Sunday, December 29, 2013

Our Lady's Little Stone: Fasting on Bread and Water

A view from my seat at the Evening Mass at the back altar of St. James Church
Evening Mass at the back altar of Saint James Church

Today's post is a continuation of one of my previous posts, Our Lady's "Little Stone" - Pray With The Heart, The Rosary Everyday. Fasting on "bread and water," is the third of five "little stones" Our Lady has given us from her messages in Medjugorje.

If you are new to the reference of "little stones," they refer to five spiritual weapons Our Lady has given us to fight the good fight against Satan. As God gave David little stones which he used to hurl at Goliath, we are to do likewise in our spiritual battle against our Goliath, the Evil One.

Our Lady has given us these stones because she understands what we need to not only fight the good fight, but to become victorious in our spiritual battle.

Our Lady's request is to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, on bread and water from midnight to midnight; that is, the entire day, "The best fast is on bread and water. Through fasting and prayer one can stop wars, one can suspend the natural laws of nature. Works of charity cannot replace fasting. Everyone except the sick, has to fast." (July 21, 1982) By combining fasting with prayer, we increase the power of our prayers. This is something we should keep in mind especially when praying for a special or urgent intention. By fasting we allow our entire being to participate and offer this sacrifice to God. Let us also not forget that Jesus fasted frequently and he taught the Apostles, that certain devils can be cast out in no other way except by prayer and fasting. (Mark 9:29)

The amount of bread and water you consume does not matter, so long as you make the sacrifice of this strict fast and offer it to God. Our Lady appeared to one of the six visionaries, Ivan Dragicevic on August 14, 1984, and gave him the following message, "I would like people to pray with me these days in the greatest numbers possible. Also I would like them to fast strictly on Wednesdays and Fridays, and to pray at least the rosary every day, joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries."

There are many ways to fast, but Our Lady specifically stated that fasting on bread and water is the "best fast." For those not used to fasting, it doesn't have to be something strictly adhered to at first, but eventually implemented over time.

Our Lady's invitation to fast is an appeal to our freedom to live her messages. Officially, the Church only obliges the faithful to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, so fasting according to Our Lady's request becomes our "yes" to our personal devotion to her. By giving our assent to Our Lady to fast, combined with prayer, we may come to know God's love and do his will in our lives:
"Dear children! In a special way I call you all to pray for my intentions so that, through your prayers, you may stop Satan's plan over this world, which is further from God every day, and which puts itself in the place of God and is destroying everything that is beautiful and good in the souls of each of you. Therefore, little children, arm yourselves with prayer and fasting so that you may be conscious of how much God loves you and may carry out God's will. Thank you for having responded to my call." (October 25, 2008)
Fasting and prayer form that perfect combination in our fight against evil. We pray better when we fast, and our love for our Saviour and Redeemer grows. Fasting also heightens our receptivity to listen inwardly to God's gentle voice.

The Evil One hates fasting and tries to discourage us. Saint Paul used to fast before his journeys to clear the way of all devils from his path. Saint Anthanasius who was experienced in fasting is quoted as stating:
It cures diseases; it dries up all morbid discharges of the body. It repels devils and drives out unclean thoughts. It renders the spirit more lucid and purifies the heart. It sanctifies the body and transports man to God's throne. Fasting is a powerful force and leads to great spiritual triumphs.
In these modern times that we live in, it seems so rare to hear of people fasting in the manner in which Our Lady asks of us. If you are new to fasting and wondering about whether or not this is something you can do, it is not difficult or strenuous at all. Fasting is done out of love for Our Lady and performed as an offering to God. Well motivated in this respect makes the days of fasting a great joy, knowing that you are pleasing both God and Our Lady.  

Fasting benefits us in many ways, physically and psychologically, but it is the spiritual benefits that should concern us the most. What we should also consider is that when we fast, combined with prayer, there is an even greater opportunity to receive God's mercy upon us.

