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Advent_WreathOur liturgical seasons are marked by symbols and colors and actions and events to be remembered and celebrated. As we gather to share faith in our small communities, let us mark this season of preparation with images to remind us of who we are and what we are about.
 
The Advent wreath reminds us that this is the opening season of the liturgical year. We are waiting for and anticipating the coming of Christ at Christmas. Advent is a time for “waiting in joyful hope” for the coming of our Savior. We are making a journey, and we mark it by lighting a candle each week until all four are lit.
 
The Advent wreath offers liturgical colors and lights, none chosen by accident. Evergreens remind us of everlasting life, and each candle represents one of the weeks of Advent. Three candles are purple, the liturgical color of the season, and one is rose/pink for the third week of Advent as a sign of hope and joy that Christ’s coming is indeed near.
 
We may be preparing the readings of the coming Sunday or using a Lectionary-based small-group resource such as PrayerTime or Advent Awakenings. We may also use our Bible (readings are often listed in the parish bulletin or can be found online at www.usccb.org) or a missalette.
 
The Advent wreath is a visual reminder of the great gift of life given to us in the birth of Christ to be celebrated at Christmas.
 
Consider using this Advent wreath blessing in your small group.
 
May you enjoy the Advent journey with joyful anticipation and celebrate the signs and symbols of this blessed season.
 

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“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening or at midnight, or at the cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:33-37).

 

Advent is a time for prayerful reflection, a time to be particularly alert to the promptings of God’s grace. The Advent call in the Gospel is to “Be watchful! Be alert!” (Mark 13:33). This is not a call to passively wait for the risen Jesus to come again. This is a call to engage in an active watchfulness by putting your spiritual life in order. It is a challenge to put Christ at the center of your life, over all other pursuits, ambitions, or involvements.

 

Advent is a time for generous good works in which kindness and care for others supersedes self-absorption and concern. Openheartedness creates room for Christ’s vital presence. The distractions of Christmas can often lead to a passive waiting for the coming of Christ. You may find Christmas coming and going with little change in your life. So, “be alert!” and focus on the significance of this holy season.

 

In what ways is God’s grace urging you to a more conscious awareness of the presence of Christ and a deeper relationship with him in this Advent season?

 

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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“’Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me’” (Matthew 25:34-36).

This is the end of Matthew’s apocalypse series ─ a succession of parables in which Jesus talks about the end times. In it, Jesus sets out the standards for final judgment.

“’Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one these least of brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40).

God’s love and care is for all people. Those who treat others with compassion are blessed and experience the reign of God. By showing love to others, we show love to God. God created all of us and dwells in everyone.

We will be judged based on our acts of kindness to the needy. We are not being asked to donate huge amounts of money or give every free hour to volunteering. We are being asked to share a little of our food with the hungry, to visit the sick, or to sit with a hurting friend. We don’t do these things just to enter the kingdom of heaven. We do these things because Jesus tells us that what we do to the least of our brothers, we do to him.

Do you make it a habit to reach out to help those around you? How does your faith impact the things you do every day?

Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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It was common in the time of Jesus for a master to leave some servants in charge of his affairs when he went on a journey. This master knew his servants well. He entrusted the savvier ones with greater responsibility. But even a less qualified servant might be left with some responsibility – as in the case Jesus describes in one of his parables.

“After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had receive the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back’” (Matthew 25: 19-26).

The master was risk taker. He didn’t just allow things to happen; he made them happen. Keeping his talent safe wasn’t good enough. Growth was the only option.

“His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten’” (Matthew 25: 26-28).

In their master’s absence, the successful servants acted just as the master would. For their accomplishments, the master rewarded them with more responsibility. The “wicked” servant did not follow his master’s example. He was punished by having his one talent taken away and then being thrown to the darkness outside.

Once we discover the talents we have been entrusted with, we must show gratitude to God for these gifts by nurturing them and putting them to good use. As members of the Body of Christ, we must use our talents to promote the values of God. When we do, we find our greatest success.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells this parable in the midst of other stories about the end times. As we wait for the second coming of the Son of Man, we must act as Jesus did. If we do so, we can be proud to present these accomplishments to God when we meet him face to face.

What gifts and talents have you discovered in yourself? How might you use them in ways that will build up the Body of Christ?

Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, ‘Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.’ His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me. At this the Jews answered and said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his Body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken” (John 2:13-22).
 
The Lateran Basilica was dedicated in the fourth century, housed the bishop of Rome (the pope) for centuries, and is still considered the mother church of all churches. Yet it is sometimes difficult for many Catholics to understand the importance of commemorating the dedication of a church. In much the same way, it was difficult for the people in today’s gospel reading to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words. The Scripture explains that when Jesus spoke of the destruction of the Temple he was speaking of his own body. If Jesus meant himself when he said “Temple,” what do we mean when we say “Church”?
 
This is a question that has been discussed and debated throughout the history of Christianity. There is a whole discipline, called ecclesiology, dedicated to the question of what “Church” means. This week’s liturgy can help us explore that question. The second reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians says that we are God’s building, and it challenges us to recognize ourselves as the temple of our God. In an opening prayer and in the preface for this feast, the Church is described as a temple of “living stones.”
 
In today’s gospel reading, the moneychangers have violated the sanctity of the Temple as the house of worship, and Jesus angrily drives them out. To us, the Gospel says we should rid ourselves of the things that prevent us from being what we are intended to be: a dwelling place for the Spirit, a temple of the Lord.
 
Before the dedication of the Lateran Basilica, Christians met in houses to listen to the Scriptures, to pray together, and to “break bread,” an expression commonly used by early Christian communities. These communities were small, and their members were often persecuted for believing that God dwelt within them.
 
With this dedication began the possibility of gathering these small Christian communities together to worship their God as one Church of living stones, a Church of which the foundation stone is Christ.
 
Part of today’s feast is celebrating the freedom to be Christians in public. These readings also call us to the responsibility that comes with that freedom. Do others look at us as living stones? Do we look at ourselves as living stones—as even more a part of the Church than any building could ever be?
 
Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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