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I can still taste those homemade donuts. About six weeks ago, my brother had invited me to join in the Halloween festivities with my two youngest nephews, ages nine and seven. The town in which they reside is filled with young, large families and so this annual event is always bursting with fun and excitement. As we approached one particular home, however, I was struck by the number of parents running to the front door, accompanied by their children; soon enough I knew why. As I stood shivering in the driveway and peering into their kitchen window, I could see this elderly couple handing out homemade donuts, with conveyor belt-like efficiency, to the gathered throng. My brother informed me that they have done so for many years. As I broke off a piece of my unsuspecting nephew's donut (tasted great), I thought about the effort involved in this undertaking. Clearly, this older couple must spend days in preparation for the great event: buying supplies, organizing and scheduling, as well as working at a feverish pace for a number of hours that evening. They make this effort as a service of love to the children of their neighborhood, offering to them this specific and generous act of kindness.
With the joyous celebration of the Nativity of the Lord soon upon us, we have journeyed throughout this Advent Season in the company of inspiring saints who model for us faith-filled lives of generosity and service. Each of these Advent saints, in their own way and in their own concrete and historical circumstances, generously responded to God's call to a life of holiness and goodness. On Nov. 30 the Church lifted up to us St. Andrew the Apostle, who in the Gospels was the one to bring others to the saving message of Jesus: "We have found the Messiah." (John 1:41) On Dec. 3 we commemorated the life and ministry of St. Francis Xavier, one of the founding members of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), who travelled to India, the Philippines and Japan baptizing and preaching the Gospel of Christ. This past Dec. 6 we heard the story of the bishop St. Nicholas, the prototype of our modern day Santa Claus, who pious tradition tells us tossed three bags of his own gold coins through a poor father's window, so that this father might provide a dowry for his daughters' weddings and save them from a life of sin. St. Ambrose (Dec. 7) prevented wars, invasions and the threat of heresy during the tumultuous 4th century A.D., while in the 16th century St. Juan Diego (Dec.9) responded with faith and courage to Our Lady's instruction to build a church in her honor on the hill of her apparitions at Tepeyac, Mexico. The Roman martyr St. Lucy (Dec. 13) gave her life for the faith at the dawn of the 4th century, and the great 16th century mystic St. John of the Cross (Dec. 14) is hailed as one of the finest mystical theologians in Church history.
As we have walked in faith through this Advent season, the liturgy of the Church has given us the two greatest Advent saints: St. John the Baptist, who spent his ministry calling all to "prepare the way of the Lord," (Mark 1:3) and, in primary place, the Blessed Mother, honored both for her Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8) and as Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec. 12). Mary gave her life totally and completely in service to her Son Jesus: "I am the handmaid of the Lord." (Luke 1:38)
You see, the Church lifts up these holy men and women as inspiring models of Catholic faith who responded to Christ's call to discipleship through lives of generosity and service. In a culture that exalts the self, you and I are challenged to reach out to others generously and with love, not because it is simply a "nice holiday gesture," but because we are living the Christian life as followers of Jesus! As Christmas draws near, we realize that we have countless opportunities, each day, to serve Christ by serving our brothers and sisters, in ordinary and simple ways.
By the way, I can still taste those donuts.
Father Bryan K. Parrish is Assistant Vicar for Administration and Special Assistant to the Vicar General.