The Cure d'Ars or St. Jean Marie Vianney used to fast for days to obtain some divine favour from God and was quoted after he had fasted, "I then obtained from the good God everything I sought." Here are a few more messages from Our Lady regarding fasting that I hope will encourage you to take this "little stone" and employ this spiritual weapon, one that is both powerful and efficacious against the Evil One in all that he tries to do to interfere with your life's goal, your salvation:
  • January 25, 2001: "Dear children! Today I call you to renew prayer and fasting with even greater enthusiasm until prayer becomes a joy for you. Little children, the one who prays is not afraid of the future and the one who fasts is not afraid of evil. Once again, I repeat to you: only through prayer and fasting also wars can be stopped – wars of your unbelief and fear for the future. I am with you and am teaching you little children: your peace and hope are in God. That is why draw closer to God and put Him in the first place in your life. Thank you for having responded to my call."
  • April 25, 1999: "By fasting and prayer, witness that you are mine and that you live my messages."
  • November 6, 1982: "Repeated prayers and fasting reduce punishments from God."
  • January 28, 1987: "If you wish to obtain a grace from the Lord by fasting, then let no one know that you are fasting. If you wish to obtain the grace of God through a gift to the poor, let no one know it, except you and the Lord."
  • October'1983: "The fasting which you are doing in eating fish, instead of meat, is not fasting but abstinence. The true fast consists in giving up all our sins, but one must also renounce himself and make the body participate in it.
I should note that there are exceptions to the strict fasting of bread and water: in the case of small children; the elderly; and those who are of temporarily ill or have a serious health issue, are not required to adhere to the strict fast.

One of the visionaries, Mirjana Soldo, stated in one of her talks to pilgrims that, "Our Lady does not ask for fasting from those who are sick, but truly sick. Our Lady says that they will realize through their own prayer what fasting they can do outside bread and water." 

In these scenarios and other situations that make fasting on bread and water impossible, fasting could take on another form: a reduction in food intake for the day; the deprivation of coffee or tea; or whatever would constitute a proper offering to God in place of the strict fast. Through prayer, each individual will be able to understand what alternative fast would be appropriate and acceptable to God. 

Our Lady's love for us is so great—evidenced by her messages alone—let us in our response, reciprocate that love by embracing her "little stone" of fasting.

Our Lady Queen of Peace, pray for us.  

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Morning Mass attendees at St. Margaret Mary Church
The daily morning Mass attendees at St. Margaret Mary Church

The above photo captures most of the regular morning Mass attendees at St. Margaret Mary Roman Catholic Church, here in Woodbridge, Ontario. Each morning Mass is a faith strengthening, grace filled experience that is celebrated by Father Donald White, P.O.C.R. As a daily attendee, I can personally testify that each morning Mass is celebrated with attention, reverence, devotion, and in a well prepared manner. What a great way to start each day strengthened by Christ's gift to us, the Eucharist.

The celebration of the Eucharist is the summit of Catholic worship. There are no other prayers and devotions more powerful than that of the Eucharist. It is a time when the faithful contemplate Christ's presence in the living sacrament of his body and blood.   Quoting Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia"...The Eucharist is a priceless treasure: by not only celebrating it but also by praying before it outside of Mass we are enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace..." (25) This treasure is available to each of us everyday, and it is Christ who wants us to receive him daily.

Morning Mass at St. Margaret Mary is not at full capacity, so there is plenty of room in the pews. Depending on your availability, If you are thinking about going to morning Mass and would like to have a profound Mass experience, I can assure you St. Margaret Mary is for you. For those who do not go to confession and do not attend Mass regularly, it is important that you receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation prior to Mass. Even if you are in doubt about being in a state of mortal sin, it would be prudent to go to confession so that at Mass, you will approach the Eucharist with a clear conscience and in a worthy manner. Pope John Paul II specifically notes this very important point in Ecclesia de Eucharistia:  
Keeping these invisible bonds intact is a specific moral duty incumbent upon Christians who wish to participate fully in the Eucharist by receiving the body and blood of Christ. The Apostle Paul appeals to this duty when he warns: “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor 11:28). Saint John Chrysostom, with his stirring eloquence, exhorted the faithful: “I too raise my voice, I beseech, beg and implore that no one draw near to this sacred table with a sullied and corrupt conscience. Such an act, in fact, can never be called 'communion', not even were we to touch the Lord's body a thousand times over, but 'condemnation', 'torment' and 'increase of punishment'”. (36)
The doors at Saint Margaret Mary Church are typically unlocked at 7:30am, affording the faithful quiet time for personal adoration and prayer prior to Mass. Morning Mass begins at 8:00am and usually ends at 8:30am. The church remains available after Mass for further adoration, personal prayer and group recitation of the Rosary. The morning Mass experience at St. Margaret Mary is truly a time of divine intimacy. 

