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Catholics Urged to Focus on Holy Family, the Eucharist During Advent

This image of the Holy Family hangs in the office of Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, Tenn. For Advent, parishes throughout the Diocese of Nashville planned to implement a focus on the Holy Family as part of an initiative announced by Bishop Spalding called “The Gift of a Child: An Advent Celebration of the Family.” (Photo: Catholic News Service)

By Katie Peterson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CNS) — In the Diocese of Nashville, Bishop J. Mark Spalding has asked Catholics to focus on the Holy Family this Advent.

“The idea came up in praying over the season of Advent and challenges in our world today,” Bishop Spalding said.

“When you read through the Scriptures and examine all the major feasts, the gift of a child is very clearly presented,” he said, “whether we’re pondering the Scriptures about John the Baptist announcing Jesus’ coming, the angel Gabriel announcing the gift of Jesus to Mary, or the significant feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe, the announcement of Christ and the joy of that announcement are made evident.

The diocese has launched an initiative called “The Gift of a Child: An Advent Celebration of the Family.” Each week of Advent focuses on a different theme — Marriage and the Gift of a Child, Motherhood, Fatherhood and Family — which all lead up to the Christmas theme of “The Gift of The Child.”

Across the country, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila in his pastoral note for Advent tied preparation for Christmas to the three-year National Eucharistic Revival, urging the faithful to use the season to strengthen their relationship with Christ through the Eucharist.

In the Seattle Archdiocese, Auxiliary Bishop Frank R. Schuster noted that while “all the malls around the world” go straight to Christmas after Thanksgiving, Catholics “recognize there is another season in between, a forgotten season — the season of Advent.”

In Nashville, the diocese’s Office of Media and Evangelization and the Office of Faith Formation are providing resources to pastors to keep the idea of the Holy Family and accompanying weekly themes in the forefront of the minds of Catholics throughout the diocese.

“In our day and time, any support we can give to families is greatly appreciated,” Bishop Spalding said ahead of the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 27. “The church’s teaching concerning family and marriage and fatherhood and motherhood is good, true and beautiful.”

Along with the prayer cards, posters, and videos, the Office of Faith Formation has provided a compendium for each theme to support pastors and catechetical leaders in their efforts to bring the themes into their individual parishes. The compendia provide pastors with a list of quotes and passages ranging from magisterial quotes, quotes from various theologians, lay experts, and more that coincide with the readings of each Sunday.

“The purpose of this initiative is to focus and strengthen the core message of family and the church starting with the child and radiating outward to the Holy Family and on to the traditional family and then, ultimately, to the diocesan family,” said Joe Cacopardo, director of marketing and strategic communications for the Office of Media and Evangelization.

“Bishop Spalding really wanted to focus on the core values of the family and the strength it brings to each other, the parents, the children, and the community at large,” he told the Tennessee Register, Nashville’s diocesan newspaper.

“Advent is a time when people are thinking about family life a little bit more compared to other times through the year because of the Nativity of the Lord … so that automatically brings to mind the Holy Family and family life in general,” added Kristen Rainey, assistant director of marriage and family for the Office of Faith Formation. “It’s a prime time to focus on the goodness of family, marriage, and the gift of children.

“St. John Paul II stressed the family as the fundamental cell of society, so for a healthy society to exist, it’s necessary to have healthy families,” she added.

“This initiative is meant to bring that idea to the forefront of people’s minds leading up to Christmas,” she explained, “and how we can imitate the Holy Family in our own homes to strengthen the domestic church and showcase the goodness of God’s design in the way that he’s made us as male and female and the family structure.”

In his pastoral note, titled “Were Not Our hearts Burning?” Archbishop Aquila said: “The question that concerns me, as your shepherd and brother is: Do our hearts really burn out of love for Christ?”

“It would be easy to be satisfied by the many faithful who still follow the Lord’s command and worship him at Mass,” he said. “Yet, Jesus longs for all of us to burn with love for him. If we are to spread authentic eucharistic devotion to the world, our aim must be to foster a burning love for the person of Jesus Christ as much as, if not more than, a correct understanding of the doctrine of the real presence.”

“During the Advent Season … there will be preaching on the Eucharist, with a focus on love — charity,” Archbishop Aquila said. “The Eucharist is the sacrament of charity.”

He encouraged the faithful to nourish their love for the Eucharist during Advent by “prayerfully” reading the story of Emmaus in Luke 24:19-34 and John 6: 22-71 “either at home or at eucharistic adoration.”

“As we prepare to celebrate the Word made flesh at Christmas, so too does the Lord become flesh in every Eucharist throughout the world,” he added.

In a Nov. 26 column for Northwest Catholic, Seattle’s archdiocesan news outlet, Bishop Schuster explained the two themes Advent explores. “The first unites our hearts with the ancient Hebrews, who kept vigil for centuries awaiting the coming of the Messiah,” he said.

“The second … calls us all to keep vigil for the return of Jesus at the end of time, when he will judge the living and the dead,” Bishop Schuster said. “Both themes say: We are mortal and our time is limited. We are sinners and we need a savior. We need Jesus.”

“My friends, as hopeful as we all are for a blessed Christmas this year, I think it is spiritually healthy to stay in Advent until Christmas arrives. From Advent wreaths, spiritual reading and simple acts of kindness and charity to those in need, there are so many ways we can stay in this season,” he added the bishop, who also is pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Federal Way, Washington.

“Most of all, Advent calls us to pray. With all the worries that weigh heavy on the heart, we are invited into our parish churches to pray in sanctuaries wrapped in violet,” he said, referring to the liturgical color associated with the season, signifying it is a time of prayer, penance and sacrifice.

“By doing so, we will not lose sight of the light that is beginning to appear just beyond the horizon, who is Christ and Lord,” he said.