Second Sunday of Advent

Today we celebrate the Second Sunday of Advent.  The prominent figure in today’s Gospel is John the Baptist.  Isaiah the prophet foretold that there would be a messenger who would prepare the way of the Lord.  We know that John the Baptist was that person.  He came proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins and he baptized many people.  In preparing the way of the Lord, John told those he baptized with water that One mightier than he would come after him and would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  John is a model of one who understands his call from God and who is always conscious of his mission.  He possesses great humility in that he never does or says anything that focuses attention on him.  Rather, he points the way to the One upon whom we need to focus our attention on himself.  John does everything in his power to prepare for Christ by putting himself in the background.   He calls all to conversion that they might prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord.  Last Sunday, we were called to be watchful and alert to the Lord’s presence in our lives.  This week we are called to renewal and conversion (a call we continually receive) so that we may prepare ourselves to welcome the Lord whenever and however he comes to us, now or in the future.  This week, let us think of areas in our lives that need conversion.  Let us also make some plans for the ways in which we intend to prepare ourselves spiritually this Advent Season for the upcoming celebration of the Nativity of the Lord.

Our Advent Communal Penance Liturgy will take place this Tuesday, December 9, at 7:00 PM at Saint Matthew Church.  I encourage you to attend the celebration of the sacrament as it is one of the great opportunities provided by the Church for our spiritual preparation this Advent.  Father TJ Fleming, Father Bill Rutkowski, Father Tom McNamara, and Father Bill Taylor will be joining Father Jim and us for the celebration of the sacrament.  If you are unable to participate in the Advent Penance liturgy on Tuesday, there are two other opportunities within our vicariate you might consider: Thursday, December 18, at 7:00 PM at Holy Spirit Church in Shields and Sunday, December 21, at 3:00 PM at Christ the Good Shepherd Parish Church (Saint Helen Site). 

Monday is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It is a Holy Day of Obligation as well as the patronal feast of our country.  Mass will be celebrated at Saint John Paul II Parish Church at 7:00 PM. Please join us for the celebration.  Please see the bulletin for morning Masses in our area.

As we begin a new Church year, as we are filling out registration forms for Saint John Paul II Parish, as we are reflecting upon membership, stewardship, and ministry while we make an intentional choice to belong to the parish, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you a document that has been several months in the making by our Parish Pastoral Council.  As I have been meeting with various ministry groups, organizations, Pastoral and Finance Councils and parish Commissions, I have been sharing and discussing the diocesan guidelines appropriate to those groups.  In many instances, the following phrase is used: “a parishioner in good standing.”  Several months ago, the Pastoral Council began having conversations about what it means to be a parishioner in good standing since it concerns those who wish to be involved in leadership and ministry.  So, they decided that they would like to make a statement defining what it means to be a member in good standing.  After several months of conversation, a document was produced and signed by the Parish Pastoral Council, the policy making body of the parish.  I would like to commend them on their fine work.  Please take some time to read it and understand how you can be a support to our new parish community of Saint John Paul II.

I would like to thank the parish Art and Environment Committee for their ministry in enhancing the church sanctuary and gathering space for Advent Season.  They certainly took to heart the diocesan guidelines, including the directive received by all pastors last week from MCC (Michigan Catholic Conference, our diocesan insurance company) regarding the prohibition of the use of live greens in church around lit candles with particular mention of the Advent Wreath.  They did a great job by the way in which they visually helped to draw us into the mystery and spirit of Advent.  Their creativity was solidly based on the principles contained in “Built of Living Stones” (the major document written by the US Bishops for those working with church art, architecture, and environment). I thank them for creating the beautiful wreath, for adding the purple wall hanging behind Saint John Paul II, and for using the barren (winter) trees and purple fabric in both the main entrance and sanctuary of the church. There is much beauty in the simplicity, time, and effort that went into preparing the church environment for Advent.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about several parish needs that were discussed by the Finance Council; one of them was a new sink for the sacristy. In terms of priority of immediate and future needs, the new sink was placed on the list of immediate needs for a number of reasons.  First of all, we received a directive twice from the Office of Liturgy that the sink needed to be replaced with one more appropriate for the cleansing of vessels and in keeping with the proper way of purifying and cleansing vessels.  The first directive came shortly after Bishop Cistone told us we were to “move ahead” with the merger of the three parishes.  At that time, Father Pat O’Connor, Father Jim Bessert, Tim Muter and an architect came to look at the church space to give some direction in addressing the following issues: barrier free/handicap needs (including pews, other seating, bathrooms, access to the sanctuary, etc.), fire codes and the lack of the panic bars on the side doors, music and choir area, the sanctuary space itself, sacristy, vestments, vessels, and the need for  a master plan for the church along with all the other buildings.  The second directive from the Office of Liturgy came this past month when we were given conditional permission to go ahead with some projects but only after obtaining a new sink for the sacristy.  We are being asked to provide a new sink because the needs of the church and liturgy have changed over the years since Vatican Council II.  Previous to the Council, only a priest received the Precious blood at Mass.  Afterwards, he was responsible for purifying his own chalice and paten and putting them away for future use.  There were only a couple of other vessels used for Holy Communion which could be easily washed after being purified.  Once the Church was given permission to receive Holy Communion under both species (the Body of Christ and the Precious Blood of Christ), and the ministries of Sacristan and Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion were instituted, a need arose for more space, including counter space and a deeper sink for the cleansing of many vessels, some which could be immersed into soapy water, and some which could be rinsed in the sink under hot water.  [Before the vessels are cleansed the priest must purify the vessels, and he needs access to the sacrarium, sink and counter space].  Presently, all we have in the sacristy is a small shallow bathroom-type sink with short faucets, next to a small sacrarium (a sink with no running water which drains directly into the ground and which is used for purifying vessels containing both the Eucharist or the holy oils), and a couple of plastic dish washing tubs (which end up being filled with soapy water for the cleansing of vessels). So as to comply with the directives of the diocese, and to allow both priests and sacristans to perform the purification and cleansing of vessels in a more worthy and dignified manner, we will be purchasing a new sink with counter for the sacristy.

Blessings on your Advent Journey!
Sister Chris Gretka, CSJ