Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent – November 27, 2011 by Monsignor Perez
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
First of all, I want to say that I hope everybody here had a good Thanksgiving. I didn’t have the Masses here on that last Sunday. What I was hoping that you would be reminded of, and I hope the Fathers remembered, is that you can actually eat meat on the Friday after Thanksgiving. But, in case they didn’t remind you and you didn’t eat meat on that Friday, remember for next year. The reason being that ever since the old days, since shortly after Lincoln established the feast of Thanksgiving as a national holiday, Rome has given an indult because in those days there was no refrigeration, and so they said it would be a greater sin to waste the food, and so Rome gave permission to eat meat on the Friday after Thanksgiving. So, now you know for next year. Sorry if you didn’t get it in time for this one.
Also, I want to follow that up by saying to you, as I do every year at this time, a happy New Year. And some of you who haven’t heard me before will think it is a little bit early for wishing you a happy New Year. But for the Church this is New Year’s Day. For those of you following in your Missals, some of you may have been looking frantically around, Where is the Mass of the first Sunday in Advent? Where is it? It’s the first Mass in your book. That’s because the liturgical year, the Church year, starts today. This is New Year, then, for the Church. It starts on the first Sunday of Advent.
So, I thought I would say something about Advent today because here we are at the beginning of the season of grace and there is a tone that we should set for Advent, there is a spirit in which we should live out this season of grace. And it helps to keep that firmly in mind and also know a little bit about the feast. Now, first of all, the meaning of the word, it’s a kind of a strange word because not only does it come from a Latin word, but the Latin word comes from two other Latin words. So it is like a derivative of a derivative. The word, of course, that it comes from is ad venīre, which means to come, just like come here, and that kind of thing. It’s the same word, for example, we use in the Latin Our Father, Adveniat regnum tuum, Thy Kingdom come. And ad veneri comes from two other Latin words, ad, which means towards, and venīre , to approach or to go to. So, it is literally a coming that we are celebrating. Advent is the coming. And we still use it in the English language precisely that same way. We’ll say something about, It was the advent of the electric dishwasher, or something like that. We still use it in pretty much the same way.
It is defined as in the Church terms the period beginning with the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew. And for anybody named Andrew or of some Scots descent, or just churchy in general, you will know that that is the 30th of November. And so it starts with the Sunday nearest to the 30th of November, and in former days it ended on another day, but it ends now on Christmas Eve. Funnily enough, this is a year of even greater grace for us because Advent can start as early as the 27th of November. And those of you who have looked at a calendar recently or your watch will realize that is today. So this is the earliest that Advent can be, in which case Advent has 28 days. The latest it can begin is the 3rd of December, in which case Advent would only have 21 days. So we have a full week longer of grace in this season than in years where it starts as late as possible. So I think that is significant for us or should be as well.
The history of it — now, as always, take this with a grain of salt when I talk about things in the 4th Century. The earliest written record we have of Advent is from the 4th Century. Now, does that mean that Advent began in the 4th Century? It might or it might not. And what I mean is, keep in mind when you see these things beginning in the 4th Century, that before the 4th Century — in the 4th Century Constantine more or less legalized Christianity. But for the centuries before the legalization of Christianity by Constantine, there was on and off persecutions of the Church, more on than off. Those hundreds of years, actually more than 50% of them were persecutions than periods of tolerance. And what happened during persecutions is they gathered up the Christians and they said, Oh, well, you are a Christian now, and we are going to kill you or at least torture you. And you can do two things. You can burn incense to a pagan idol, and that will get you out of being killed for your faith. Those people, by the way, were called the thurificatici, and they and their corresponding compromisers, not without burning incense to a pagan idol, you can just sign a paper that said you burned incense to an idol, and they were called the libellatici. Now, both of these were considered as the lowest form of scum by the early Christians, most of whom would rather and did die for their faith.
In any case, remember that for those periods of persecutions, you had the choice of either denying Christ in the Church or dying for Christ in the Church, and there usually wasn’t too much in between. And, they would gather up all Christian books that they could find of any sort of Christian writings, and they would burn all of them. Then, in the 4th Century, Constantine legalized Christianity and that thing happened less. But just know that the reason sometimes that we have no kind of written record of something before the 4th Century is just because of that, the references were burnt. So we have only tradition.
Anyway, the first reference in writing that we have to Advent is from the 4th Century, precisely the year 380. It was in former times a time of penance. Now, this was a long time ago and these penances were gradually diminished by the Church until there were hardly anything left of specified penances. Meaning the Church says you must do this penance, you must give up meat, you must give up whatever on these days of fast or whatever. Those kinds of penances specified by the Church diminished long ago. So it wasn’t something that happened right before Vatican II or anything like that. And if you are a real fervent traditional Catholic, you’ll start doing all kinds of penances now. That isn’t even the thinking of the Church. There is now, though, a general spirit in which the season should be lived, and I’ll get that in a second.
