An empty crib is seen in a Nativity Dec. 19 at the headquarters of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. During Pope Francis’ Dec. 19 morning homily, he asked people to pray before the empty Christmas crib during the last days of Advent and say, “Come Lord, fill the crib, fill my heart and encourage me to give life, to be fruitful.” (Bob Roller/CNS)

Church new year provides opportunity to bring about ongoing life of conversion

By Fr. Michael Accinni Reinhardt
The Catholic Sun

The liturgical life of the Church is literally the heart-beat and pulse of the faith in motion. To appreciate the richness of the Catholic faith, one must only look to the sacramental life of the Church.

The sacramental expression of the Catholic faith is the ebb and flow of these seasons of faith that bring the faithful into the heart of Jesus. Marking this Advent with fervor in prayer and fasting, rooted in Confession, Eucharist, Sacred Scripture and the tradition of the Advent wreath are great ways to embrace the season with an open heart.

This statue of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests, is found in the saint’s shrine at St. John Vianney Parish in Goodyear. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

The lives of the saints teach much about this ebb and flow as seasons. St. John Vianney, as a parish priest himself, knew the challenges and distractions faced by people in the ordinary day to day.

“The soul hungers for God, and nothing but God can satiate it,” he once preached. “Therefore He came to dwell on earth and assumed a Body in order that this Body might become the Food of our souls.”

St. John Vianney knew quite well the meaning of the Incarnation and that the presence of Christ in the world is meant to sustain the people of God, in order to endure the struggle of being in the world. This struggle is real as it becomes more difficult to pray, remain committed to the sacramental life, and succumb to temptation. St. John Vianney knew this from his own experience, as he was attacked often by Satan himself. Even through these attacks, he never lost faith, and as the patron of parish priests, encouraged all to see the priest as a gift.

“The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus. When you see a priest, think of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The sacramental life always depends upon the priest in the person of Christ.

For a Catholic the changing of the seasons should mean much more than the turning of leaves, or the start of a new school year; the changes of seasons point to the liturgical year, that will hopefully bring about positive change that sinks deep into the soul. These changing seasons move people to new horizons, vantage points and perspectives. That is Advent in its newness and purpose.

The seasons of faith continue to turn as told in Ecclesiastes 3:1, for everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. This is the point of the liturgical life of the Church, namely the seasons of faith expressed during Advent, Lent or Ordinary Time. Each season the faithful are constantly on the move, as pilgrims in the world, persistently searching, longing and being with the Living God.

Two lit candles on an Advent wreath mark the second week of Advent. (Octavio Duran/CNS) See Faith-ALIVE 43 Nov. 1, 2018.

The seasons of faith are swinging again, and a new liturgical year will rise like the sun upon the horizon. Advent is, after all, the Church’s New Year, marked as a time of reflection, hope and anticipation for what God has in store for His faithful. Advent is a time of year that assists the people of God in maintaining a focus upon Christ and keeping the desire of heaven alive. The heart moves inward as the soul is awakened to the gift of the Incarnation, the reality of His birth at Bethlehem and great anticipation of His coming again.

Finding the heart of Jesus can be very challenging in a world full of distractions. Advent is the pause that is necessary to resonate with the voice of God. Most of the time it takes a while for people to settle into a contemplative time, which pauses enough to hear and listen to the voice of God speaking.

In keeping with the season, it is important that people mindfully decide to participate fully in this sacred time, beginning with the first Sunday through the fourth Sunday of Advent, leading up to Christmas. People often will ask what they can or should do to mark the Advent season in a special way. The simplicity of the faith is that in order to practice it well, all that is necessary is an embrace of the sacramental life, allowing for the liturgical year to be the punctuation marks of an ongoing conversation with God.

The beauty of the liturgical life of the Church is that there is a path carved out as people collectively contemplate the key mysteries of the faith throughout the year. It is during Advent that through the window of the Incarnation, the faithful may encounter the presence of God in the person of Jesus.

Advent not only marks the Church new year, but is a way for the faithful to change gears, and move forward with a more contemplative and focused perspective.

2018 soon will be coming to a close, and making an examination of mind and heart that speaks most to the things that have defined the year may be a good way to engage in the holiness of the season this Advent. To find the heart of Jesus requires a person to have a distinct purpose, from which the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist are the foundation and bring about an ongoing life of conversion.

The quiet of Advent whispers so softly to those who listen, contemplating the profoundness of God through seasons of faith and the sacramental life, where the heart of Jesus is found.