As we journey through this Christmas Season, let us implore God's grace and mercy to transform our hearts and souls, that God may deepen our ongoing conversion and
strengthen us on our faith journey. May Jesus find our hearts and souls transformed and overflowing with love, a most welcome and warm dwelling place, fitting for our Saviour and Redeemer. 

To all visitors of my blog, Merry Christmas to you and all your loved ones.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Our Lady's Little Stone: Pray With The Heart, The Rosary Every Day

Second Blue Cross at the base of Apparition Hill
The Blue Cross where the visionary Mirjana has her public apparitions on the second of each month.

Today's post on praying with the heart the Rosary every day is the second in a series of posts on Our Lady's "Little Stones," that began with my previous post, Our Lady's "Little Stone": Monthly Confession.

If you are not familiar with the topic of today's post, let me briefly explain it. The Blessed Virgin Mary has been appearing to six visionaries since June 24th, 1981 in Medjugorje, Herzegovina (officially Bosnia and Herzegovina) and ever since then, she has been giving them important messages for the world. Today, Medjugorje has become the spiritual center of the world, a place of many miracles, conversions, healing, vocations to the priesthood and religious life, drug and alcohol recovery, a place that emanates hope and peace for the world. Our Lady has appeared there because she loves us, her children, and wants to help us in these perilous times where sin has taken over the lives of so many of "unbelievers," those who have yet to know and experience God's love.

Our Lady's "little stone," to pray with the heart the Rosary everyday, is an important message that we need to take very seriously, as are all of Our Lady's messages. Our Lady has emphasized the importance of praying with the heart in her January 23, 1986, message, "Dear Children, again I call you to prayer with your heart..."  When Our Lady asks of us to pray the Rosary each day, she is asking us to do it with the heart. By praying the Rosary with the heart, we are saying "yes" to Our Lady and allowing her to be our light to Christ, showing us the path to Jesus. There is no other more surest and quickest way to reach Jesus, than through Our Lady.

The Rosary is so essential to our earthly pilgrimage, it is no coincidence that Our Lady has asked us to pray it. Next to the Holy Mass, the Rosary is the most powerful prayer we have available to us. The Rosary is our effective weapon against Satan, "Dear children! Today I call you especially now to advance against Satan by means of prayer. Satan wants to work still more now that you know he is at work. Dear children, put on the armor for battle and with the Rosary in your hand defeat him! Thank you for having responded to my call." (August 8, 1985) 

Our Lady's request to pray the Rosary everyday has been a request made in the past, but neglected by so many. The Rosary was initially given to Saint Dominic in 1214, to convert the Albigensian heretics in Southern France. Our Lady had ordered St. Dominic to recite it everyday and get others to do likewise. Saint Dominic obeyed Our Lady and what resulted was the conversion of entire regions.

Over the centuries the recitation of the Rosary waned in the prayer lives of many families and individuals, some completely omitted it all together from their faith journey. To counter this, Our Lady chose additional servants to reestablish the Rosary. One such servant was St. Louis De Montfort (1673-1716), whose book, The Secret of The Rosary, is dedicated to explaining the importance and significance of praying the entire Rosary everyday.

In our own time, it is a well known fact that Pope John Paul II's favourite prayer was the Rosary. Pope John Paul II's Marian devotion permeated his pontificate and every aspect of his life. The Apostolic Letter on the Rosary, Rosarium Virginis Mariae is an apostolic letter that beautifully captured Saint John Paul II's great love and devotion to Our Lady.

Yet with these and so many other examples to draw from, many people still have not embraced Our Lady's message. The apparitions of Medjugorje have been Our Lady's opportunity to teach us anew, to "pray with the heart." Our Lady asks this of us with with great motherly love and concern for our salvation. What remains for many of us, is to say "yes" to Our Lady, much in the same spirit of Sts. Dominic and Louis De Montfort, Saint John Paul II, and the many saints throughout the history of the Catholic Church.

For some, Our Lady's message to pray the entire Rosary each day may seem like a daunting task, but like anything new, all it takes is some time to adjust and a willingness to persevere. No matter what your daily calendar is like, praying the entire Rosary everyday is achievable. The first step requires you to embrace this new inclusion in your life with a great love for Our Lady.

