Why Advent? Guest Post by Michael Gonzalez

By Michael Gonzalez, Graduate Student in Baylor’s Department of Political Science

Ah Advent, the season set aside by the Church to prepare us for the great Feast of Christmas! To most Catholic imaginations, the word likely brings to mind the cutting of Christmas trees, the hanging of wreathes, the eating of good food, and resting by the fireside—or some such happy yuletide preparations. For students, it means the end of exams and a return to home; for teachers it means frantically grading exams so that one can return to home. For just about everyone, it’s probably safe to say that Advent represents a fairly happy time to make preparations for ‘the big day’.

Advent properly understood

How does the Church mark the beginning of this joyous time? Let’s revisit the Gospel from the First Sunday of Advent:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert!… you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”

Now that’s odd, isn’t it? Just as we’re all happily gearing up for Advent, the Church gives us a Gospel where Jesus rather seriously admonishes his followers to be vigilant and wary. He compares himself to the master of a house, and us to servants and guards on duty—not to revelers.

Maybe the second Sunday’s Gospel will bring a more appropriate message. Let’s check there as well:

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as the acknowledged their sins…

When we consider the Scriptural passages given to us by the Church in the Liturgy during Advent, we have to wonder whether our presentiments about this season reflect the reality taking place.

When Christ refers to his Second Coming, he speaks of a dramatic event for which we must constantly prepare ourselves. He calls for us to lead ‘examined lives’ as Christians, and not to simply “eat, drink, and be merry” as if in ignorance of the Master’s return. St. John the Baptist calls us to “make straight” the paths of the coming Lord. Many of the Early Church Fathers interpreted this as a reference to God’s “paths” in each of our souls. How ready are each of us to receive Christ when he comes to us through the Feast of Christmas (let alone in weekly or daily Communion), a festival that itself looks forward to the great Second Coming written of in the Book of Revelation (which we heard from last week)?

Advent a time of spiritual preparation

On one hand, it isn’t sinful or illegitimate to begin making our preparations for what really is a most happy and festive upcoming day. At the same time however, those preparations need to apply to more than just decorations, food, and presents.
A great majority of us at Baylor are now wrapping up our final exams (even as a graduate student, I don’t escape that fated ordeal). By all means, breathe a sigh of relief as you pack up for home, no matter how you think you did on your tests. That trial is over; there’s nothing you can do at this point but humbly accept that you did your best. However, as Christians, the Final Exam par-excellence is ever on the way. As Catholics, the Church gently but firmly reminds us of this reality in the readings she provides for us. She shows us in many of the Psalms and First and Second Readings God’s merciful love and consideration. At the same time, she gives us very compelling Gospels to remind us never to take our salvation for granted.

Christ came to save all, but we must actively accept his love every day. Just as human friendship requires labor and sacrifice, friendship with God requires that we make daily interior efforts to draw closer to Him.

Advent is the season set aside by the Church to prepare us for the great Feast of Christmas. It is the season wherein we are called to prepare ourselves to meet Christ in Bethlehem, where we should realize that all our papers, final exams, and career plans—good though they may be—are little more than the straw of a manger in the long run of things.

Ways to prepare for Christmas

Follow the Church’s Liturgy, pick up a spiritual reading such as a life of a saint, take up an extra prayer and penance for the season, or even just set aside some extra time each day in silence to be still and draw closer to God. Think about listening to (and reflecting on the words of) the Church’s beautiful Advent hymns such as the Rorate Caeli.
Take this Advent season to enjoy the well-needed break from the semester. But amid your holiday preparations, keep in mind the Holy Day that is approaching, and soberly remember that now is the time to “prepare the way of the Lord” and to “make straight his paths” in your soul.

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A Beautiful Chaotic Family Holiday

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As a freshman, you quickly realize that you have nothing figured out. You enter college thinking that acting like an adult will be easy, but are quickly knocked down when things aren’t as easy as they appear. Finding your place becomes much more difficult than expected. In my first few weeks at Baylor, I met plenty of people that I liked and connected with, yet there was one small aspect of community that I missed. I missed the feeling of a family, a home away from home. My parish back in Minnesota had always served this purpose for me, and I was nervous that I wouldn’t come close to finding that at Baylor. I thought I could never find my home here. St. Peter’s showed me that clearly I didn’t have that figured out either.

