The Spiritual Renewal in Advent Series - Catholic Action For Faith and Family

The “Spiritual Renewal in Advent” Series: Part 1

Rend the Heavens and Come Down, Lord!

If you’re paying attention to all that is happening in our world today, you may often feel like the Prophet Isaiah who asked God to tear the heavens apart and come rescue us. The poetic language is as beautiful as it is passionate: 

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you” (First Reading, Isaiah 63: 19).

It is the cry of a desperate man.

In ancient times, men tore their garments when they were grieving over something, and here, Isaiah is grieving over the wretched state of humanity, steeped in sin from the start. He’s not asking “pretty please” of God—He’s begging:

Come, Lord! Only you can help us!

But Isaiah’s cry isn’t just a lament about how terrible the world has become. That’s true in itself, but there’s more to it from the standpoint of faith. Isaiah’s cry also expresses a fundamental truth: we cannot save ourselves. We need a savior!

So it’s not just: Come, because only you can fix these problems. Rather, it’s Come, Lord, because only you can save our souls!

That is the attitude of Advent and the reason why we read Isaiah on the very first Sunday. Advent is a time of reckoning and petitioning. Everything in this season is geared to reminding us of the humble truth that we cannot possibly be free of the world, the flesh, and the devil without the grace of God. 

But Isaiah’s cry of the heart is full of hope. In fact, it is eventually fulfilled in Advent, or more precisely, at the end of Advent. God does actually “rend the heavens” and descend from His lofty throne to enter the human theater and rescue us. He answers that prophetic cry of the heart. 

Then He goes even further. He takes on human nature itself to save us. This is something never before conceived by the mind of man or angel. All religions believe in “gods” of one sort or another, but Christianity is the only religion that teaches that the infinite God actually became man (Emmanuel). 

Our God came down to be with us and to save us. And He continues to come down to all those who cry from their hearts to Him:

Come, Lord Jesus! Rend the heavens and come. Truly, only you can save us!

So, as we start the season of Advent, let’s make a pact with ourselves and our Church. Let’s humbly and deeply admit that if it weren’t for His grace, we would be slaves to sin and would end up in the kingdom of darkness for all eternity because the devil is much stronger than we are. Let’s just frankly admit that we cannot save ourselves.

Then, with Isaiah, we pray. 

Let us first of all pray for our families. The culture is dead-set against us. It is a time of warfare on marriage and family like never before in the history of man. But God is the author of these institutions, and He will not be deaf to our prayers. 

Then let us pray for our country. It is literally coming apart at the seams, and this is the deliberate work of the awful people who are in leadership over us. Time will tell how all this political-cultural wreckage plays out, but we need to pray. We have no option, as St. Paul says, but to “pray for kings and all those in authority” (1 Tim 2:2). 

Finally, and above all, let us pray for our Church. If society is breaking down, it is because the Church is weak in its spiritual mission. There are many reasons for that which we have spoken about in our messages, but we must not forget that the Church is a divine institution, guided by the Holy Spirit through history. God will hear our prayers for the restoration of the Church.

Above all, we pray that Christ will come and rescue His Bride so that, through His Church, the souls of every human being will be saved.

Only you can save us, Lord! Come Lord Jesus!


The “Spiritual Renewal in Advent” Series: Part 2

Overcoming Our Mountains and Filling Our Valleys

If you’ve been attentive to the Season of Advent over the years, you’ll know that the Prophet Isaiah figures largely in the Church’s Advent readings. Isaiah gave the people of Israel a vision of the Kingdom of God centuries before the coming of Christ. 

So it is not surprising that another prophet, John the Baptist, found his whole identity in the words of Isaiah. John was quoting Isaiah when he called himself “a voice crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord!” 

Isaiah saw from a distance what John saw directly before his eyes: Israel’s salvation was at hand. But, as we know, it was not a message that was easily accepted. Only those who were spiritually pure could see it, so John had no other choice but to tell them, fervently: Prepare yourselves!

Advent is a time of inner preparation and renewal. It’s a time to prepare a pathway, a highway, for the One who is much mightier than even the great John the Baptist. And that pathway runs right through the human soul.