The next step is to seriously review your daily calendar and set reasonable and attainable goals. This is especially important if you have never prayed the Rosary or do not pray in general.

The Rosary consists of four sets of mysteries: Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious. Praying all four sets is what Our Lady asked of us and to complete this each day takes approximately two hours.

The most optimal approach would be to pray the individual sets of mysteries at different times of the day. Each individual set will take approximately 25-30 minutes to complete. If you find yourself pressed for 30 minutes of free time, you can take then divide the recitation of the individual mystery into single decades (one Our Father, ten Hail Mary's, one Glory Be, and one O My Jesus) which will take approximately five minutes. You probably can squeeze in five minutes here, five minutes there throughout your day. In so doing, you will eventually complete one set of the mysteries. Once you do this on a consistent level, seizing those opportunities to recite your Rosary throughout your day, will become second nature.

The last step is all about training to pray the Rosary, which is synonymous to training for a marathon. If you have never ran a marathon before, you need to build up your endurance by setting an initial distance that you can consistently run over a set period of time. Gradually you build up your endurance and add more kilometers. This cycle continues until you have run the entire distance of a marathon.

This is very much the same scenario with the Rosary. Perhaps in the initial stages of your "training" you may only include one or two decades of a particular set of mysteries, but once you recited this initial amount of prayers consistently, you will be able to add other decades, perhaps even enough to complete one of the fours sets of the mysteries. As you continue to build up your prayer capacity, you will eventually have "prayed the distance" and crossed the "spiritual finish line."

Once you do recite the entire Rosary each day consistently, you will come to realize that what once seemed impossible, has now become possible. Like a marathon race, your heart and mind must be in the right place to cross the "spiritual finish line." Each day you will experience the joy having said "yes" to Our Lady's message and completed The Rosary: A Marathon of Grace.  

Whether you are new to the Rosary or you recite some of the mysteries or the entire Rosary, pray for the grace to: recite it each day faithfully and completely, with attention, reverence and devotion; to understand the Gospel lessons contained within; to do as Saint John Paul recommended in Rosarium Virginis Mariae—the apostolic letter issued on October 16, 2002, to bishops, clergy and the faithful on the Most Holy Rosary—to contemplate the face of Christ, and the lived Rosary of Our Lady, and to gaze as the apostles did during the Transfiguration (Fourth Luminous Mystery).

Rest assured that I will include all those who endeavour to do this in my daily Rosary.  I would like to conclude this post and leave you with one of Our Lady's messages to think and pray about:
You know that I love you and am coming here out of love, so I could show you the path of peace and salvation for your souls. I want you to listen to me and not permit Satan to seduce you. Dear children, Satan is strong enough! Therefore, I ask you to dedicate your prayers so that those who are under his influence may be saved. Give witness by your life, sacrifice your lives for the salvation of the world. Therefore, little children, do not be afraid. If you pray, Satan cannot injure you, not even a little, because you are God's children and He is watching over you. Pray, and let the Rosary always be in your hands as a sign to Satan that you belong to me." (February 25, 1989)

Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Our Lady's Little Stone: Monthly Confession

A photo of confessions taking place at St. James Church, Medjugorje
In Medjugorje, confessions are available everyday beginning at 6:00pm, and lasts well into the evening.

If this post is the first you have heard of Our Lady's "Little Stones," and the apparitions at Medjugorje, then perhaps it best I explain a little bit about Medjugorje and what has happened there since the very early 1980s.

The Blessed Virgin Mary has been appearing to six visionaries since June 24, 1981, all of whom are alive and continue to receive visions from Our Lady. Since then, Our Lady has been giving the visionaries messages for the world. So important are these messages, that many of the laity and clergy have gone on pilgrimages to experience the beautiful hope, love, and peace emanating from Medjugorje. To date, over 40 million pilgrims have gone to and become spiritually adopted in Medjugorje and many, if not all, return home strengthened and renewed.

