Vol. 167 No. 48 - November 26 - December 02, 2016
The four weeks of Advent occupy such a brief space in the liturgical calendar that it has become increasingly difficult to register it as anything other than a pre-Christmas period. We must look at Advent as a time which evokes a waiting and an expectancy embracing a passionate hope which reaches far beyond the celebration of Christmas.
As our world has become ever more fragile, with the growing threat of terrorist attacks, with eruptions of violence and ecological disasters, with economic uncertainties and stunning political victories, we have become dulled by apathy and numbed by fear. The readings for the first Sunday of Advent seem surprisingly relevant. Luke talks of 'nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom; earthquakes and famines… people dying of fear as they await what menaces the world.'
We are alerted to the need to 'Watch… to stay awake.' And at the same time, we are offered words of consolation and promise: 'In those days and at that time, I will make a virtuous branch grow for David, who shall practise honesty and integrity in the land.' The choice is, as always, between fear and trust.
To enter into the space of stillness offered by the season of Advent is not to escape from the world, but to come to see it more clearly. Everything around us conspires against the possibility of allowing us to walk in darkness, and yet this is what we must do before we can come to the light. The longest night leads to the sweetest dawn.
In a similar way, our culture resists silence, refuses us a space of stillness, but this is also what we need before we can receive Wisdom, and know that God is Peace. Advent insists on the importance of contemplative silence, so that we may be ready to be surprised by the gifts of knowledge or insight. Only in silence can we be nudged by grace.
Advent offers a space of stillness, a time of darkness, a place of waiting in expectant trust. The liturgies of Advent do not cloak our fears, but unmask their darkness, so that we may face their shadows and yet proclaim our future with hope. Advent calls us to look to the past with gratitude, live the present with passion, and embrace the future with hope.
Traditionally, the first candle of the Advent wreath represents hope. As we pray with the first purple candle lit this week, how can we embrace the future with hope? In a world full of violence, environmental degradation, cruelty, disease and crushing poverty, and horrendous deaths and railway accidents, where do we find hope? It is easy to lose hope in the face of situations of entrenched injustice. But hope is not the same as blind optimism.
If we stay spiritually awake, rather than acting like consumer zombie 'Christmas shoppers' during Advent, we can perceive the movement of God's Spirit in the world. It is real and active. We can nurture alertness to the simple kindness all around us. Elementary acts like reducing, reusing and recycling can speak of deep commitment and the potential of each of us for transformative action.
We wait in joyful hope for God to enter our human rea
lity and transform it, yet Jesus is born every day in acts of loving kindness that make the love of his Heart more visible here and now. If we stay awake, actively listening for God's call, we will hear it in our deepest desires. God is already with us there.
If we listen, we can hear the heartbeat of God's mercy in the world in humanity's yearning for justice, peace and love. It is like the heartbeat of a child in the womb, already alive, but waiting to come to birth. And so Advent is to wait in joyful hope for the coming of God's reign of truth, justice, love and peace on earth and beyond.
Advent is a time of repentance and reparation, and it comes with a message of 'hope' for our celebration. It marks the beginning of the new Liturgical year. The very word 'Advent' brings to our mind the Christmas celebrations. Very seldom do we think of Advent as a season for repentance and reparation. We usually associate the season of 'Lent' with repentance, sacrifice and penance; and Advent just passes by as a time to prepare for Christmas celebrations. Whereas our Mother Church in all her wisdom has given us this opportunity, this season to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.
The coming of Jesus into our heart! The Latin word for Advent is 'Adventus' which means 'coming', the coming of someone or something important. The popular Greek translation is 'Parousia' which means the second coming of Christ or awaiting the coming of the Messiah. Advent is a four week journey to prepare our hearts to welcome Christ.
Jesus will be born at the Christmas vigil, not into the beautiful cribs in our church, but in the manger of our hearts. We need to prepare our crib there! We spend too much of our time, resources and attention on the externals, whereas the manger which really needs a thorough cleansing is often neglected, and is in terrible shambles. This pure, sinless, spotless 'Lamb of God' cannot be born into a manger which is full of the grease and grime of our sinfulness.
With the onset of Advent, let's start cleansing this little manger for our Lord to be born on the eve of Christmas. It would be a wonderful gesture for the family to come around the Advent wreath and pray together the special Advent prayers. Let forgiveness and love be our focus, forgiving one another with love the wrongs done, the hurt we have caused each other; our extended family members too can be remembered and forgiven during this time of prayer. Forgiveness is the key to all blessings! After repentance and forgiveness, there's a need for reparation too. Just as Zacchaeus said, "Lord, half of my possessions I'll give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." (Luke 19:8)
The action of giving, and how giving releases joy into our lives and into the lives of others is what is taught and communicated during the season of Advent. We will soon begin the great season of Advent, and I am sure we won't be confining ourselves to gift giving to our friends, but giving something to those who have nothing.