How are we to make these spiritual preparations? Well, again, Isaiah provides the answer: “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill be made low” so that the Lord’s grace can enter our lives in new ways. But often we put barriers to Christ that must be cleared out for grace to have its effect. 

Let’s start with leveling our mountains of pride: Advent is a time to overcome selfish tendencies and find ways to be more generous. But note: This kind of generosity does not require buying more Christmas presents! You would miss the message entirely if you thought that God was asking for a material response to His call.

It means being humbler and giving to others more generously on a daily basis in a way people really need, not in a way we want them to need. It’s a time to stop nitpicking and complaining and let the non-essential issues go. It’s a time to let the other person get the last word and not hold on to resentments. 

With John we can say: “He must increase, I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). In other words: Christ must be the center of my world, not me.

Then we need to address our valleys of neglect: We all know what parts of our duty we should be doing, or doing better, but are avoiding for some reason or another. 

Certain responsibilities are part of our vocations, our family life, and our jobs. We need to address these obligations with much greater diligence if we are to pave a clear and wide path of entrance to the Lord into our hearts. It’s not that everything in our lives has the same weight of obligation, but it is important to be clear about what is the essence of our own calling from the Lord. 

These little (or large) negligences in meeting our obligations are the valleys that need to be filled in during Advent. Our vocations are His way of sanctifying us, and we can only be truly holy, and for that matter fully human, if we accomplish all our duties out of love for Him and others. 

It’s not easy to have prophets like Isaiah and John the Baptist around who challenge us to live the fundamentals of our faith more deeply, but that is why they are gifts to us. The King came once in history as a Baby. He will be coming again at the end of time as a conquering Hero. 

In the meantime, He comes to each of us spiritually, so it’s time to level mountains and fill in valleys and “make straight the way of the Lord” into our hearts this Advent season!


The “Spiritual Renewal in Advent” Series: Part 3

The Audacity of Risking All for Christ

On two Sundays of Advent this year we are presented with the fabulous but disturbing image of a man who stands in a desert telling people to “Prepare the way of the Lord!” 

The great John the Baptist calls us to repent of our sins and to make straight all our distorted habits and lifestyles. That is a tough but important message that goes directly against a society that drags us more and more into sin and away from God. John wants us fully ready for Christ! 

That’s why he is willing to tell us not what we want to hear but what we need to hear in order to prepare us for Christ’s coming. He reminds us that we must straighten out our lives in order to be better able to receive the Redeemer. 

It is helpful to remind ourselves of the risks that John the Baptist took to live out his own calling as the Precursor of the Messiah. Above all, he issued a challenge to King Herod who was an immoral man with a murderous temperament. You may also recall that he labeled the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” for their lack of repentance! 

Clearly, John did not fear Herod or any other man. The one John feared most was God. John so desperately wanted the whole world to be prepared for Christ that he was willing to risk even the wrath of the most powerful men of his day in the hope that these leaders would have a true conversion of heart and lead their people to conversion. 

John lost his life for preaching that message, but John did not fail. His witness lives on, while Herod and the Pharisees live on only as bad examples for the rest of us! 

The point of John’s life is clear, though: Being a Christian always requires some level of risk, if we wish to make a difference for good in this world. 

Are we willing to risk a friendship or family relationship in order to address a moral issue with a loved one who is not living as Christ commands? Is someone in your family or close circle living in sin? Have you remained quiet to keep the peace or is Christ calling you to address that situation? 

Let’s be honest: Prophetic messages are never easy to deliver—or hear. In fact, they’re heart-wrenching at times, but what happens when immortal souls are at stake? Wouldn’t we want to risk everything for those we love?

Or perhaps our particular risk involves the sacrifice of standing fast when the world wants us to compromise on our Catholic values. But we don’t compromise the Truth of Christ for anyone or anything. 

John the Baptist didn’t seem to have much regard for worldly standards; he lived in the desert, clothed himself in camel’s hair and ate locusts and honey! And yet, because of that sacrificial lifestyle, he had an authority the religious leaders of his day did not have. Nor did he back down to the worldly-minded men who opposed him but rather, reminded them that God has rights too.

