For me, Advent has always been a season of taking stock, looking back, and anticipating what lies ahead. Perhaps this is because the season usually begins so close to Thanksgiving and leads up to Christmas and the beginning of a new year.
But, there is also something else about this season: the longer, colder nights, the lights of Advent wreaths and holiday decorations, and the reverie that goes along with familiar holiday movies, songs, and even a favorite Christmas ornament or family photo.
Advent, however, is also a season of gratitude. As we look back in prayer and Scripture to the prophecies of Old Testament and the revelation of who Jesus was and is (which we hear in these early Advent days) and to the fulfillment of time when we will celebrate the second Advent of Christ, these days invite us to reflect on the gifts we been given. And, for me, an important part of that is considering how I have--or have not--passed those gifts on to others... "paying it forward," as it were.
In less than two weeks, the Catholic Church in the United States will hold the annual collection for the Retirement Fund for Religious. This an important opportunity for each of us to give back to those women and men religious--nuns and sisters, priests and brothers--who have given their lives in prayer and service to the Church as pastors, teachers, catechists, missionaries, healthcare providers, social workers, artists and musicians, and as contemplatives praying night and day behind cloister walls.
The sad reality is that many of the religious communities to which these women and men belong are unable to support their aging and infirm members because of the high cost of healthcare and the large numbers needing care.
As I observed in a similar appeal last year, religious deserve our respect and admiration but, sadly, our culture has done an amazing job dismissing the work of generations of holy and loving women and men of faith. It is our responsibility to care for them the way they have cared for so many others.
Even if you aren't Catholic, I encourage you to consider this invitation as well. My guess is that wherever you are, there is a hospital, mission, food pantry, school, or some other charity that was or is run by a religious community that needs your help.
If you were taught by religious sisters, priests, or brothers or have ministered with them, considering sending a gift to that community as a sign of your gratitude. If you would like to give a gift to the U.S. Bishops "Retirement Fund for Religious," click here. I have certainly enjoyed the support and friendship of religious of many communities through the years (and I'm looking forward to returning to religious life with the Society of the Divine Savior in January) and I'm happy to promoting this appeal and doing my part to help.
Thank you for taking the time to read and consider this Advent invitation.