We always give to our dear ones and sometimes to those who ask us. We give to the Church for the charitable works, and sometimes we give when there are natural calamities. Giving is characteristic of our Church's mission. The Church always gives us a call to give to those who have nothing to live on. The mission of giving carried out by the Church all over is awesome and huge. Even in India, the Church is not lagging behind; our presence in the remotest villages is a sign of giving ourselves to the people.
What we show in mission and charitable work is nothing but the great Giving by the Lord to Humanity: giving Himself through His Son Jesus Christ. The Church is giving Christ's love and hope to those who have no chance of having it all. During the season of Advent, the Church offers us a chance to share our blessings and love and through our warmth of heart, we can warm the hearts of our needy brothers and sisters.
Today, if we look around, we see that there are so many who are affected by poverty and government policies and decisions like the demonetisation. Some churches in Kerala gave an example of sharing and giving by opening the alms boxes to share their donations with people affected by demonetisation.
God gave His greatest gift by offering His Son Jesus. God who taught us how to receive with gratitude and how to give, as He gave to us totally, will definitely fill our hearts and families with blessings and joy. The season of Advent allows us to deeply meditate and understand how God gave; we would be more willing to receive His gift and to give to others like He gave to us. Love and no other reason and motive motivated God to offer Jesus to us as our way, truth and Life. If we want to experience joy, we need to first receive God's gift of love, and then we are to give to others, as God gave unconditionally to us.
World AIDS Day is celebrated every year all over the world on December 1 to raise public awareness about AIDS (Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome). AIDS is a pandemic disease caused due to the infection of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The day is celebrated by government organisations, NGOs, civil society and other health officials by organising speeches or forum discussions related to AIDS.
When Nelson Mandela addressed 12,000 participants at the XIII International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, no one knew what the future held for the AIDS response. Access to life-saving anti-retroviral drugs in 2000 was sharply limited, and donor spending on AIDS activities amounted only to a small fraction of current funding levels.
More than a decade later, the global AIDS response has been transformed. We have reached the goal of providing 15 million people with access to life-saving HIV treatment by 2015. Additionally, UNAIDS estimates that from 2002 to 2012, expanded access to HIV treatment averted 4.2 million deaths globally and contributed to a 58 per cent reduction in new HIV infections.
However, many of the obstacles that impeded effective HIV prevention and treatment programmes in 2000 still exist today. More than 60 per cent of people living with HIV remain without anti-retroviral therapy, including women and girls, men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, young people, and people who use drugs and other marginalised groups remain under-prioritised in the response; investments in HIV prevention research appear to have flattened; and widespread violations of human rights including criminalisation continue to undermine effective responses. We must now draw attention to those being left behind.
December 3 - International Day of Persons with Disabilities
On Christmas Eve, 2014, I visited the majestic Cathedral of St Madeline at Salt Lake City to celebrate the Christmas Vigil Mass. Although I was 40 minutes early, the cathedral was already full, and no seating space was available. So I stood with many others along the side wall. The Mass was to be celebrated by the much loved Bishop John Wester in three languages: Latin, English and Spanish. As I waited for the Mass to begin, a frail and elderly African-American sacristan noticed the elbow crutch I was holding. He raised his hand, pointing a finger to suggest one moment. He soon returned with a folding chair, slowly unfolding it before me. I thanked him with gratitude. On my way home after Mass, I felt touched, not so much by the charisma of the Bishop or the grandeur of Latin or the majestic cathedral, but the kindness and compassion of an elderly African-American gentleman.
When I was in primary school, I remember a pious Catholic teacher telling us that whenever she met a blind or lame beggar on the street, she prayed to the Lord, "Thank you, Lord, for not making me blind or lame." That prayer didn't seem right to me; after all, Christ's attitude towards the disabled in the Gospel was one of empathy, and not indifference.
Our attitude towards the disabled in India is deeply rooted in our culture. The idea of karma, that we receive just punishment for our sins in this life or the next, fosters an unsympathetic attitude towards people with disabilities. Disability thus becomes a taboo. Even though Catholics do not believe in karma, our attitude towards the disabled is nonetheless influenced by the culture we live in.
Ignorance too has a key role to play in our indifferent attitude towards disabled people. Most people simply do not know how to interact with disabled people. As a result, most ignore the needs of a disabled person, while others are overtly patronising.
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