As well, this period of penance we call Advent, used to begin on the feast of St. Martin, which remember — this is the confusing thing. There are two feasts of St. Martin one day after the other, and one of St. Martin of Tours, and the other is the Pope St. Martin. They’re talking about Pope St. Martin, which is the day after St. Martin of Tours. And it went on at first until the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, and then later they changed that to ending on December 25. Now, one thing just to be practical here is that remember that we are Christians. Keep in mind that first of all you are a Christian. Christianity shouldn’t be viewed on as a Sunday activity for yourself or the family. You are a Christian. It’s not what you do, it’s what you are.
By the way, those people, and we’ve all had our fill of them, that ask you, Are you a Christian or are you a Catholic?. My first suggestion would be a taser and pepper spray (Msgr. laughing). But, I think outside of Mississippi, that’s illegal. So, you know what I would do is remind them that we are the Christians. For 1500 plus years, when any writing mentions Christians, when St. Paul mentions Christians, when anybody mentions Christians, it’s the Roman Catholic Church they are talking about, that the Protestants have usurped the title. And, in fact, they really have no right to the title. Imagine, you can’t call yourself a Christian just because you say you are. Well, I’m a Christian. Well, you know, I will say, then, that I am a doctor. But if I decide to write Patrick Perez, M.D., and I’ll throw in Ph.D., too, something like that, on a piece of cardboard and I’ll put it up on the confessional just so you will know who you are dealing with, it doesn’t make me a doctor. And I would probably give you fatal medical advice (Msgr. laughing), so that wouldn’t work either. But the point is, you are not a Christian because you say you are. And these people who ask, Are you Catholic or Christian?, they have suddenly, if you haven’t noticed, adopted the title Christian, and now they don’t even want to use Protestant. Oh, we’re not Protestants, we’re Christian. Well, unless you do what Christ said it is you are supposed to do, which is all seven sacraments, or as many of the seven sacraments as you personally can get, and obey the laws of the Church, then you can’t truly have any claim to that title.
But, anyway, the thing is to remember is that we are first and foremost Christians. And as Christians, we have to constantly, and I mean daily and maybe multiple times a day, remind ourselves that we are in the world and not of it. And also remind ourselves, Why are we in this world? We are in the world, we are not of it, meaning that we are not here to partake of every pleasure the world can possibly offer because that is our whim. We are here, we are placed in this world by our Divine Lord to earn the reward of heaven. This is your only reason. This is my only reason for being here. Because if you fail in that, everything is nothing. Your main and only purpose, your first drive should be reminding yourself I am here to earn the reward of heaven. And how do you do that? You obey the commandments, you obey the 10 commandments, the commandments of the Church, you frequent the sacraments to gain grace, and all that being a Christian in the true sense entails. But we have to constantly remind ourselves of this. We are Christians in the world. Why? To earn salvation. We are not of the world. This is the place we live, but it is a foreign country. Anywhere you live is a foreign country as far as a Christian is concerned.
Now, this is becoming increasingly difficult to be in this world and not of it. Why? Because those who control the commerce and finances, the Fed, etc., the monies of the world, they attempt to snuff out everything that has to do with the true meaning of Christmas and give it a solely capitalistic meaning. They want to rediculize Christmas, they want to make you think that it’s all about money and presents and this kind of thing. It has nothing to do with any of those things. You could have a completely blessed Christmas and never buy anything for anyone by way of a Christmas present. I’m not saying you should because it’s nice to get Christmas presents. The kids are beginning to panic now (Msgr. laughing). Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that, kids. What I meant is theoretically, but please God it will never happen to any of you, you could have a perfectly blessed Christmas without that. But it is part of it, it’s part of our celebration of the feast to give mother as many diamonds as father can afford and this kind of thing, and the kids unlimited credit cards to Toys “R” Us. So don’t get me wrong about that part. In it’s proper sense that’s part of the blessing of Christmas as well. But what I mean is, look at the way they have rediculized and reduced Christmas to what it is becoming.
