The Beauty of Catholic EducationThe Beauty of Catholic Education II: November Feasts

The arrival of November signals the waning of 2014. This month brings us three important days, each with its own meaning.  This year, the feast of Christ the King falls on November 23rd. On Thursday, November 27th, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, and on Sunday, November 30th, the Church begins the new liturgical year beginning with the first Sunday of Advent.

Christ the King; Christ Our King or “Lord, To Whom Shall We Go” (Jn 6:67)?

We Americans have little or no direct experience with kings, queen, or monarchies.  We see them only from afar.  Temporal monarchs can point to Christ the King, the feast we celebrate on November 23rd. Unlike temporal monarchs, he is the world’s salvation. He is the shepherd-king who lays down His life for His sheep (Jn 10:1-30). Catholic educators must propose to our students the enormity of St Peter’s question and answer: “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68).  The response must be left to the students’ freedom.

Why has the Church’s celebration of Christ the King assumed a new urgency?  In 1925, Pope Pius XI proclaimed this feast to overcome the prevailing errors of the time—materialism, secularism, and relativism.  Today, unbelief, religious indifference, and a neo-paganism have been added to the list.  Taken all together, they pose a direct assault on a moral and a Christian way of living.  Millions of disaffected and non-practicing Catholics have exited the Church only to ally themselves with some of these tendencies.  Our youth are targets of these false teachings.

Reverence for the Name of Jesus

Ours is a Christophobic culture.  Except perhaps for purposes of swearing, the name of Jesus Christ has been banished from polite company and from the public square.  Mention the name Jesus Christ more than once, and you are branded a “Christ-er.” Whether in science, dialogue among religious groups in pursuit of peace and mutual respect, most conversations barely tolerate the name of God, let alone the name of Jesus Christ. 

One of the most enduring lessons Catholic teachers can impart to their students is to reverence the name of Jesus.  Jesus is the name that saves.  Jesus is the one who saves.  Young people should be taught that the most powerful prayer contained in one word:  “Jesus.”  Or, as one English litany has it: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be unto me a Jesus.”   When all other prayers are forgotten, this one endures.  It is most comforting in times of difficulty.

Jesus Christ Calls Each and All to Discipleship

When Jesus called his disciples, both men and women, to share in his life and mission, they followed him without hesitation. He was an exceedingly attractive, human, and charismatic person.  The call to follow him continues to goes out to all of us and to each of us. In the Broadway musical Godspell, the song asks of Jesus:  Lord, “day by day [may we] “see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.”   

Ambassadors for Christ  

Against the attack on Christianity, the feast of Christ the King boldly affirms the sovereignty and rule of Christ over persons, families, human society, the state, and the entire universe.  Great figures in history have built a better world, but there is none other than Jesus Christ who saved the world.

Each of us is called to be an “ambassador for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20). While it is unacceptable to impose Catholicism on others of different faith-traditions, the Church proposes the faith to others by word and example. The response to this call is nothing less than the witness of one’s life lived in Christ—a far more persuasive way to build his kingdom than direct proselytizing. 

Thanksgiving Day

‘You can never say thank-you enough,’ the Jews learned from their Exodus experience. Their Passover meal, celebrated in a hurry, was filled with praise and thanksgiving for the wonders God did in rescuing them from slavery in Egypt.  On every Sabbath, Jewish prayer blesses and gives thanks to God.  These psalms of blessing and thanksgiving were prayed daily, but in the Passover banquet, they held a special significance. 
On Thanksgiving Day, Americans bless and thank God for the American dream and the American way of life.

We can never take for granted the food placed before us in great abundance on this day. It is a reminder that we are receivers when we take nourishment to keep us healthy. Therefore, a meal prompts us to acknowledge our own creatureliness by means of a prayer of thanks which is bound up with the meal. In Catholicism, men and women are double receivers.  For we are blessed beyond measure; God gives us his Son as nourishment in the Eucharist. The prayer of thanks strikes the right tone as we respond to God's wondrous benefits to us.  Thanksgiving to God should be the very basis of Christian conduct, that thanksgiving which has been the prayer—the Eucharistic prayer since the early Church.  When it is combined with giving thanks for the fruits of the earth, we are participating in the highest of God’s gifts.

