By Fr. David Steffy, L.C., Chargé of the Holy See
December 7th, 2023 - Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center
Greetings from the Holy Land where we unite our prayers and intentions with each of you at the beginning of the Holy Season of Advent.
Advent is the beginning of the new liturgical year lasting four Sundays and ending on Christmas. It is a time to prepare our hearts anew for the coming of the birth of Christ. Christ was born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago as a sign of his saving love for each of us. Celebrating his birthday each year gives us the chance to experience the power of his love and presence in our hearts so his love and life may be the model and inspiration for our own.
This prayer of Renee Swope, “The Manger of My Heart,” expresses this mystery:
This Advent, Lord, come to the manger of my heart.
Fill me with Your presence from the very start.
As I prepare for the holidays and gifts to be given,
Remind me of the gift You gave when You sent Your Son from Heaven.
The first Christmas gift, it was the greatest gift ever.
You came as a baby born in a manger.
Wrapped like the gifts I find under my tree,
Waiting to be opened, to reveal Your love to me.
Restore to me the wonder that came with Jesus' birth,
When He left the riches of Heaven and wrapped Himself in rags of earth.
Immanuel, God with us, Your presence came that night.
And angels announced, "Into your darkness, God brings His Light."
"Do not be afraid," they said to shepherds in the field.
Speak to my heart today, Lord, and help me to yield.
This is a beautiful prayer, but perhaps like me, many of you are wondering where is his light? In so many places around the world, and especially now in the Holy Land, the stories reveal more darkness than light. Faced with such tragedy and suffering, with no end in sight, it is easy to let the darkness seep into our hearts and to doubt God’s presence. Yet, this Advent season need remind us that the reality of sin, evil and suffering can wake us up to trust more strongly what we know is true in our hearts. Love conquers all.
So let us look to the light of his love to wake us from a sense of comfort and complacency. Let us commit ourselves to allow his light to enter into our hearts and those of our families and communities. Let us bring light to the darkness of our daily lives, and trust that his light will grow so strong that all darkness will one day be turned to light.
More than even, we need the wonder of Christ’s birth to inspire in us hope filled repentance. “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.” (Isaiah 9:2) Christ is this light, and now is the time to combat the darkness of sin and evil by following his way. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life (John 8:12).
Because of the war, Advent and Christmas in the Holy Land will be different this year. Our Latin Patriarch, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa along with the other patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem made the following statement on November 10, 2023. “ We, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, call upon our congregations to stand strong with those facing such afflictions by this year foregoing any unnecessarily festive activities. We likewise encourage our priests and the faithful to focus more on the spiritual meaning of Christmas in their pastoral activities and liturgical celebrations during this period, with all the focus directed at holding in our thoughts our brothers and sisters affected by this war and its consequences, and with fervent prayers for a just and lasting peace for our beloved Holy Land.”
In Notre Dame, our exterior decorations may be limited, but the Nativity scene in the main hall will be a continual reminder of the light of Christ coming into this world. More importantly, it will be a sign of the reality of the Nativity we are preparing for in our heart.
Advent wreath in Our Lady of Peace Chapel, Notre Dame Center Jerusalem
Thank you for all of your outpouring of prayer, concern, and support. Your kind donations are providing extra help for the staff of Notre Dame in most need. We will have an Advent lunch with all our staff where we can continue to focus on His light and blessings amid the sorrowful situation we are experiencing. We are translating many of your messages of goodwill into Arabic to share them with our staff.
May your Advent preparation be deep and enduring.
Mary Queen of Peace, pray for us.
Sincerely in Christ,
Father David Steffy, L.C.