The joy of Advent
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
During this month of November we remember and pray for the souls of our brothers and sisters in Purgatory: Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon them. May they rest in Peace. Amen. May all the souls of the faithful departed rest in Peace! Amen. This Sunday, I share with you a reflection on the beginning of Advent and Holy Communion. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:
“Beginning of Advent - Preparing to Receive Jesus: The joy of Advent. The joy of receiving Our Lord in Holy Communion: Psalm 121… was a hymn sung by pilgrims as they approached Jerusalem: I was glad - chanted these pilgrims as they drew near the city - when they said to me: ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! (Ps. 121:1-2)
This same joy is appropriate to the season of Advent, in that each pass-ing day marks another step towards the celebration of our Redeemer’s birth. It is, moreover, a figure of the happiness we feel when we go, rightly disposed, to receive Holy Communion.
It is inevitable that along with this joy we should feel progressively more unworthy as the moment for receiving Our Lord comes closer. If we decide to receive, it is because He wishes to remain in the species of Bread and Wine precisely to serve as Food; and so He gives strength to the undernourished and the infirm. He is not there as a reward for the strong, but as a remedy for the weak. And we are all weak and in some degree ailing.
However thorough our preparation, it will appear to us insufficient and in no way adequate for the reception of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. St. John Chrysostom preached in such terms so that those who heard him might dispose themselves worthily to receive Holy Communion. Is it not ridiculous, he asks, to be so meticulous about bodily things when the Feast draws near, as to get out and prepare your best clothes days ahead…, and to deck yourself in your very finest, all the while paying not the slightest attention to your soul, which is abandoned, besmirched, squalid and utterly consumed by desire…? (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 6; PG 48, 276)
If we sometimes feel ‘cold’ emotionally, or otherwise find ourselves lacking in fervor, we ought not for that reason to refrain from going to Communion. We will get out of the state of numb insensibility we are in by making acts of Faith, Hope and Love and by praying for an in-crease in these supernatural virtues. If it is a matter of lukewarmness or of falling into a dullness of routine, we have it in our hands to extricate ourselves from this situation, since we can count on the help of Grace for our rehabilitation. But let us not confuse mere nervous or physical exhaustion or ordinary and inevitable tiredness with a deplorably genuine spiritual mediocrity or a pernicious routine that increases its grip on the soul day by day. Whoever makes no proper preparation, whoever makes no effort to avoid or dispel distractions when Jesus comes into his heart, will inevitably fall into lukewarmness. To go to Communion with our imagination deployed on distractions and our mind preoccupied with other thoughts is a recipe for dropping one’s spiritual temperature. To be lukewarm is to give no importance to the Sacrament we are receiving.
The worthy reception of Our Lord’s Body will always be an opportunity to set ourselves aflame with Love. There will be those who say:‘that is exactly why I don’t go to Communion more often, because I realize my Love is cold…’ If you are cold, do you think it sensible to move away from the fire? Precisely because you feel your heart frozen you should go ‘more frequently’ to Holy Communion, provided you feel a sincere desire to Love Jesus Christ. ‘Go to Holy Communion’, says St. Bonaventure, ‘even when you feel lukewarm, leaving everything in God’s hands. The more my sickness debilitates me, the more urgently do I need a doctor.’ (St. Alphonsus Liguori, The Practice of Love for Jesus, 2)
When we think of the God who awaits us we can joyfully sing in the inmost depths of our soul: I was glad when they said to me: Let us go to the house of the Lord…
Our Lord is also glad when He sees our efforts to dispose ourselves well to receive Him. Let us meditate on the means and on the thoughtful interest we take in our preparation for Holy Mass, by avoiding distractions and banishing any feeling of routine, so that our thanksgiving afterwards may be intense and loving, uniting us to Christ throughout the rest of the day.
Lord, I am not worthy… Humility in receiving the Blessed Sacrament. Getting ready to receive Our Lord, imitating the centurion of Capharnaum: The Gospel of Matthew 8:5-13 recalls the words of a gentile, a centurion in the Roman army. These words: Domine non sum dingus - Lord, I am not worthy… have been included in the Liturgy of the Holy Mass since the early centuries of Christianity and Christians have always used them as the immediate preparation for Communion.
The leading Jews of the town had asked Jesus to relieve the suffering of this non-Jew, this foreigner, by curing a very dear servant of his, who was, it seems, at the point of death. (cf. Luke 7:1-10) The reason they wanted help for him was that this well-disposed stranger had built a synagogue for them, or had munificently donated the wherewithal to have it built.