I signed up for New Student Retreat thinking that, if anything, it would be nice to decompress after the first month of school. From the minute I walked into St Peter’s, I could feel the joy that seemed to radiate off of every person. It seemed to be chaotic, but the kind of beautiful chaos typically experienced at large family holidays. I readied myself for what would be a very interesting weekend.

The weekend that followed became one of the most impactful times of my life. The first moment that stood out to me was meeting my table family. I may be a bit biased, but my table family was by far the best. From the start of the retreat, I was given people to turn to and talk to about whatever I needed. My “parents” were incredibly kind and made me feel as though I was part of an actual family. Throughout the weekend, each and every person I met made me feel welcome and at home at St. Peter’s. Whether it was someone simply introducing themselves or my table parents assuring me that they had been praying for me, I knew that I had found my home away from home. As a freshman, this is all that I wanted, a place to call home and people to call a family.

Not only was the retreat fun and joyful, but there was a clear devotion to prayer and faith. At every quiet moment, someone would ask if we could do a rosary or say another prayer. I saw a desire to constantly grow closer to God in each person at the retreat. Reconciliation was offered on Friday night, and people were eager to go. Most places I had been, eager would not be the word to describe peoples’ feelings about Reconciliation. Eager is the word I would use to describe much of what I saw. The people I met were eager to learn more about faith, eager to pray even more, eager to share what they experienced, and eager to devote themselves entirely to God. I was inspired, to say the least. I was compelled to draw closer to God and develop a deeper relationship. The weekend ended with affirmations. Half of us sat in a circle with our eyes closed as the others walked around the circle. Statements such as “someone who made you laugh,” “someone you saw Christ in,” and “someone who made you feel welcome,” were read as people tapped the shoulders of the people that had done such things for them. It was in those moments when I realized that someone had seen Christ in me that I sat in wonder. The people that had inspired me also saw Christ in me. I realized that my faith was visible, that in some way or another, I was imitating Christ. It is this realization that made me more passionate about being Catholic, and being very open about it.

Throughout the weekend, I found myself saying “thank you, God” each and every chance I could. I would look up at the beautiful night sky, and whisper, “thank you, God”. I looked at the Eucharist and thought, “thank you, God”. I saw the incredible, Christ-like people around me, and all I could think to say was “thank you, God”. I can never thank God enough for bringing the people of St. Peter’s into my life. The New Student Retreat was an unforgettable experience that has impacted my life far more than I could have ever hoped for. Each time I walk into St. Peter’s, I feel like I’ve returned home. I open the doors and see my family, loud and joyous as ever.

I have learned that I don’t have everything, or really anything figured out, but with St. Peter’s, I’ve seen that I have people that will help me figure it out, my family.


Emily is a Freshman from Savage, Minnesota studying Physics. Thanks for sharing Emily! 

Ubi Amor, Ibi Oculus

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I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on my first day of NSR. Up until the retreat, I had lived my faith openly and tried to attend as many Daily Masses as I could, but I still seemed to be lacking something in my faith experience. A Latin phrase comes to mind, now, when I reflect on my experience: ubi amor, ibi oculus. It translates to “The eyes see better when guided by love.”

Going into the retreat, my main concern was that I didn’t have many Catholic friends at Baylor. I have my friends from line camp and in my dorm, but I hadn’t found any devout Catholic friends to associate with. That’s not to say I haven’t met some wonderful Christians here—they’ve truly helped guide me into being a better person, and have definitely had my back these last two months at Baylor. But I still felt like I was missing something.

By the time we got to the retreat house, I had lightened up quite a bit. I figured “I’ve had a great time jamming out in the car here, I’m sure the other people here are just as cool.” And everyone definitely was—but I still didn’t feel like I was belonging to the community. There were a lot of upperclassmen there, and everyone seemed to know each other already. I decided to put this worry off to the side and concentrate more on my spiritual time there at the retreat.

