Today’s Gospel introduces us to the last of the prophets, Saint John the Baptist. He is the “voice” of whom Isaiah spoke (40:3) calling out, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” This is the task of each of us throughout our lives, but especially during Advent. If there are any roadblocks between God and us, we are the ones who put them up: our fears, our sins. Therefore John’s message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is the Church’s invitation to us as well, which she facilitates through the sacrament of penance or reconciliation.
The sacrament of penance is an important part of our Advent preparation for a worthy celebration of Christmas. There will be additional opportunities for confession as Christmas approaches. The priests of the Chippewa Falls Deanery will be making the rounds of the various parishes during the next couple of weeks. The first penance service will be at St. Charles Church this Monday evening, December 9, at 7:00. The schedule of other penance services in our area is elsewhere in the bulletin. The second-graders from both of our parishes will be making their first confession this Saturday morning, December 14, at 9:00.
The wonderful prophecy of Isaiah proclaimed in today’s First Reading offers the promise of paradise restored, where even natural enemies live together in harmony as friends. While we believe this Kingdom has been inaugurated by Jesus, the King of Kings and Prince of Peace, it is not yet fully present. More than likely that will not occur in human history as long as humanity remains plagued by sin. This need not be cause for discouragement, but for hope. We know that our salvation will only be complete in the world to come. Could it be to such prophecies that Saint Paul refers in today’s Second Reading, when he says: “Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope”? May we not give in to the darkness of despair, but hope in the “true light, which enlightens everyone” (John 1:9) for “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
In 1846 the Bishops of the United States placed this nation under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her Immaculate Conception. The Second Vatican Council taught that the Blessed Virgin Mary is “a mother to us in the order of grace” and that “by her manifold intercession [she] continues to procure for us the gifts of eternal salvation.” Since this solemnity falls on Sunday this year, it is transferred to Monday, although the obligation to attend Mass is not transferred. As Catholics in the United States, with a special bond to the Blessed Virgin Mary as our patroness, we turn to her this December 9 to seek her intercession for our nation, that God will provide healing where there is conflict, serenity where there is anxiety, and courage where life is threatened and in need of protection. We gather for the Eucharist on December 9 to pray ardently for Mary’s continuing intercession. (Cf. Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) See Monday’s special Mass schedule elsewhere in the bulletin.
Pray the rosary this week for peace and for the needs of our nation. Pray also for people who have abandoned the practice of the faith, that they may respond to God’s grace, come to the sacrament of penance and return to the regular celebration of the Eucharist.
May God bless his people with peace.