Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Beware. Be vigilant. Pray.
These are some of the words we hear Jesus telling his disciples in the Gospel of Luke on the first Sunday of Advent. It’s an ominous-sounding passage, with Jesus warning people about the signs and tribulations that will accompany the end times. He certainly gets our attention, but what is really at the heart of his message?
Jesus is reminding us that we need to keep our eyes on the prize. And the prize is him, coming to save those who are faithful and steadfast in their love for him and the Father. The season of Advent is a time of preparation that helps us to stay alert for the coming of Christ, both at Christmas with his birth in a Bethlehem manger and his second coming at the end of time.
To stay alert, we need to be countercultural. We need to slow down in these weeks before Christmas — even as our consumeristic culture pushes us to speed up and stress out over Christmas shopping, decorating and party planning. These are all fine activities as long as we don’t lose sight of the spiritual preparation that the Advent season calls us to do. Slowing down means being attentive to what’s really important. It requires us to look both inward at changes we need to make in our own lives as well as outward to the needs of the world around us.
We can prepare ourselves inwardly by devoting more time to prayer. I find praying around an Advent wreath to be a helpful way of reflecting on the Scripture readings of the season. Even if you don’t use a wreath, I encourage you to spend more time with the weekday and Sunday Scripture readings over the next several weeks. As you reflect on them, ask yourself what God might be calling you to do or change in your life.
Another way to prepare ourselves inwardly during Advent is to take advantage of the sacrament of penance. It offers an opportunity to examine our consciences and reflect on the areas of our lives in which we need to do better. Seeking and receiving God’s forgiveness through this sacrament of mercy helps us to change our lives in ways that strengthen our relationship with God and the people around us.
This leads me to the need to also look outward during Advent. While it is essential to prepare for the coming of Christ by looking inwardly, we also need to be attentive to the needs of those around us. As Jesus reminds us, what we do for those in need, we also do for him. I encourage you to make a special effort during this holy season to serve others by intentionally practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which are rooted the Gospel message of Christ. They include comforting the sorrowful, forgiving injuries, praying for the living and the dead, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and visiting the prisoner.These acts of service move out of our comfort zones and, like an Advent candle, bring light to some of the darkness in the world.
Don’t forget: Beware, be vigilant and pray. This Advent, please join me in doing this by being more attentive to our own spiritual lives and the needs of those around us.
May you and your loved ones have a blessed Advent season.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of Saint Cloud
Updates on three important topics
I also want to take this opportunity to update you on the recent meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, the status of our plans for the diocese to file for bankruptcy reorganization, and our annual appeal that funds the ministries of the diocese.
• Like many of you, I was disappointed that we U.S. bishops did not vote at our November meeting on proposals responding to the issue of clergy sexual abuse and the accountability of bishops. The Vatican asked us to delay any vote until after a February meeting in Rome between Pope Francis and the heads of all the world’s bishops’ conferences. The added time, however, will help to ensure that reforms are effective and consistent throughout the entire church. Still, the bishops had good discussions about what needs to be done, and we certainly benefited by hearing from a variety of speakers at our meeting, including clergy abuse survivors. I also will be joining the other bishops of the United States for a spiritual retreat at the beginning of January to pray and reflect further on these serious matters facing our church.
• Last February, I announced plans for the diocese to file for bankruptcy reorganization to resolve 74 claims of past sexual abuse of minors by clergy. This is still the plan, but no date has been set yet. We remain in discussions with insurance companies and attorneys for the survivors. The hope is to reach a consensual agreement on a plan before filing so that the maximum amount of resources can be distributed to survivors rather than to legal costs. I will keep you updated on any progress that is made.
• We are currently finishing up the 2018 Bishop’s Annual Appeal and looking forward to launching the 2019 appeal in February. I ask you to please be generous in your giving, which supports the ministries of the diocese. These ministries benefit the parishes and people of our diocese in critical areas such as marriage preparation and enrichment, faith formation and Catholic education, vocations, communications, liturgy and multicultural outreach. These ministries help us to live out our diocese’s mission to be Christ’s heart of mercy, voice of hope and hands of justice. Please know that all contributions to the appeal are used only for these ministries and nothing else.
— Bishop Kettler