Sunday are a wake up call for us (especially me!) that we have some work to do! Let’s keep our eyes focused on God and fear the Lord so he can actually USE our hands and feet to change the world! Let's get down to business... and Fear the Lord!
If you know me at all... you know I am not a planner. I mean, I want to be! I usually have ideas about what I need to pack for trip and will occasionally write lists and everything! Sometimes, when I do write my list out, pack accordingly (the night before), I feel great and can enjoy the day of travel stress free! I have also done the opposite, just put off packing and am a stressed mess the day before the trip, and oftentimes I forget a bunch of things too! So my trip usually starts off rough because I am stressed from packing AND I usually forget my toothbrush or deodorant! The moral of the lesson is... be prepared. You are able to enjoy the trip AND not be stressed.
This Sunday's gospel has a similar moral as well... When it comes to the time when the Bride Groom (Christ) comes back.... Will we be ready? The gospel is the Parable of the 10 Virgins. 5 of them are prepared with plenty of oil for their lamps to look for the bridegroom in the dark, and 5 WANT to see the bridegroom, but are NOT prepared and did not bring their oil. They set out to meet the bridegroom on his way through the city and when it gets dark, the 5 virgins without oil ask the prepared virgins if they would share their oil... to which they reply, "NO, you should have been prepared!" So when they leave to get more oil for their lamps, the bridegroom comes! Talk about bad timing!
Well here is the thing, Christ comes every Sunday to us in Mass, and the timing of Mass isn't always good timing. What about when you feel called to pray at the worst times? #ilovetosleepin
Also we are SO CLOSE to Advent, the season of waiting and preparation for the Coming of Christ. We should always be preparing our hearts, minds, and actions with Christ in mind. He is what our souls long for. He is really what we are looking for! But if you are not prepared (Aka, if we do not regularly seek Him and talk to Him and know Him), will we even recognize his face?
Ask yourself, "What am I doing to prepare for God to dwell in my life?"
Word up. I am Stacy, the youth minister of this amazing group of teens. I have 4 kids of my own, 2 heaven babies and like 60 teens I consider very large children of my own.