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In Advent: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving

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By Chris Sparks (Dec 6, 2018)
O come, O come, Emmanuel …
This year, there's something more plaintive than usual about that traditional hymn. After all, the present state of affairs in the Church on earth is crisis, confusion, and the revelation of tremendous misdeeds. Wouldn't it be great if Jesus could just come down, set everything straight, and make sure all is well again?

Here's the thing: Jesus has been coming to us in the Sacraments in a continuous way since the establishment of the Church. He's been speaking to us through the created order, through the Scriptures, through the Tradition, through the Magisterium, and through the lives and teachings of saints and Doctors of the Church. He has come in special, approved private revelations to saints and mystics like St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), giving us special messages and devotions of extraordinary power to answer the challenges of our present age. And Jesus has been sending His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, as well as any number of other angels and saints to bring us messages, offer us powerful devotions, and set us on the right course.

So what can we learn from all of this that might help us clean house in the Church on earth and respond to the present crisis in a way that might actually save our souls, help heal the Church, and bear witness to Jesus in the present age?

Let's start with a look at Advent itself. Advent is a season of both justice and mercy. It's a penitential season, though that's often forgotten. And it's focused on preparing our souls to joyfully celebrate Christmas, the great Solemnity of the Nativity of Christ. We mark His Incarnation, which took place 2,000 years ago; we mark His coming to us in Word and Sacrament, in everyday life and through all the works of His hands; and we look forward with joyful expectation to Christ's coming again at the end of the world
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So Advent teaches us to do justice in order to be prepared to receive mercy. We are to repent of our sins, do penance, and live the moral law He's given to us in the Scriptures and Tradition, the law of love modeled for us by the saints, in order to be wide open to the mercy of God. We are also to seek for justice in the Church and the world, following and spreading the Church's social teaching, so that we may help usher in a culture of life, leading to a civilization of merciful love.

After all, as we now know, we rarely witness justice for victims of abuse at the hands of clergy. It seems all too infrequent that justice is meted out to abusers.

Both Church and Caesar are rectifying that now, both the ecclesiastical system of justice and the secular system of justice gathering evidence, rendering verdicts, and handing down sentences. We owe it to the victims to encourage this process of justice, to make our voices heard in favor of justice for the victims in order to be merciful to other vulnerable people.

We ought also to work for the reform of the Church, following the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and remembering that reform is about returning to the original intention of the Founder, not making the Church over in our own image. We can help with prayer and participation in the Sacraments, as well as writing to our priests, bishops, and other members of the Church in positions of authority to support true, lasting reform to prevent this sort of crisis from ever happening again.

And, of course, as we are called in every penitential season, we need to help to reform the Church by working to reform ourselves. Taking up the mighty tools of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, let us answer the call of Christ to all Christians, all Friends of Mercy, for He demands works of mercy from us and will not be denied (see Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1317).

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