Thursday, 29 November 2012

Preparing for Advent

The Advent wreath is a circular garland of evergreen branches representing eternity. On that wreath, five candles are typically arranged. During the season of Advent one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday as a part of the Advent services. Each candle represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Set on the branches of the wreath are four candles: three purple candles and one rose coloured or pink candle. In the centre of the wreath sits a white candle. As a whole, these candles represent the coming of the light of Christ into the world. On the first Sunday of Advent, the first purple candle is lit. This candle is typically called the "Prophecy Candle" in remembrance of the prophets, primarily Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. This candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah.
Each week on Sunday, an additional candle is lit. On the second Sunday of Advent, the second purple candle is lit. This candle typically represents love. Some Traditions call this the "Bethlehem Candle," symbolizing Christ's manger.
On the third Sunday of Advent the pink, or rose-coloured candle is lit. This pink candle is customarily called the "Shepherds Candle" and it represents joy.
The fourth and last purple candle, oftentimes called the "Angels Candle," represents peace and is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent.
On Christmas Eve, the white centre candle is traditionally lit. This candle is called the "Christ Candle" and represents the life of Christ that has come into the world. white represents purity. Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Saviour. Also, those who receive Christ as Saviour are washed of their sins and made brighter than snow.

Celebrating with an Advent wreath during the weeks prior to Christmas is a great way for Christian families to keep Christ at the centre of Christmas, and for parents to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas.

How to Make an Advent Wreath

To begin, put four candles on a wreath or at least in a circle. Traditionally the candles are purple, because in antiquity, purple dye was very expensive and it was the colour of royalty. We use purple for Advent because it is the season of the coming of the King. If you can’t get purple candles, then use what is available to you. If you have a fifth candle, it goes in the centre of the wreath and it should be white.

Historically, the candles have no more meaning than a countdown. That is, they originally stood for 4, 3, 2, and 1. However, people like for things in the church to have symbolic meanings, so the candles have gradually acquired the meanings I gave you above. If someone in your church tells you that the candles have some other meaning than Hope, Love, Joy, or Peace, they aren’t wrong, they are just different. The meanings are so new that they aren’t completely standardized.
Purple is the liturgical colour for Advent. It is a regal colour and in ancient times was incredibly expensive; it is also the colour of remembrance and sorrow. The colours of the liturgy mirror our feelings and thoughts and place us in the right frame of mind for what we celebrate. The colour purple reminds us of the importance of the coming feast and of our own regal dignity as disciples of Jesus. It also reminds us that we should prepare ourselves to receive Christ well into our lives and be prepared for his second coming.  In some locations, the third candle is pink. This is the liturgical colour for the third Sunday in Advent called Gaudete Sunday. The This comes from the first word of the liturgy ‘gaudete’ meaning rejoice. The white candle is lit on Christmas Eve (that is, after sundown), when the liturgical colour is white. So that explains the colours of the purple and white candles—they just match the liturgical decor. But what about the pink candle, if there is one?
The pink candle is becoming more and more popular, but it has a strange origin. Long ago, the pope had the custom of giving someone a rose on the fourth Sunday in Lent. This led the Roman Catholic clergy to wear rose-colored vestments on that Sunday. The effect was to give some relief the solemnity of Lent, so this was a very popular custom. Originally—before shopping malls—Advent was a solemn fast in preparation for Christmas, so the custom was extended to the third Sunday in Advent to liven it up a little bit, too. Somewhere in there the third candle of the Advent wreath turned pink. Meanwhile, Advent is no longer solemn and the pope longer has the custom of giving out roses
How to Use Your Advent Wreath
The idea is to use the wreath in conjunction with worship services or personal or family devotions on the four Sundays in Advent. You light candles at the beginning of each service and snuff them out at the end.

•On the first Sunday in Advent, you light the first candle. Have your service, then snuff out the candle.

•On the second Sunday in Advent, you light two candles, first the one from the previous Sunday, then the second one. Have your service, then snuff out the candles.

•On the third Sunday in Advent, you light the two candles from the previous weeks, in the order you lit them before, then you add the third one. Have your service, then snuff out the candles.

•On the fourth Sunday in Advent, you light the three candles from the previous weeks, in the order you lit them before, then you light the fourth one. Have your service, then snuff out the candles. You should get a stair-step effect, since each candle is a different length by now.

