As we approach Advent, we may be especially mindful of the words from the Gospel of Mark on the First Sunday of Advent. During the reading, we hear Jesus tell the disciples, "Be watchful! Be alert!" Throughout this year, pastoral staff and ministers have sought to be especially alert to the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs as COVID-19 infected people in large and small communities. May we not grow weary, and may we continue to be watchful for the needs of our communities.
Lay ecclesial ministers took the lead on many of the initiatives that reached out to parishioners during the past year. In the article "Co-Workers in the Vineyard at Fifteen: Polaroid Snapshots," Zeni Fox writes on the regard for lay ministry fifteen years after the US bishops issued Co-Workers in the Vineyard: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry.
Since the onset of the pandemic, pastoral care for families grieving the death of a loved one required ways of accompaniment that differed from the usual. Robert Valle writes in "Creative Responses Bring Consolation to the Grieving" of how parishes can still be a comforting and guiding presence to the bereaved even when funerals are limited in size and people are unable to gather.
A discussion on racial inequities is being held across many sectors in society. The homilist can prompt that discussion in churches, Rev. Eddie De León, CMF, writes in "Beginning a Conversation by Preaching on Racial Justice." Citing the US bishops' pastoral letter Open Wide Our Hearts and Bishop Mark Seitz' pastoral letter Night Will Be No More, De León writes of the prophetic nature of preaching.
On the book review page, Rev. Michael Trail discusses two study guides to Open Wide Our Hearts. He shows how parishes can benefit from using Reading, Praying, Living the US Bishops' Pastoral Letter against Racism Open Wide Our Hearts, by Alison Benders, as well as the study guide the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' has posted on their website. Faith formation directors will want to consider ways to make use of the study guides.
Trail also has written the article "Grande: A Model of Accompaniment" on the life of the martyr Fr. Rutilio Grande, SJ. Earlier this year, Pope Francis approved the beatification of Grande and the two companions who were assassinated with him.
While parishioners listen to the Gospel on Christmas, they may be so familiar with the account of the birth of Christ that they miss the meaning of the incarnation. Parishes will want to distribute the bulletin insert "The Nativity Proclaims God's Daily Presence," by Kathy Kuczka, to help the faithful understand that the incarnation is taking place in our time.
Catechists and directors of religious education will want to provide parents with the Living Our Faith insert "an Infant Points to Our Mission." Author Kathryn Ball-Boruff writes that parents can help children reflect on what it means that God became one of us. Children also can be prompted to see how each of us is called to be like the shepherds and assist those who have no place to lay their head.
May you find blessings in your work as you prepare for the new liturgical year.
Bishop Joseph N. Perry
Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago
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