There have been so many fruits harvested from this spiritual orchard: conversions; vocations to the priesthood and religious life; drug and alcohol recovery; spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical healing; and answers to life questions and many miracles. It was at one of the apparitions that Our Lady communicated the following message:
Dear children, I invite you for your individual conversion. This time is for you! Without you God's plan cannot be realized. Dear children grow day by day closer to God through prayer. I give you the weapon against your Goliath. Here are your little stones:
  • Pray The Rosary With Your Heart - A daily recitation of the entire Rosary, that is, the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries. 
  • Eucharist - Receive the Eucharist on Sunday and when possible, go to daily Mass.
  • Holy Bible - Read the Bible everyday 
  • Fasting - The best fast recommended by Our Lady is, "bread and water" and to be done on Wednesdays and Fridays, from midnight to midnight (the entire day) 
  • Monthly Confession
Our Lady's mission is of peace and love. So important is this mission that the Blessed Mother announced herself as the "Queen of Peace." Our Lady has come to reeducate, convert, and bring us back to God.

To ensure our success and give us the spiritual weapons that will allow us to fight the good fight, Our Lady has given us "little stones," just as God gave to David to battle against Goliath, a stronger and more powerful opponent. (1 Samuel 17Our "little stones" are to be used against our Goliath, the Evil One, the Devil or Satan. As David hurled a little stone at the forehead of Goliath, and sent him to his death, let us hurl our spiritual stone, our monthly confession, and put to death all that the Evil One tries to do to interfere with our faith journey and our daily conversion.  

As to which of the "little stones" to first write about, I purposely chose "Monthly Confession." Entering into this battle, one wants to start off in the best possible manner, and this is what confession provides, a spiritually cleansing and entry into a state of grace. In so doing, we the branches are reconnected to our vine, Jesus Christ, whom acts directly upon our soul through the person of the priest. It is only then, can we begin do anything with Jesus, our Saviour and Redeemer, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)  

The importance of confession or the Sacrament of Reconciliation cannot be overstated. Many have responded to Our Lady's request—as the photo published with this post depicts—and it is a well known fact that the demand for confessions in Medjugorje has risen dramatically. Some who have never confessed in twenty or more years, have gone to confession in Medjugorje.

One of the visionaries Vicka Mijatovic's diary entry of the twenty-eighth apparition, July 22, 1981, notes the following communication from Our Lady, "A good many people have been converted and among them some had not gone to Confession in 45 years, and now, they are going to Confession. Go in the peace of God."

Confession is for many, the humble beginnings of a conversion and that is what Our Lady has called us to, conversion. We need to say "yes" to Our Lady by confessing our sins once a month, complying with her request to live her messages. In so doing, we follow Christ in a closer manner and the more we receive this sacrament the better we will be able to do this.

Not only is confession a sacrament that absolves us of our sins, but it is a source of grace that strengthens our souls against relapses, provides us with the fortitude to resist temptations, and grants us a stronger and more determined resolve to follow Christ with a greater love and fidelity.

Through confession, we come to know ourselves better because each confession is preceded by an examination of conscience. Your conscience is the place where you and God meet, where God reveals the truth about yourself. During confession, Jesus provides us with the remedy for all sins and imperfections and; thus, teaches us how to "Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) Here is another of Our Lady's messages regarding confession:
Open yourselves to Holy Confession so that each of you may accept my call with the whole heart. I am with you and I protect you from the ruin of sin, but you must open yourselves to the way of conversion and holiness, that your heart may burn out of love for God. Give Him time and He will give Himself to you and thus, in the will of God you will discover the love and the joy of living. (November 25, 2012)
Mary is our best teacher in the school of Christ; therefore, let us follow her messages with complete trust as she has requested, "Little children, read every day the messages I gave you and transform them into life. I love you and this is why I call you to the way of salvation with God." (December 25, 1989)

Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Triumph Medjugorje Movie: A Follow Up

Mirjana at the moment Our Lady appeared to her (The Triumph)
Today's post is a follow up to my previous post on the The Triumph - Medjugorje Movie Vaughan Screening at AMC Theatres. If you have not heard about this movie or the recent events, let me bring you up to speed. Over this past weekend, The Triumph  movie was shown at AMC 30 Theatres here in Woodbridge, on Saturday, December 7, at 9:30 am. Although this was the second showing, the first was at Colossus Theatres two weeks ago, there was an added afternoon schedule of faith sharing and prayer at a local cathedral.

The Triumph is about the Marian apparitions that began on June 24, 1981, to two of the six visionaries, who were accompanied by the other four the next day on June 25. To these specially selected individuals, Our Blessed Mother appeared to them and announced herself as "Queen of Peace." Ever since that first day, Our Lady Queen of Peace has been giving the visionaries messages for the world.

