Gathering the Sheep
DECEMBER 9, 2018
The readings for the Second Week of Advent offer both encouragement and challenge during this brief but im-portant season of the liturgical year. Recall from last week that the purpose of this season is reflection on and prepa-ration for the two “comings” of Christ—His coming as a baby on the great feast of Christmas, and the anticipation of His second coming at the end of time.
Our First Reading, from Baruch, is a wonderful reminder that God has already triumphed over sin and death and that we, His faithful disciples, will live in the light of His glory one day. “Up, Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remem-bered by God...For God has commanded that every loft mountain be made low...that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God...for God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for compa-ny.”
Until He comes again, we must remain faithful to Him as true disciples and good stewards of all the gifts He has given us. While it can be tempting to give in to the materialism and calls for self-indulgence that surround us, (ironically more than ever at this time of year), this reading calls us back to the spiritual reality that this life is passing and that we are made for eternal life with God. We are called to prepare for eternal life by the way that we use our time, our talents and our treasure now.
In the Second Reading, the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, Paul gives us a pep talk as we make our stewardship journey, and we modern-day disciples can take heart in his words. He tells us, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Paul reminds us of two important realities that should greatly encourage us. First, that the stewardship way of life is very much a journey. We don’t have to have every aspect of our life perfectly nailed down; we are all “works in progress” called simply to take one step at a time closer to Christ. Second, it is God who started this good work in us—on the day of our Baptism—He cares deeply about this journey of ours and He will give us all the grace and strength we need to stay faithful to Him and continue growing in love and imitation of Christ.
The Gospel reading from Luke shows us how personal and detailed is God’s love for humanity as He prepared the way for Christ’s coming among us. We are told the precise time, place and person, as He appointed John the Baptist to announce the arrival of our Savior. Through John, we are told how to cele-brate to the fullest this first “coming” on the feast of Christmas and how to prepare for the second coming—through repentance.
This Advent let’s turn away from any bad habits or sin that may have crept into our lives and turn our hearts and minds back to Christ. This is what the stewardship way of life is all about—moving ever closer in relationship with Christ and imitation of Him, ready to celebrate His birth, with eyes fixed on eternal life with Him.
“Praying as a Family”
In ways large and small, parents seek what is best for their children. This desire is expressed in a variety of practical ways every day, such as preparing healthy foods, ensuring adequate opportunity for sleep, teaching good manners, and sharing enriching activities as a family. Incorporating prayers of blessing into your family’s daily routine is another way to express this desire for the very best for your children. When we pray for God’s blessing, we acknowledge that God is the source of all that is good. In prayer, we ask God to bless us, to bless others, and to bless our activities. We do so with confidence and trust in God, who also seeks what is best for each of us. To pray in blessing for our children is to join our desires for them with God’s own desire for them. Daily life provides parents with many opportunities to offer prayers of blessing with and for their children.
Bedtime Blessings—As part of bedtime prayers, invite your child to name the people he or she would like to pray for. This can take the form of a simple litany, praying, “god bless…” as your child names family and friends. As your child grows older, you might offer a simple prayer intention for each person as you pray. For example, if a sibling is sick, you might ask for God’s healing presence, praying, “God bless (name) and help her/him to feel better soon.” Later, you might suggest that your child offer the prayer intention. Conclude by praying your own prayer of blessing for your child as you trace the Sign of the Cross on your child’s forehead.
Morning Blessings—Even in the most organized households, mornings can become a frenzy of activity as family members prepare to leave for work, day care, school, and daily errands. Establishing a morning routine that includes a prayer of blessing for family members as they leave the home can help to strengthen and encourage each person to live faithfully as a follower of Jesus. Ask each family member to name par-ticular challenges or activities he or she may face during the day, and pray together, asking God to bless each person and his/her activities. Parents can trace the Sign of the Cross on each child’s forehead in blessing before leaving the house each day.
Mealtime Blessings—The importance of gathering for family meals cannot be over-stated. Not only are meals important for providing daily nourishment, but they are also occasions for strengthening our spirits by connecting with the people who are most central to our lives.
Meals are natural occasions for prayers of blessings. We pray in thanks to God for his goodness to us. We ask God to bless our food and make our lives a blessing to others. Pray together Grace Before Meals and Grace After Meals. Mealtime can also be an opportunity to ask family members to name the good things that God has shared with them throughout the day and to pray together in thanksgiving.
Blessings in Times of Transition and Difficulty—God walks with us through the challenges and difficulties of life. Prayers of blessing call forth God’s protection and remind us of God’s faithfulness. We can ask for God’s blessing when we make deci-sions, large and small, and pray for family members and friends who are discerning life choices about new jobs, college choice, vocation to marriage, or religious life. We can pray for God’s blessings when we move to a new home. We can ask God to bless those who are sick and offer prayers of blessing together when family members are sick. And we pray for God to bless those who are near death and those who have died.
Incorporating Items Blessed for Prayer—The Church has a rich sacramental tradi-tion. Holy water and blessed candles can be brought into the home and used for fami-ly prayer. Crosses, crucifixes, rosaries, statues, and icons can be blessed by a priest, making them holy reminders of God’s power and presence in our lives. Display these sacred objects in your home and make them focal points for your family prayer.