You know, we are in the world and not of it, but just walk around some of these stores and you kind of get the picture. For example, well, listen to what was on the radio recently. They’ve come up with what, now, Black Friday. It’s funny because we have Black Friday, it’s called Good Friday. But they have Black Friday which is when everybody tramples each other to death to try to get deals, and then they have Small Business Saturday and Cyber something Monday, all to try to get you to buy stuff. But look at what we have come to. Reports of people actually killing each other to get the $2 waffle iron at Wal-Mart. I didn’t make this up. People are shooting — imagine the evil of that. First of all, on the purely secular face of things, would you want a $2 waffle iron? I would think it would cause $80,000 worth of damage when it burnt down my house the first time I plugged the thing in. So I’m not sure we even want the $2 — but the thought of ending somebody’s life to save a few bucks on a stupid waffle iron, that is incredible. I don’t even know how to wrap my mind around that one. Look at the great evil involved. Do you know the main reason for the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”? It’s because in taking an innocent life you take them unprepared sometimes, not in the state of sanctifying grace. You deprive them of the ability of God’s grace working in them to bring them to conversion and to confession and to the truth. That’s one of the main evils of taking an innocent life.
So, were some of those people fighting with each other for $2 waffle irons not in the state of sanctifying grace? It’s possible and even probable. And we are taking the risk and ending people’s lives for that and killing them, and just for just a material stupid thing. It’s just staggering what it does to try to think of that. That’s ridiculous and tragic. But let me tell you. Whatever about the secular and in the world and not of it, if you want anything that has anything to do with Christmas whatsoever now, I mean if you want the trimmings for the tree or want anything else for Christmas, you’d better get it in like August, because if you wait until what we consider a Christian decent time to get it, which is some time in Advent, it won’t be there anymore, because then they’ve switched to the patio chairs and things for Springtime at the store already. But, anyway, so I was looking several weeks ago and I’m trying to make public statements by what is on my lawn at any particular season. So I said, Well, I’ll get one of those plastic Nativity scenes — now Wal-Mart used to sell these. But that was when there were at least Baptists in charge of Wal-Mart. Now it’s just mega anti-Christs kind of running the thing. Anyway, I went in and I was looking for the things I had actually seen up until last year, these lawn-sized figures of the Nativity. Not only did I not see anything at all to do with the real meaning of Christmas, but I found their newest way of rediculizing Christmas, their new item to represent the true spirit of Christmas this year is now — picture this. You know those — you’ve probably seen some of them at Thanksgiving. They are these big like parachute material, parachute nylon inflatable whatevers, like inflatable turkeys. You want to signify inflatable turkeys, I guess, for Thanksgiving. Well, they had this larger than life, they tend to be, it looked 10 feet tall from where I was, anyway, and it was an inflatable Santa in an inflatable outhouse.
Now, you know I couldn’t make this up. They had his hand attached to the door and when it inflated, he would like open the door and shut the door. And he had that look on his face where you couldn’t tell if he was going in or coming out, to tell you the truth, no matter how much you looked at him. And they had nothing, they had no Blessed Virgin, they had no Three Kings, they had nothing at all did I find, except several absurd things, the most absurd being Santa in the outhouse. And this is what’s happening in every area of commerce.
I went in Lowe’s to do the same thing and walked around with the guy. He said, Can I help you find something? I said, yeah, help me find some lawn-sized figures of the Nativity. And he looked all over and said, No, we don’t seem to have any. I said, Well, so, let me get this straight. It’s Christmas decoration time here, but you have nothing to do actually with Christmas in all of these. And he said, I guess that’s it, yeah. And it doesn’t seem to bother these people.
Well, you know what? They all want to take off Christmas. They want the day off. Well, what are we giving it to you off for? Christmas is only one thing. It’s the birth of the Savior, it’s the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas isn’t anything else. So they want to sell you inflatable outhouses with Santa in them, but they don’t want to acknowledge what the excuse is that they are selling you these things for which is Christmas.
All that just means a couple of things. We, as Christians, have got to regroup more often. Now regroup, what’s regroup? It’s kind of a military thing. When you are in the heat of battle and long days and such, sometimes you have to get your unit back together and set new plans and reload and do what you have to do and then you go back into the battle. And that’s what we do here mainly on Sundays for most of us. We are here to get our perspective back on the world, to regroup and to go out and to fight the fight once again. We have to keep on reminding ourselves in regrouping that we are in this world and not of it.
Now, the other part of regrouping is we have to remind ourselves that we must preserve the spirit of the season. It doesn’t mean anything really that the Church does not impose a specific series of penances on us for this season. That part does not matter, because it is clear that the Church does intend for us to keep the season in some meaningful way. You have only to look at the liturgy to figure that out. So, what is the spirit of the season? Well, as I said, the word Advent means coming. This coming is actually twofold. The first one people think of is we are preparing for Christ coming into this world to celebrate at Christmas. And that’s great, that’s the anniversary of His coming into the world being born. However, the real Advent is the other one. You know, face it, He already came into the world two thousand something years ago. That’s a given fact, that’s a point of history. We’re not really preparing for His coming as a baby. We are preparing for the second, His second coming when we meet Him face to face in judgment. That’s why — look at the gospel, not only for last week, but for this week, it’s the same gospel. And it’s all about the end times. Because the sense of the season is preparing ourselves as a group and individually to meet Christ either in His glorious second coming if it happens before we die personally, or personally when we die and meet Him in judgment face to face. That is the coming that should be emphasized in this season of Advent.