The first talk came on about confession, and I tuned in to listen. I knew that it was something I needed. After listening to the talk, I wrote down some things going on in my heart and was one of the first people in line for confession. It was really a relief—I had confessed a few times before with Fr. Daniel, but it really felt this time that I was speaking with Jesus. I hadn’t even committed any nerve-wracking sins; I was more grateful that I had someone to talk to and who could understand some of my incessant worries that had been building up prior to the retreat. After absolution, I knew I needed some quiet time with Jesus and I sat outside in silent prayer on the porch for a while.

I remember looking at a great tree growing through the porch, and sitting in awe at the way God was working in my heart then. I knew I was going to make friends, but was that the really worry in my heart? I took out and held my rosary and prayed to Mary for comfort: “Mary, my little Mother, I know you’re guiding my heart and watching me. Thank you for simply being present with me, holding me, and drawing me ever closer to the Heart of Jesus. I trust in You.” In a much deeper state of peace now, I walked back into the praise and worship session with confidence.

It wasn’t even friends that I had been looking for, I finally discovered, at the retreat. I still made friends, but I more importantly discovered my deeper sense of self in Christ. The next few days were honestly a blur, but the most important memory I can think of is the affirmation session. At this time in the retreat, before the affirmations started, I was having a slight existential crisis. I kept worrying about the future, what my major was going to be, and that I wasn’t in high school anymore. After someone on the mic announced that it was time for us to close our eyes for affirmations, I thought “well alright I’ll just put these questions on the side.”

Even typing now I can still remember the joy I felt at knowing that I belonged, and that I had a Christ-like influence on others. I was genuinely surprised at the amount of people who tapped my shoulders for different affirmations. “[Tap] someone you prayed for… Someone you saw Christ in this weekend.”  I remember feeling the most taps for “someone you saw Christ in this weekend,” and my heart soared. People didn’t just know me. They saw Christ in me. I then realized that what I needed was a reality check. My deepest identity is not an honor student, a hard-worker, a nice-guy or anything else I tie to myself. My deepest identity is within Christ.

I needed the love of others to guide me closer to Christ. “The eyes see better when guided by love.”  Ubi amor, ibi oculus.

Jake Shanley is a freshman from The Woodlands, Texas.

Brianna’s Blessed Break!

Please forgive the editor for the title. She’s a sucker for a good alliteration.


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A couple of weeks ago, with about 10 days notice, I got the incredible news that I was going to get to see Papa Frankie, the most adorable human on earth, address a joint session of Congress in Washington D.C.! I felt wholly blessed and unworthy to go, but I knew that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Being there was absolutely surreal. Getting up at 2 AM to walk a couple of miles in D.C. (In business casual I might add) by 3 AM didn’t seem like much of a sacrifice, nor did waiting in dewy grass for several hours because WE WERE GOING TO SEE THE POPE!

The anticipation was almost palpable when the moment finally came for the Holy Father to speak to Congress. The hush of a previously lively crowd of thousands was astounding, but it didn’t last long. After what seemed like every sentence that came out of His Holiness’ mouth, there were roars of cheering and applause. I can only attribute what happened next to the Pope’s role as Vicar of Christ. I found myself holding back tears of joy and many around me had tears flowing silently. One woman held another woman, who was clearly a stranger, saying, “Yes! It’s him! It is our Holy Father!” Everyone was emotionally overwhelmed and it was clear that the entire crowd was won over and over again with each topic he spoke an undeniable truth about.

Now, I was happy and excited with everything he had to say, but when he was finished I was frankly a little disappointed he didn’t bring up abortion. He alluded to it, of course, which made some in the crowd hold back on cheers, but he never even said the word ‘abortion’. I don’t want to criticize Pope Francis, but what message was this sending to our nation? Then I realized; he was speaking to our nation.  This wasn’t a homily; he wasn’t in a room of Catholics or even God-fearing Christians for that matter, he was speaking to the representatives of a country that is just about as religiously diverse as it gets. People already know the church doesn’t approve of abortion, gay marriage, transsexualism etc. but they don’t realize or have forgotten the capacity of the Church’s love. People have started to see the Catholic Church as cold, unaccepting, and flat out bad because its social teaching is counter to that of our society. They’ve forgotten the church is good! It is one that believes in mercy. This message of goodness was the one Pope Francis chose to send.

