Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

The End of Days

Today, for the Catholic Church, is the last day of the liturgical year. This evening we begin a new year in Christ, the year of our Lord 2009, with the vigil of the First Sunday of Advent. The introit for the First Sunday of Advent, the first words spoken in the liturgy, are Ad te levavi animam meam, "To Thee I have lifted up my soul," (Ps 25). I hope I won't sound impertinent by saying that the various caretakers of our holy liturgy have, over the millennia, decided well by using verses from this psalm to open the liturgical year.

The liturgical year might be thought of as our life in Christ lived out over the course of a year. The first half of the year celebrates Advent and Christmas, the time in which we remember our Lord God's incarnation and entrance into the world as an honest-to-God human being. Then comes a liturgical pause, known as the Ordinary Time, in which all the regular rules and ordinances of Christian living apply. In this period, the Mass readings focus especially on the basic teachings of our Lord. During Lent, the next phase, we focus on renunciation of the things of the world and interior conversion. Faith, hope, and love, so prominent in the Christian life, crystallize into prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We remember the suffering and death of our Lord during the brief period known as Passiontide that comes at the end of Lent, followed by the Triduum, the three most sacred days of the year, in which the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ are made manifest to us again in the liturgy. The explosion of joy at the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the God-man, at the Easter Vigil and the fifty days of Eastertide (to trump the forty days of Lent) is marked by baptisms, bonnets, confirmations, May Day, parish picnics, and the rest. So the first half of the liturgical year concludes. The second half resumes Ordinary Time and its weekly, daily reflection on what it means to live as a follower of Jesus, as one who wishes to follow Him even into eternity.

And it all begins with a psalm, and sung poem inspired by the Holy Spirit, "To Thee I have lifted up my soul." The world moans in exile from Eden, riddled with sin, mourning in death and death's fall-out zone: bickering friends, starving children, despair, frustration, suffering, and all the things that God never desired for us but that we have brought upon ourselves collectively by our collective sin. We lift up our soul to God, like a mother holding a dying child, like our Blessed Mother grief-stricken and holding her murdered Son. Our heart groans and cracks under the weight of the sadness we are expected to bear, our exile from Eden, our slavery in Egypt, our bondage in Babylon, our weeping in this valley of tears. And God, in his unfathomable love and mercy, stoops down to lift us up, to lift us from the dunghill and set us on a firm rock (Ps. 40), to live with us and to love us face to face. In Advent, we reflect upon our sinful condition, we remember what God has done for us, what God is doing for us, what God will do for us. We remember His first coming into the world, about 2000 years ago; and we attend to His daily return in the People of God, in the proclaimed Gospel, in our private prayers, and especially in the Sacraments and in our sufferings handing over to Him. We look forward to His final return in Glory, the Parousia, at which He will fully, finally manifest His Kingdom, His way of doing things, and set everything to rights.

In the Gospel reading for the I Sunday of Advent (Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37), our Lord warns us to watch, to pay attention, because we do not know when the End will come and so we must stay ready. Moreover, if we do not pay attention, we will miss Him here and now as He begins and continues His saving work in our life. Emmanuel means "God with us," and He is truly with us, and He is coming. This year, lift up your soul to God and watch to see what He does.

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