When Jesus drew near to the house, the centurion uttered the words that are repeated in every Holy Mass (using the word ‘soul’ in place of ‘servant’): Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; say but the word and my soul shall be healed. One word from Christ cures, purifies, comforts and fills with hope.
The centurion is a man of deep humility, generous, compassionate and with a high regard for Jesus. Since he is a gentile, he does not presume to go himself to Our Lord, but sends others whom he considers more worthy, that they may intercede for him. Humility, comments St. Augustine, was the door by which Our Lord entered to take posses-sion of what was already His own. (St. Augustine, Sermon 6)
Faith, humility and refinement are united in this man’s soul. That is why the Church commends his example to us and uses his words as preparation for receiving Jesus when He comes to us in Holy Communion: Lord, I am not worthy…
The Church not only invites us to repeat his words, but also to imitate his dispositions of Faith, humility and refinement. We want to tell Jesus that we accept His unmerited and unique visit, repeated all over the world, which is made even to us, to each one of us. We want to tell Him also that we feel amazed and unworthy at such a response to our asking. But we feel happy too - happy at what He has granted to us and to the world. And we want also very much to tell Him that such a great marvel does not leave us indifferent and unmoved; it does not leave us with a tenuous and wavering Faith, but arouses in our hearts such a warmth of enthusiasm that it will never cease to burn in the hearts of those who truly believe. (St. Paul VI, Homily, 25 May 1967)
It is wonderful to see how the Roman officer of Capharnaum was doubly united to the Sacrament of the Eucharist. First, obviously, through his words, which priest and faithful say every day before Communion in the Holy Mass. And, secondly, because it was in the synagogue of Capharnaum, which the centurion had built, that Jesus first said that we must eat of His Body if we are to have Life within us: This is the Bread which has come down from Heaven - Jesus said - not such as our fathers ate and are dead; he who eats this Bread will live forever. And St. John adds: This He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capharnaum. (John 6:58-59) Further preparation of soul and body to receive the Sacrament fruitfully. Frequent Confession: To prepar e our selves to receive Our Lord in Communion means first of all to make sure we shall receive Him in a State of Grace. To receive Communion in a State of Mortal Sin would be to commit a most grievous offence, a Sacrilege. We should never go to receive our Lord if there is a well-founded doubt as to whether we have committed a serious sin in thought, word or action. Whoever, therefore, eats the Bread or drinks the Cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord. Therefore, St. Paul continues: Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the Bread and drink of the Cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the Body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment upon himself. (1 Cor. 2:27-28)
The person who freely receives Communion has to be reminded of the command: ‘May each one examine himself’ (1 Cor. 2:28). And the practice of the Church declares that this examination is necessary so that no one conscious of mortal sin, however contrite he believes himself to be, may approach the Holy Eucharist without having previously been to Sacramental Confession. (St. Paul VI, Eucharisticum Mysterium, 37) The Sacraments of the new Law, though they produce their effects ‘ex opera operato’, nevertheless produce a greater effect proportionately if the dispositions of the recipients are better… (St. Pius X, Decree, Sacra Tridentina Synodus)
Hence the importance of a thorough preparation of soul and body, of the desire for purification, of treating this Holy Sacrament with appropriate loving awe, of receiving It with the greatest possible piety. The struggle to live constantly in the presence of God throughout the day is an excellent preparation, as is the fight to fulfill our daily duties as well as possible. So too is feeling the need to make amends to our Lord whenever we commit some error. And we should also try to fill the day with short acts of thanksgiving and Spiritual Communions. In this way, little by little, we will form a habit, so that in work or play, in family life, in whatever we do, our hearts will be centered on God.
Together with these interior dispositions, and as a necessary manifestation of them, are the dispositions of the body: the fast prescribed by the Church, posture, dress, etc., which are signs of respect and reverence. As we finish our prayer let us consider how Mary received Jesus after the message of the Angel. Let us ask her to teach us to communicate with the purity, humility and devotion with which she received Him in her most holy womb, with the spirit and fervor of the saints, even though we feel ourselves to be unworthy and insignificant.” (From: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez)
Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy, St. Joseph, St. Michael, St. Paul, and all the Holy Angels, may God grant us the Grace to lovingly receive the Holy Eucharist as often as we can!
In Christ through Mary,