In case you missed this movie, there will be a DVD release once the theatre screenings have completed their run. You can even sign up to be notified of the DVD availability at the The Triumph web site.

Patrick and Nancy Latta after the movie showing at AMC 30 Theatres

When the movie had finished, Patrick and Nancy Latta (two Canadians who now live in Medjugorje) popped in and gave us a quick testimonial of their lives and the wonderful events that took place in their respective conversions, a perfect conclusion to the movie's end. After all this ended, many of us left for the Good Shepherd Chaldean Catholic Cathedral, where we recited the Rosary and heard Patrick and Nancy speak at length about their conversion experiences and continued with adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament, benediction and Saturday's Vigil Mass.  

Patrick, Nancy and Fr. Casullo on the topic of the gift of priests.

Our Lady understands our needs in the battle we face on this earthly pilgrimage. Our Lady has told us we are fighting a goliath and to fight the good fight, She has given us spiritual weapons, the "little stones," which we can use to hurl, like David, at our Goliath the Evil One. Here are the little stones : 
  1. Pray The Rosary With Your Heart - A daily recitation of the entire Rosary, that is, the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries.
  2. Eucharist - Receive the Eucharist on Sunday and when possible, go to daily Mass.
  3. Holy Bible - Read the Bible everyday
  4. Fasting - The best fast recommended by Our Lady is, "bread and water" and to be done on Wednesdays and Fridays, from midnight to midnight (the entire day)
  5. Monthly Confession
To live Our Lady's messages is serious commitment to want to change for the better, to rid ourselves of all that stands in the way of properly following Jesus Christ, Our Saviour and Redeemer. The above mentioned "little stones" ensures the spiritual progress of our ongoing conversions.

Nancy and Patrick Latta with me after Mass

As you can see from the above photo, I met Patrick and Nancy. If you have never heard of them, they are fellow Canadians who after receiving the call to go to Medjugorje, sold all they had, left nothing behind in Canada, and moved to Medjugorje. Today, they run a successful retreat house in Medjugorje, Our Lady of The Sacred Heart.

Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Secularization of The Advent and Christmas Seasons

The Nativity - Jesus, Mary and Joseph

With the ushering in of the Advent Season on Sunday, December 1st you have probably already started to think about Christmas? Today, I would like you to consider adding to your thoughts, the growing trend to secularize the Advent and Christmas Seasons.

Many people will soon begin, if they have not already, to prepare for Christmas by shopping for Christmas gifts, putting up Christmas trees, exterior lights and other home decorations, organize parties, plan family visitations, book vacations and other things. Certainly all this is appropriate, but we must be careful not to let all these activities distract us from our proper and true focus, that is, our interior preparation for the coming of Christ.

Currently, we are in the Advent Season, not the Christmas Season. The Advent Season begins four weeks prior to Christmas day and ends on Christmas Eve. The Christmas Season does not officially begin until the first Vespers of Christmas Eve and extends to the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, which is the Sunday after the Epiphany.

It seems though that Advent and the spirit of the season has been removed from the hearts of minds of many people. Instead of preparing to usher in Christmas in the true Christian sense, many have begun or will soon begin, to enter into the frenzy of Christmas shopping and embrace the secularized consumeristic character of Christmas. I am sure you have already been exposed to the retailers' promotions encouraging this frenzy? Do we really need to have all these Christmas products available at least one month before Christmas? Will not one to two weeks prior to the December 25th suffice? Consumerism is a significant distraction and in my view, constitutes one of the major attacks on the Christian spirit and meaning of both the Advent and Christmas seasons. 

So what is Advent and what is it all about? Advent is the four week period before Christmas when the Church celebrates the first coming of Christ and anticipates His second coming. The word “advent” comes from the Latin adventus (Greek parousia), which means “coming” or “arrival.” Advent is not part of the Christmas season, but a preparation for it. This is why we do not sing Christmas hymns or use Christmas readings in Mass until December 25th, the first day of the Christmas season.

Advent provides us all with an opportunity to continually re-orient ourselves to God’s will as we, together with the entire Church, expectantly wait for the true meaning of Christmas, the incarnation of God the Son. The spirit of Advent should help to arouse in each one of us, an intimate and personal expectation of the renewed coming of Christ in our soul. This “coming” is accomplished through grace and the more it matures in us, the more copious it becomes, penetrating us until it transforms the soul into an alter Christus.  