Above all, John challenges us to greater zeal for Christ in this Advent season. Renewed hearts are the only real way to renew the world. Social programs and political schemes have their place in making change, but they usually only rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic of our failing society. 

The message of Advent is that we serve society best by being more deeply and personally converted to Christ. 

The transformation of hearts and society is going to require a whole Church full of prophets and saints who are willing to risk many things—including reputations and relationships—for the sake of Christ, who is coming…soon!


The “Spiritual Renewal in Advent” Series: Part 4

The Mother of the Word Incarnate

“Oh Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions, but in thy mercy, hear and answer us!” 

(End of the traditional Memorare prayer.)

Advent symbolizes the waiting that takes place during a pregnancy, and that’s why Our Lady appears as a key figure in the season, perhaps the key figure of all. 

The exalted Virgin Mother prepares us for Christ’s birth by helping us to let go of inner obstacles to grace. She teaches us patience and attentiveness to the movements of the Spirit. Mary is the best guide for our Advent journey because she is the one who waited and watched for the Word Incarnate like no one else in history. 

The Stages of Speech

Let’s use an analogy for this type of waiting. When we consider the phenomenon of human speech, we see that it normally occurs in a three-stage process. 

First, we have an idea of what we want to say. That is the conception stage where the idea takes root in the mind. 

Then, we need to ponder the original idea and mentally formulate the words in language that will express the idea. That is the gestation period of the word, which may be a shorter or longer period of time depending on the importance of the message. 

Finally, we articulate (speak) our word outwardly in speech to make manifest what is inside our minds and hearts. That is the expression stage of speech. Before that, the rest of the development process of the word is internal.

We may not have thought about it before, but a “word” is an amazing hidden reality that comes to light in this distinct three-step process: conception-gestation-expression. 

Sounds something like the way we come to be born, doesn’t it? Conception, gestation, and eventually, birth. 

Divine Self-Expression

God also spoke a Word in human history, and when He did, He used a most worthy instrument of expression: a humble, immaculate virgin named Mary. And He did so in the same three-step process by which every human word is formed. 

At the Annunciation (our Gospel reading this 4th Sunday of Advent), we celebrate the moment when Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. At that point “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). 

During the season of Advent, we celebrate the gestation of the Word in Mary’s womb but also in our hearts through our spiritual preparations. Much like the way a mother becomes more and more aware of the presence of the growing child during the months of pregnancy, we too become more sensitive to the movements of grace during Advent. 

Finally, nine months after conception: birth! Advent only last four weeks, of course, but arriving at Christmas after preparing our hearts during Advent is symbolic of coming to the end of a pregnancy and giving birth to our renewed spirits. 

The Christ Child is now real and present to us in new ways. He is God’s Word who has entered the world in time. The Letter to the Hebrews says:

In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe.

Think about that: Jesus is the Father’s one and only Word, and with that Word, He speaks all we need to know about Him and about His love for mankind. 

Our Guide for the Advent Journey

This year, the Fourth Sunday of Advent is the very day before Christmas. We are literally on the threshold of the Lord’s divine birth!

Let us not lose the opportunity to unite ourselves to Mary, the Mother of the Word Incarnate, and ask her to make all our Advent preparations up to this point fruitful for our souls. 

  • She can teach us prayer because she was attentive to the Word of God in pondering all things in her heart (Luke 2:19). 
  • She can teach us obedience because she was perfectly docile to the word of angel and through him to the Father’s Will (“Be it done unto me according to thy word”, Luke 1:38).
  • She can even teach us redemptive suffering because she was found at Calvary when the disciples had fled (John 19:25): faithful to Christ to the very end.
  • Above all, Mary can train us to enter into that profound dialogue between the Word of God and our souls. 

If anyone knows our deepest concerns about our spiritual lives, our vocations, and our families, Mary does. She has experienced them all. 

Surely, on this final day of Advent, the woman who gave expression to God’s human speech, will not despise our petitions but will hear and answer our prayers. Amen!

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