If you have a fifth candle in the centre, then on Christmas Day you light the four candles in the order you lit them before, and then you light the center candle. Have your service, then snuff out the candles.
You notice how I emphasize snuffing out the candles at the end of each service? This has absolutely no liturgical significance whatsoever, but it is vitally important and you must not leave it out. It prevents the candles from burning your house down.
I recommend that you snuff out the candles, rather than blowing them out. The reason is that if you blow them out, you might spray hot wax over everything.
Prayers for Use With the Advent Wreath
When you use an Advent Wreath in personal or family devotions, you can use whatever scriptures and prayers you like. If you need a point of departure, here is something to get you started. Please don’t take it as a set form. You can use different readings, you can modify the prayers, and you can add hymns, carols, or other prayers as you like.

 On the first Sunday in Advent
■Light one purple candle
■Read Isaiah 60:2-3
•Pray something like this:

Lord God, we light this candle to thank you for your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is the light of the world. We who have sat in darkness have seen a great light, the light of Jesus Christ, our salvation. We give you thanks and praise in Jesus' name, because he lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
On the second Sunday in Advent
■Light two purple candles
■Read Mark 1:4
•Pray something like this:

Lord God, we light this candle to thank you for your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is the way. We who like sheep have gone astray have found the way to you through Jesus Christ. We give you thanks and praise in Jesus' name, because he lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
On the third Sunday in Advent
■Light three purple candles
■Read Isaiah 35:10
•Pray something like this:

Lord God, we light this candle to thank you for your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, who brings us great joy. We who have walked in the shadow of the valley of death have found life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We give you thanks and praise in Jesus' name, because he lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 On the fourth Sunday in Advent
■Light all the purple candles
■Read Isaiah 9:6-7
•Pray something like this:

Lord God, we light this candle to thank you for your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is the Prince of Peace. We who live in discord and strife have found peace in the promise of eternal life, through Jesus Christ. We give you thanks and praise in Jesus' name, because he lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 On Christmas Eve after sundown or on Christmas Day
■Light all the purple candles and the white candle
■Read Luke 1:68-79 and Luke 2:1-20
•Pray something like this:

We praise you, Lord God, because on this day, your Word became flesh in our Saviour Jesus Christ, was born of a woman, and walked among us as a man. Help us to imitate your incarnation, by manifesting our faith in our conduct as well as in our speech. To you, O Lord, we give our honour, praise, worship, and love, in the most holy and precious name of the One who is born today; because He lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Enjoy your wreath. I firmly believe that if we celebrate Advent well, then we will have a grace filled celebration of the Solemn Feast of Christ’s birth.

Friday, 23 November 2012

A Prayer

O God, when I have food,help me to remember the hungry;When I have work,help me to remember the jobless;When I have a home,help me to remember thosewho have no home at all;When I am without pain,help me to remember those who suffer....
And remembering,help me to destroy my complacency;bestir my compassion,and be concerned enough to help;By word and deed,those who cry outfor what we take for granted.Amen.
–A Thanksgiving Prayer

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

How Vocations Happen ...

Greetings from Aylesford and apologies for the blog gap. Over the last few weeks I have been travelling around giving retreats, meeting with enquirers and last week I managed to get a short break. So, hopefully, normal service is now resumed.

One of the questions that keeps surfacing as I meet with people who are discerning their future is quite stark and simple. 'How do I know what my vocation is?' I think openess is the key. If you are asking God what he wants from you, then God will tell you. I found this piece of prose online and found it quite beautiful. Hopefully it will help.

How vocations happen …

I was just ordained a Jesuit Priest.
 The process took (about) eleven years.
 Discerning a vocation, though… that is something else.
 It’s what I have been doing all along.

We all have stories that describe who we are.
 For me… becoming a priest was not the tale I wanted to tell.
 Of course, we often don’t understand vocations
 until they are already upon us.

So, sometimes I tell the story like I am revealing the life of a minor prophet:
 I was just a humble lifter of furniture in the city of Minneapolis
 stumble-bumming through a fantastic early-twenties existence
 with my car and my motorcycle… yeah.

It was the early mid-nineties and I was listening to Revolution Radio and spoken word,  drinking coffee and spouting fantastic poems into the night sky.
I could be found in smoke-lit warehouses speaking “my truth,” under a pseudonym, or appearing on a stage called “Balls,” at midnight, in the seven corners.

My friends were ex-junkies, street kids, skate-punks, wanna-bes and future felons.
 We used to sneak into old buildings to throw up… art.
 Genius dreams from spray cans spread out
 on walls that no one would ever see.

And then it happened…
 It’s almost 14 years since I heard “the call.”
 I can only tell you where I was because it was so completely unexpected,
 and I was not all that inclined to listen.
But I did.
 After spending years skipping mass I had finally returned to church.
 I felt like I needed to re-examine it…

I wanted to dig my fingers into the questions of existence,
 to peel the rind off those slices of belief from my youth
 and taste something real,
 something that named what I felt in my core.