During the papal visit to the United States, I heard a newscaster say several times that “Pope Francis was the most popular man in the world”.  This newscaster marveled at the crowds that the Holy Father could draw and at his ability to gain the respect and love of non-Catholics, and even non-Christians. His example of goodness and mercy allows for the doors to Christ to be opened wide sometimes, if I’m being honest, wider than I thought they could go, even to those actively working against Jesus’ teachings. It is specifically because of Pope Francis’ humble missionary spirit that hearts are being cared for, healed, and ultimately won for our Lord. Pope Francis wants to lead by example so it is only right that we follow and be excited show grace to everyone more readily. It is only by succeeding in this we can demonstrate that the Catholic Church is beautiful and it is good. I can definitely see how I can grow in this in my own life, so this was incredibly meaningful to me. Overall, I feel really fortunate that I was able to learn from the Holy Father and be in Washington at this historic moment.


Brianna is a Junior Speech Pathology Major from San Antonio, TX. 

KofC Conference Recap with Sam Esparza

 

Greetings fellow Knights, friends of St. Peter’s, and blog readers. It is your very favorite, friendly neighborhood Platypus Bear here to tell you all about the KoC college conference that Derek and I had the opportunity to attend this year.

I would like to start with a bit of the History of the Knights as many of you, like myself when I first joined may be a little hazy on what the Knights as an organization do. So way back in the late 1800s there was a man today known as Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney. Father McGivney’s story is nothing short of remarkable, but due to an unfortunate word limit I’ll give you all the gist: there were two very notable events in Father McGivney’s life that led him to found the Knights. the first being while he was in Seminary, his father passed away. With no Breadwinner for the family to sustain itself, Michael was forced to leave seminary to help his family until receiving a scholarship and being stationed at St. Mary’s in New Haven, Connecticut. Second, was the loss of the breadwinner of a family friend of his which led to the government threatening to take away the children of the mother who could not provide, Father Michael stepped in, became legal guardian of one of her boys, then the night of the court meeting called to order the first meeting of the Knights of Columbus. Father McGivney was tired of the struggles young Catholic families were put through when the father, unfortunately passed away so came the Knights, dedicated to providing for the widow and the orphan of their fellow Catholic brothers, Father McGivney founded this Fraternal organization, primarily as an insurance for these families, but also so that men could be sure, they could rely on their fellow Brother Knights to provide for their families should anything ever happen to them.

 

Fast forward a century and some change, and you have the Knights as we know them today. Rated one of the top five most ethical companies, with billions of dollars in support for the families of it’s many insurance members; it is no wonder the Knights are regarded as “The Strong Right Arm of the Church”. Derek and I got to see this first hand at the conference, and all the good work that each college has done. with over 200 College Councils Worldwide the growing involvement of young men is inspiring. I had the opportunity to talk to a few knight from different councils, hearing their struggles, especially those on secular campuses that are avidly against anything to do with the Faith, was something that merited my respect. Among these struggles there are Councils out there that still go out of their way to continue Father McGivney’s vision of defending the widow and orphan, Knights who volunteer at Retirement homes, take part in Pro-life discussions, help lead youth groups, volunteer at women’s shelters, and so many other things that make me proud to be a part of this order. Us as Baylor Council received a reward for our participation in the Special Olympics, we received the Youth Service Activity Reward for dedicating over 250 man hours to the Special Olympics.

Being recognized reminded me of the good we do as Knights and the good the Knights do worldwide. For the young gentlemen reading this that are not members of the order, I encourage you, seek out the next initiation, join our brotherhood and be a part of an organization that has done so much good for the Church. My fellow brother knights, I implore you attend this Conference the next chance you get, it was a serious eye opener to all the things that we do as Knights that you probably don’t even know of ! I am proud to be a Knight and proud to be a member of Baylor’s council 13577 VIVAT JESU!