Now, how do we do that? How do we prepare as well as we can? A spirit of prayer and penance — before Vatican II, penances weren’t specified for this but some things to give up were specified. And I found the translation most interesting. I’ll tell you. So, what was forbidden during the season of Advent before Vatican II? “All turbulent amusements” — I don’t know — what — Knott’s Berry Farm and California Adventure? I’m not sure what a turbulent amusement is, and I’m not sure you should be doing a turbulent amusement at any time of the year, really, from where my imagination goes on that one. So, “…all turbulent amusements, weddings, dancing, and concerts”. A few comments on that. Weddings — we have what we call the solemnity of weddings. Now, this closes, you’ll see on the calendar, it closes at the beginning of Advent and the beginning of Lent, and then opens up again after Christmas and after Easter. And what this is, You are forbidden to have a big wedding. You are forbidden to have the kind of wedding where with the bridesmaids and the groomsmen and a Nuptial Mass with the Nuptial Blessing and a reception. And if you really are set on getting married, you may get married. No Nuptial Mass, no Nuptial Blessing, no bridesmaids, just two witnesses, and you can get married in front of a priest. It doesn’t mean you can’t get married at all, if for some reason you are just burning to have your wedding during one of these seasons, which almost nobody is. And you can’t have a reception. Because that would be a big party that’s not in the spirit of the season. That’s what the rules were before Vatican II. I don’t think there’s any kind of — well, they still probably have the solemnity of weddings. There’s not much in the way of anything else now.
The other thing is, the Masses of the season and other prayers are excellent spiritual exercises. Read over not only the precise readings from the various Sundays of Advent, but take your Bible, blow the dust off of it, open it up and look at the context of the readings for the season. There are many, many more things in scripture than they can put into even all the Masses of the year, and you should look. Like today’s gospel, you can look at what comes before and after that and read that as a kind of spiritual exercise. In general, though, there is one little thing you can meditate on and it will bear much fruit. I would say do what you would do in preparing to meet Christ face to face. Pretend you are going to die on December 25th and then do what is appropriate to that. One of our parishioners who passed away several years since, came to me when he found out he had cancer and he said, Well, the doctor told me I have about a year to live. And I said, Well, that’s how long you have to become a saint. And it was a blessing. Unlike being shot and taken unawares in your spiritual life, those who are informed that they have terminal illnesses have a great blessing. Death and pain and disease came into the world through original sin. We inherited them, we can’t get away from them. So that part we can’t do anything about. You are going to die from something. And the Irish are fond of reminding us of that. The widows, you know, were standing there at the graveyard and poor Patty had just been laid to rest. So Mrs. O’Brien goes up to Mrs. O’Malley and says, So, Bridey, what did Pat die from? And she said, Well, I’ll tell you, Mary, he died of a cold. She says, Ahh, at least it was nothing serious. (Laughing)
The fact is we’re all going to die from something. But if you go through life sinning away and drop dead of a heart attack without time to prepare, then that’s what we pray not to have. That’s what they call an unprovided death. But if you are told you have approximately a year to live and you have a terminal illness, that’s a great grace. Who has that, you know. You have that much time to literally become a living saint. And that would be one of the greatest graces.
So, just for meditation pretend you are going to die on December 25th, and then see how that changes what you do on a day-to-day basis. You probably won’t be shooting anybody for $2 waffle irons. Nobody would if they thought that, I think.
In any case, my dear faithful, don’t do nothing. This is the season of great potential grace that’s even a week longer than it could be in other years, which is like a gift. You know, when you are in heaven purgatory, you will see a week either well spent or lost, wasted, for what it is. And, if it has been wasted, you will regret that more than words or emotions can possibly convey in this life. But we have a whole week longer of this wonderful season given to us as a gift in this particular year.
I just want to end with one line from one of the spiritual writers to show the importance of this season. And he said, “Unjust to themselves, disobedient to the Church, and ungrateful, indeed, to God, are those Christians who spend this solemn time of grace in sinful amusements without performing any good works, with no longing for Christ’s Advent into their hearts“.
My dear faithful, may we all have a longing for Christ’s advent, and may it be increased by the graces of the season.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.