The being of God…
 I knew there must be something more,
 something so big that every word we pinned on it was just an entrĂ©e
 into another way of seeing its presence.

So there I was on a “priest-drive” Sunday
 listening to a gaunt, bespectacled face in the pulpit talk vocations.
 “Have you or anyone you know ever thought of being a priest?
 Well, call the number on this bulletin and we’ll put you in touch with our trained   staff…”

One minute everything was fine.
 I was sitting in the back of church next to my older (much cooler) brother,
 thinking about whether or not I was hungry.
 The next thing I knew I was crying.

I could feel his eyes from the pulpit,
 a guy in a collar I neither liked nor disliked (man or collar) asking me a question.
 I put my head down and rubbed the outside of my eye, hiding my face,
 trying not to sniffle in a way that my brother would notice.

“I wanted to dig my fingers…”
 That was the beginning…

Like that.
 A thunderbolt… of the softest kind.
 “Oh God.
 You duped me, and I let myself be duped.”
Despite my best attempts,

I had become a believer.
 And ever since
 my vocation has been one long response.

Thirteen years gone since I met her,
 “The one”
 a proverbial “Brick House”
 (according to the prophets “Commodore” in the book of Motown).

I realized only after some months
 while I could not imagine wanting more
 in my relationship with her
 I could not ignore the feeling that something else was calling me.

Twelve years since I sat waiting in prayer
 at some stupid retreat I could not even believe I was going on,
 only to hear the words “Oh shit, I think I am going to be a Jesuit.”
 emerge so crisply and distinctly that my stomach turned in excitement and fear.
Eleven years since I walked up the gray Novitiate steps
 with a backpack and two large Tupperware tubs,
 my entire life packed into twelve square feet,
 and left my family and friends for reasons I could never quite name.

Ten years since I cried during Eucharist
 in front of people that I loved,
 for the second time,
 and realized for the first time that the blood is real.

It is the blood of Christ mingled with every person,
 man or woman,
 who has ever tried to live for something more
 than their own ends and desires.

Nine years since I lay in my bed at a Jesuit house in the Bronx
 thinking of everything that I left behind
 and I heard myself say
 “I have made the biggest mistake of my life.”

Eight years since I told my provincial that I was on the verge of leaving
  and he said, “It sounds like you need to imagine
 how your life needs to look for you to live it.”
 As one friend said, “If you are not free to go, you are not free to stay.”

Seven years since I realized that my deepest desire was something I had known all along.
 I wanted to be a preacher and confessor:
 speaking words that few people would listen to,
 ministering a sacrament most do not think they need.

Six years since I stood as a first year teacher
 in my poorly decorated classroom
 filled with twenty 15-year-olds
 realizing that they would teach me forgiveness and generosity.

Five years since I learned
 how my greatest failures in keeping the vows
 were not physical, but relational.
 Vows not lived with patience and compassion are vows not lived at all.

Four years since I accepted
 that my desire to live as a celibate
 would require me to let go of my desire
 to live with a woman.

Three years since I listened
 to the critique of the most critical people I knew
 and heard them tell me
 “We want you to be our priest.”

Two years since I began again
 to find life in places that I had thought were taboo:
 laughing with renegade seekers,
 those who had denied faith in anything at all.

One year since I felt agape:
 a friendship so profound that I found myself
 rearranging what I believed
 a relationship based on vows could be.

One month since the oil bathed my palms,
 and three hundred Jesuits placed their hands on my head.
 I stood to a thunderous embrace,
 as people who had loved me for years erupted in spontaneous applause.

It was an affirmation of the Church:
 the people of God,
 living out their faith in a time of pain, division and uncertainty
 but filled with hope.

I could hear them say
 “We Love You!” (sigh)
 “So don’t screw this up.” (sigh)
 Which Jesus knows is part of why I avoided taking this role for years.

I never thought I would be vowed,
 or learn to navigate the distance between liberals and conservatives,
 but looking back, it could not have happened any other way.
 See, the story was being told whether I was ready or not.

Our vocations are found in stories telling themselves all around us
 in the voices of millions of seekers
 naming the Truth that will define our lives.
 The Truth we name is the Christ, the suffering redeemer.
I now listen to the narrative in millions of voices around me
 and know that I am bound through an ancient faith
 to a communal hope that transcends my personal narrative.
 The story of vocation was never my own.

It mercifully unfolds and meshes with the stories of countless others
 somehow naming a mystery
 we will come to believe…

Paul Lickreig, SJ.