The question I pose to the visitors of my blog, do you think most people are focussing on the true meaning and spirit of the Advent Season? Of course, no one knows the complete answer to this, but we can get a strong sense from our observations and interactions with others. To help answer my question, consider taking a survey of who amongst your family members, friends, colleagues and coworkers, neighbours, those who you communicate and come into contact with, have encouraged you in any way to focus on the spiritual activities associated with the Advent and Christmas seasons. Has there been any mention as what you can do to prepare for Christ's coming in your soul? If the results of your survey yields an overwhelming "no," "no one" or "very few," then it probably is very typical. It is a symptom of the major problem of consumerism and secularism as a whole, which does not limit itself to the Advent and Christmas seasons.

A reoccurring secular pattern in the past several years, during the Advent and Christmas Seasons, has been the greeting of "Happy Holidays" as a replacement for the proper greeting of "Merry Christmas." I am sure that most of us have experienced it. It is sad that so many are willing to throw Christ out of Christmas with such a greeting. Whether they realize it or not, this is exactly what they do. In my view, the "Happy Holidays" greeting represents another major attack on the true meaning and spirit of the Advent and Christmas seasons. It only begs the question, what are we going to do about it? 

As active and practicing Christians, we as Catholics have a responsibility to act upon the secularization of the Advent and Christmas Seasons. In the face of this growing secular trend here in our community in Woodbridge, we must meet that challenge and correct those that greet us without Christ. To do so, is proper to our call to "labour in the vineyard of the Lord," as noted in Pope John Paul II's document, Christifideles Laici, a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the vocation and the mission of the lay faithful in the Church and the world:  
...[L]ay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world...Keep watch over your manner of life, dear people, and make sure that you are indeed the Lord's labourers. Each person should take into account what he does and consider if he is labouring in the vineyard of the Lord. (2)
What are some of the possibilities for us to "labour in the vineyard?" In addition to the obvious of responding to someone's "Happy Holidays," with your "Merry Christmas," consider taking an extra 5-10 minutes to speak with the manager of a retail outlet, store or organization and inquiry as to why employees are throwing Christ out of Christmas with their "Happy Holiday" greetings to customers. You can simply argue that you are not only a customer, but a Catholic customer and you find it offensive and do not appreciate that company personnel in their communications with customers, exclude Christ from Christmas.  

Consider "labouring for Christ in His vineyard" by being more attentive to the purchase of Christmas cards, ensuring that it is a true Christmas card with the greeting of, "Merry Christmas." Do not be fooled by what may appear to be a Christmas card. Some may look like Christmas cards, but contain very little Christmas content. Others may contain content that is most inappropriate for such a card. Examples might be with respect to improper humour, references that have nothing to do with Christ and content that draws one's heart and mind away from the true meaning of Christmas.

Consider "labouring in the vineyard" with regard to shopping decisions for Christmas presents. We all have Christmas shopping to do. Why not ensure that your dollars are spent at a store that actually has "Merry Christmas" on display. If a store has, "Happy Holidays," one way you can protest the secularization of Christmas is not to shop at that location. If you see calendars, posters and banners in stores that say, "Happy Holidays," why not speak to the manager and inquire about the rational for such displays? This is what you can do to put faith into action. (James 2:14-18)  Let us not allow Edmund Burke's quote, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing," to become our community reality this year. Let us stem the tide of the secularism and help restore Christ in the hearts and minds in our community. Do not let those in our community who carelessly ignore the true meaning of Christmas get away with it. It is up to us to make a difference and put Christ back in Christmas.

As always, our communications should be respectful and maintain a calm and considerate tone, with an attitude of charity and mercy. This is especially important when we are the recipients of opposite treatment: hostility, anger, misunderstanding and a sharp rebuke. Our response must always be a Christian one. Above all, we must not judge those whose faith is less than our own or perhaps minimal, if anything at all. We must pray for them and show them by our example what Advent and Christmas is all about.

Christ will never be removed from the Advent and Christmas seasons, because many of us know, understanding and live the truth. It will never be a "Happy Season." It will always be the Advent and Christmas Seasons!