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little-girl-singing-in-churchPope Francis titled his landmark document on evangelization The Joy of the Gospel. It is a beautiful title for a beautiful work in which the Holy Father reminds us how we should truly live as Catholics. It pushes us to consider the question, do we actually live that joy?
 
On a recent weekend, I went to Mass with my brother and niece. There was a little girl, about three years old, in the pew in front of us. Whenever we would sing, or at the end of communal prayers, she would let out a shout of “YAY!” that reverberated through the church. Her parents tried to shush her, but every so often, she would shout again and giggle to herself, making everyone around her smile.
 
As we walked out to the car after Mass, my brother commented that there were far worse sounds a small child could make during Mass, to which I responded, “If only we could all be that happy to go to church!”
 
It made me stop and think. Are we that happy to go to church? Do we come to the altar with hearts full of joy, or do we see our Sunday obligation as just that, an obligation? Have we forgotten the power of the ritual of the Mass, only seeing the routine and the rote?
 
Every week, we witness a miracle. We see simple bread and wine transformed into our Savior. We receive the very body and blood of Jesus in the miracle of the Eucharist, and this should be a cause for great rejoicing.
 
We hear the very word of God proclaimed to the community of believers. How do we allow ourselves to forget the wonder and joy this should evoke?
 
We cannot come to the Mass with the cynical eyes of the modern world. We must come to the Mass with the joy-filled eyes of a people who know they are loved unconditionally by their God—a people who know that “God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son.”
 
This is our challenge. The next time you walk through the doors of a church, try to hear in your mind, and more importantly feel in your heart, the words of the psalmist: “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”
 
Jennifer Bober is a RENEW Marketing Associate with both non-profit and publishing experience. In addition to her marketing career, she is a professional liturgical musician.

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“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Matthew 1:18-24).
 
In many ways in this narrative, Joseph assumes a role on our behalf. He was a righteous man, pious and observant. He loved his fiancée and would not disgrace her, even when he had been humiliated by the turn of events. In a dream, he was asked to trust and to believe in the improbable.
 
We don’t actually see Joseph’s reaction, but accounts of the birth narrative often present Joseph as angry, bewildered, and hurt. His pride had been wounded and his role as a husband and father had been usurped. In this light, the action he ultimately takes demonstrates a staggering trust. He did as the dream-angel commanded and took Mary home as his wife. Without the dream, Joseph would have divorced Mary out of shame for the sin of adultery he thought she bore in her womb. And yet this very child, the angel explained, would be the vehicle for forgiving sin among all of Joseph’s people.
 
The angel does not predict a revolution in flames. The angel makes prophecy personal—Joseph is asked to amend his righteousness with an action so illogical and difficult that he was no longer sure who he was. And yet, like John, Joseph is a crucial stone in paving the way, a man who shoulders a personal burden to help his people prepare. Joseph is our representative of trust. Of course Mary would have given birth after a divorce. Joseph plays a vital role in keeping with the Advent focus on believing or accepting what is painful and difficult while having faith in a promise of mercy and redemption.
 
– How have you been asked by God to go against your initial instincts?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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adventAlmighty God,
sometimes we find ourselves so confused
by many different messages and messengers
that it is hard for us to sort out the truth.
Through the help of your Holy Spirit
give us the wisdom to listen well
as we prepare to make decisions in our lives.
Amen.
 
From Advent Awakenings, Year A: Trust the Lord.

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MaryToday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The mystery of the Immaculate Conception refers to the fact that Mary was conceived without original sin.
 
Human beings have inherited the burden of the first sin against God, which is dramatized in the story of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. We are cleansed of that burden by the sacrament of baptism, through which we receive the grace Jesus won for us with his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.
 
Mary, who was to be the mother of God, was spared the stain of that sin.
 
A feast based on this mystery was celebrated in Syria as early as the fifth century. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed by Pope Alexander VII in 1661, and it was defined as a dogmatic teaching of the church by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
 
Adapted from RENEW International’s At Prayer With Mary, available in our online bookstore.

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skyrocketsDuring one of our visits to my family in Italy, my cousin asked on a Thursday morning if we wanted to attend Mass that evening.
 
My relatives live in a tiny village that hasn’t changed appreciably since my grandparents left it more than a hundred years ago; in fact, the house the Paolinos live in hasn’t changed appreciably since it was built in the late 1680s.
 
In such a place, “events” that extend beyond eating meals, gathering eggs, and milking the goat, are rare.
 
So we would have accepted my cousin’s invitation almost regardless of what he was inviting us to.
 
The Mass—which turned out to be a devotion to St. Nicholas of Bari followed by the liturgy—was to begin at 6.
 
The parish church, as are many in Italy, is dedicated to St. Nicholas, a fourth-century Greek prelate whose reputation gave rise to the legend of Santa Claus.
 
After eating an early supper, we were sitting around in the house at about 5:30 when we were jolted by a series of loud explosions coming from nearby.
 
That is, my wife and I were jolted; my family hardly reacted except by laughing at us.
 
The source of the noise, it turned out, was a young man crouching on a hill above the village church and launching skyrockets—the local means of calling people to prayer.
 
This seemed incongruous to me at first; I had never associated fireworks with the celebration of the Eucharist. I even wondered if it was appropriate.
 
But as I reflected on it, it occurred to me that the spirit expressed by launching those skyrockets, rather than being out of place, was something to aspire to.
 
The skyrockets, which continued even as we were walking the short distance from my family’s house to the church, seemed to say, “Listen up! Something amazing is about to happen. Don’t miss it!”
 
Given the sparse population in the mountains where this event took place, and given the obscure location of the village, the turnout for a weeknight of devotions and Mass was respectable—including a youngish folk group that provided the music.
 
What did these villagers experience that was so amazing that it was announced by skyrockets? That people—regardless of what might distinguish them one from another—were about to gather as one family and, together, express their gratitude to God for his grace, express their good will toward each other and toward the world at large, and then become one with each other, with the whole Church, and, in a sense, with all of Creation, by sharing the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
 
December 6 is the feast day of St. Nicholas of Bari.
 
This post also appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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