Advent Beauty

Beginning on November 30th, the Church enters a new season, a new anticipation, and a new beauty.  Advent is the one season of the Church that luxuriates in soaring imagery, replete with the rich imagination of the prophets, especially that of Isaiah.

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The many art forms that flower during this season awaken the soul to God and the things of God.  In the Eucharistic liturgy, the senses are awakened to praise God.  Whether in word, sound, color, or stone, the liturgical arts reflect and mediate the saving mysteries if Jesus in symbolic ways.  Together we live out the anticipation of the Messiah and his actual coming in the flesh—the Creator of matter became matter for us, and through matter, redeemed us.

The new liturgical years begins with Advent, the Latin word which means coming. Advent is filled with expectation beginning with the ritual of the Advent wreath, lighting of the candles, and accompanying prayers at Sunday Mass. Advent is not just an anticipation of the Lord’s Nativity; it is the time when the Church eagerly awaits with hope the coming of our Emmanuel, God-with-us,  expressed in the prayer, “Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus” (1Cor 16:22).  

The Christmas season has its proper liturgical place, beginning at midnight on Christmas Eve and concludes in January on the feast of Epiphany.  December 1st to December 16th recalls Christ’s historic coming at the Incarnation and at the Parousia to fulfill the divine plan.  December 17th to December 24th celebrates the prophecies of his coming and his birth of the Virgin-Mother.  During the Advent season, at Mass, purple and rose vestments are worn, the latter on the Third Sunday (Gaudete [Rejoice] Sunday).  The key phrase is “Come, O Emmanuel, God-with-us.”

Seeking Light in the Darkness; Hope in the Midst of Despair

In part two of the Book of Isaiah, this “the fifth evangelist,” imagines and even predicts the advent of the Messiah in soaring poetry, captured so beautifully in George Friedrich Händel’s oratorio, “Messiah.” Isaiah expresses the profound longings of the heart which erupt within the spirit regardless of age, but especially during this Advent-Christmas season.  Sometimes the heart wants something but doesn’t know what it wants; it can’t put its finger on it.

Advent is an attitude of mind and a way of living.  The season is lovely with expectation that the Lord will make his consoling voice heard on Christmas Day if we enter into Advent prayer.  As the fall comes to a close and the darkness of winter begins to set in, Advent affords the individual the inner space to think about the meaning of life, what is important, and what one is doing with one’s life to leave it more beautiful than when we entered it. It takes quiet time to wonder and to contemplate the beautiful mystery of this season as we wait and hope with great expectation the great mystery of the Lord’s coming again in our midst.  Living the exuberant season of Advent is all about transformation into Christ who takes possession of the heart.  Then, to be this transforming catalyst wherever we live and work. The whole meaning of being a Christian is to become transformed, bit by bit, into Jesus Christ and “to put on Christ.” 

Family Celebration of Advent

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The family can celebrate the Advent season in many ways.  The Advent calendar gives children a way of sanctifying each day with an Advent scripture passage. The Advent wreath, with accompanying ceremony, symbolizes eternity; the evergreens, eternal life; the purple candles and ribbon, preparation; the rose candle; and the four candles, the four weeks and four thousand years of waiting.  The Jesse Tree gives the lineage of Jesus: “The shoot shall grow from the root of Jesse” (Is 11:1).  In the custom of Kris Kindl, a person’s name is picked out of a hat as one’s “little Christ Child.” 

Throughout Advent, one prays for his or her Kris and may send Kris a note to say so. Just before Christmas, the pray-er gives his or her Kris Kindl a gift of prayer offerings and a small gift as a remembrance of that Advent. 

The Catholic Church’s vocation is to bring to the world beauty, truth, and goodness—all of which are crowned with unselfish love.  And, the season of Advent again sets in motion the wonder of the Church’s year of grace.

This is part of the author's series on Catholic education. To read more on this topic by Sr. Joan, click here.

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