A Time for More

Happy New Year! No, you don't have to check the bottom of the page for the date. This is the December issue, and December 2nd is the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Church year.

With the Advent guidance of St. John the Baptist and Mary our Blessed Mother we prepare for Christmas and the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ in time. Through the prism of this time and season we prepare for the second coming of the Lord at the end of time.

People often complain about the commercialization of Christmas. This year, however, it seems to me that there is a more acute, a finer sense of the spiritual to the season. The trauma of September 11th and its aftermath have carved out a sharper focus on the truths of the heart, the verities of the soul.

Flannery O'Connor, the superb Catholic novelist and short story writer who died in 1964 at the age of 39, provides a lift for our reflection in these days. She lived for years with an incurable disease, yet there is hardly a hint of self pity in her writings. Her insights are penetrating, all the more so because of her self deprecating sense of humor. At one point she wrote in a letter, "I am bearing this with my usual magnificent fortitude."

Flannery had a way of envisioning God at the edge of things: the horizon over a lake or an ocean, the tops of trees in a forest, the peak of a mountain. For us who can't help but have a keener sense these days that all life is lived on the edge of a precipice, such thoughts have enhanced resonance.

She claimed not to be a mystic, but she wrote movingly of the unseen vision, the unheard echo which attend all our experience. The current surveys indicating significant increases in people praying and going to church would testify that there is wider appreciation today of those insights.

Flannery articulated strong convictions on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Those sentiments bear stronger relevance as we witness these days more people at Mass and in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This year's celebration of the Incarnation consequently sparkles even more warmly with festive glow of the season.

I believe, therefore, that there is generally a more profound sense of the spiritual in our celebration of Advent and Christmas this year.

The exchange of cards reminds us more poignantly that the Nativity has provided inspiration for more paintings than any other subject in history.

The lights of the season speak to us more urgently of the One Light who illumines our hearts, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.

The sharing of gifts reminds us more profoundly that our very lives are gifts, God's gifts. We did not begin all this. Our response is expected.

Because of the stronger sense of spiritual reflection, it seems to me that the tone of our seasonal music this year is rising, more than before, above merely canned carols and hollow hymns. We are singing the hymns of the centuries with renewed fervor:

  • "Creator of the Stars of Night" (7th century)
  • "Come, O Come Emmanuel" (12th century)
  • "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" (15th century)
  • "The First Noel" (17th century)
  • "Adeste Fidelis" (18th century)
  • "Silent Night" (19th century)

In God's grace may our lives develop as hymns of the 21st century, lives in vibrant harmony with God's love. May this love be our peace and the peace of the world.

Happy New Year and Merry Christmas!

Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell
Bishop of Buffalo
December 1, 2001