Close At Hand — 3rd Sunday of Advent—Year A

Today, the third Sunday of Advent, we light the pink or rose-colored candle because today is Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” means “rejoice” in Latin and we hear this call in the opening antiphon: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.” Now that we are about halfway through this purple, penitential season, the Church is reminding us that Advent is also a time for joy. Though we await Him, “the Lord is near.”

This Guadete Sunday, we have extra cause for joy. As you may have heard, this week, a shrine in Champion, Wisconsin, 10 miles northeast of Green Bay, is now our country’s first Church-approved Marian apparition site. On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, this happy news was announced by Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay:

“I declare with moral certainty and in accord with the norms of the Church that the events, apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October of 1859 do exhibit the substance of supernatural character, and I do hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief (although not obligatory) by the Christian faithful.”

151 years ago, a lady clothed in dazzling white, with a yellow sash around her waist and a crown of stars around her head appeared to a 28-year-old lay woman named Adele. Adele asked the lady who she was and what she wanted, and the lady answered, “I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners… Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation….”

That was the core of Mary’s message: the need for sinners to be converted and for children to be taught the faith. But Adele hesitated, and asked Mary how she was to teach the young when she knew so little herself. Mary replied, “Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing, I will help you.” After that encounter, Adele’s father built a small chapel on the site and Adele went about fulfilling her mission from Mary for the rest of her life.

The Bride of Christ, the Church, teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children. This means that even if your children go to Catholic or public school, you are their first and foremost teacher in the important lessons of life. But how often do our parents talk to their children about Jesus or Mary, or teach their children about what they should know for salvation? I suspect that many parents are intimidated because, like Adele Brise, they feel like they know too little. But Mary reassures us that we can all teach our children simple but important lessons in the faith that will remain with them and bless them forever.

Like Mary said, teach them the sign of the cross and how to approach the sacraments. At Mass, whisper in their ears, “Look, Father is holding up Jesus,” and on the way home in the car, ask them what they learned from the homily. Have interesting conversations with your children about the faith. Ask them, for example, if they think that Jesus likes sports, ask them what they think Mary’s favorite prayer is, or ask them what they think Heaven is like, and then share your answers with each other. And, perhaps most importantly, teach your children how to pray, by praying with them daily.

Though you know enough already to teach your children a great deal, you must always keep learning yourself. As your children mature in age, you must also mature in your understanding of the faith. Explore why we as Catholics do what we do, and learn why the Bride of Christ, our Mother, teaches as she does. For example, why do we make the sign of the cross? We do it at the open and close of our prayers and you’ve done it since you were little, but now consider more deeply what it means.

Its words and gestures encapsulate our faith’s most central mysteries. It confesses the Trinity and trances our redemption through the cross of Jesus Christ. We pray not “in the names,” but the “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” for God is three persons who are one in nature. [†] From the Father descends the Son, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the love between them. Tracing the cross on ourselves, [†] we recall how the Father sent the Son to save us, and how the Holy Spirit now acts through our lives with power.

To pray this prayer, for it is a prayer, calls upon God to be powerfully with us. It is to say: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I ask you to be near me, here and now.” In the face of temptation or evil, this sign declares, “I belong to neither to the Devil nor the world, I belong to Jesus Christ.” So much is contained in this simple prayer and gesture. It can be taught to a child, yet meditated upon for a lifetime. And this is just one element of our faith. There is always more to explore.

Let us rejoice today, for the apparition of Our Lady of Champion reminds us, that even in Wisconsin, the Lord is near,  and [†] we can call upon Him at any time. Let us teach the faith to our children, so that they will remain near to Him and call upon His name.

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