 

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About the Author:

Sam Esparza is a real life Platypus Bear, his hobbies include Jeopardy, smoking a pipe, making wild Platypus Bear Calls in the open, and making deep meaningful memories with his friends.

Sacramental Advice

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Luke is a Junior University Scholar from New Orleans, Louisiana. He is also Rector of the Awakening Retreat being held Spring of 2016. 


 

I arrived to Baylor a lonely and confused out-of-stater.  I decided to make the most out of my undergrad years so I campaigned for student government office and became involved in the honors college.  As I became more involved in Baylor, I found that an increasing amount of my time was spent in the niches that my friendships grew out of, leading to less time for my faith.  I quickly noticed an absence in my life.

Due to the dictatorship’s authority I was regularly dragged to Sunday mass throughout high school.  But in college I found myself faced with a new option: the freedom to simply not go to mass.  This option also happened to present itself at the peak of my skeptical bouts regarding the whole Christianity jig I had been surrounded by my whole life.  Fortunately I decided not to take my chances against God and stuck out the weekly Sunday ritual anyway, causing me to get plugged in at St. Peter’s just enough to discover something profound.  The more time I spent at St. Peter’s, the more clearly I saw something in the students (including graduate students and professors) that I found uncannily appealing.  I didn’t know how to explain it exactly but I wanted it.  There was one obvious common denominator between all these people: a serious devotion to their faith.  So after months on end plagued with a severe case of skepticism of all things spiritual, it was time to buckle in and figure out what the Christianity stuff was all about.

In an act of faith I put everything in God’s hands.  I turned to the sacraments, namely, daily mass and confession.  And with the help of great friends at St. Peter’s and some grace from God, I came to know Christ in a way wholly unprecedented.  St. Peter’s became the home for this new relationship, nourishing me with great community and the gift of the sacraments.  Since then, several of my friends, Jews and Gentiles alike, have at some point found themselves hanging with me at the Catholic Center for Saturday’s Latin mass, cramming for finals, eating unclaimed food, etc.

Of all the communities I have been in, I believe St. Peter’s is the “highest,” if you will.  Before making St. Peter’s my home I still had great friends in great communities, and I still have great friends in great communities.  However, the faith element – and since we are at Baylor, a place which offers many communities rooted in faith, I will also distinguish further by emphasizing the Eucharistic element – is entirely unique to this Christ-centered community.

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Joesph is a junior music major from Irving, Texas. He is also VP of the Catholic Student Association. 


 

The manner of how an individual approaches college will dictate the education they receive. Yes, college is where students read their textbooks so that they can then cram for their exams the night before in order to receive their diploma. But if students were to only confine themselves in the ideology that college is simply to get a diploma, then they have trapped themselves in a less productive mind set. Many incoming freshmen believe that college is simply another step in life. That they go to college, study, graduate, then get a fiscally stable job. Though this belief is essential, it neglects a stronger purpose of attending a university.

 

As a devout Catholic I view college not only as opportune moment to receive a diploma, but also a rare chance to enhance one’s values, morals, and spirituality. Essentially, college is where people should go to develop their soul. The chance to allow oneself to be broken down to then be built up into a stronger and more rounded individual.

 

To strengthen one’s soul is unique to the individual, but does not lack the assistance of a strong community. The development of the soul needs a discipline faith in God. A Catholic’s faith is unique, and that being so, it takes time to discover what truly brings one closer to God. During this time of searching, one will endure a variety of emotions and experiences. One will experience joy, sadness, love, pain, hardship and temptations. While experiencing all these emotions and trials, this is where the need of a community is necessary. A community that is dedicated to helping someone grow closer to God. At Baylor University, I have found numerous communities as described, but the one community that means the most to me is the Catholic community at St. Peter’s Catholic Student Center.

 

At St. Peter’s I was and still am challenged by my peers to try numerous methods to grow in my faith in God. Parishioners at St. Peters have strengthen my values of the importance of family, assisting the needy, and giving back to my communities back home. They have challenged me to pray harder in my times in need, and they have always been at my side when I’m struggling with personal hardships.

 

My advice to incoming freshmen is to simply allow oneself to grow not only in the classroom, but to grow one’s character through the assistance of a loving community and faith in God.