By Tanya Connor
Bishop McManus spoke about nativity characters and children shared Jesse tree symbols during a parish family retreat in English and Spanish at St. Paul Cathedral Sunday. After eating together they concluded with prayer in the Taizé style.
Bishop McManus spoke to adults and they spent time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament while children learned about Old Testament figures who preceded Christ’s birth and colored symbols of them.
The children then joined the adults in church, where some hung their pictures and accompanying Scriptures in English and Spanish on a Jesse tree of bare branches, as explanations were read.
John the Baptist sets the scene for our Advent, Bishop McManus said in his talk, “Waiting for Jesus Together.”
Though God’s people broke their covenant with him, “God was faithful to the promise he made … he would send the Messiah.” To accept the Messiah, people needed to repent, shown outwardly by receiving John’s baptism. John pointed away from himself to Jesus, whom he called the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. (See Jn 1:6-36).
John’s father, Zechariah, was a priest who went into the sanctuary to offer incense as a sign of the people’s prayers rising to God. There the angel Gabriel told him he and his wife, Elizabeth, who was descended from the priestly tribe, would have a son. Their advanced age was not only chronological but theological, Bishop McManus said; they had spent their lives in hopeful expectation, as had Israelites throughout the Old Testament. (See Lk 1:5-25)
Advent Mass first readings are mostly from Isaiah, the bishop said.
“They’re all about things being made new,” he said. “The lion and lamb will lay down together.” (Is 11:6)
Speaking of a key player in bringing all this to fruition, Bishop McManus said St. Joseph was a man of silence. (See Mt 1:18-25) And Mary’s “yes” changed history. (See Lk 1:26-38)
“When we set up our mangers in our homes or see the beautiful Christmas cards, the shepherds are romanticized,” the bishop said. “There was probably no job more tedious,” no poverty more severe, than a shepherd’s. But, like the apostles leaving nets, boats and father, the shepherds left their sheep to find Jesus and began a different life, proclaiming him. (See Lk 2:8-20)
When Mary and Joseph brought Baby Jesus to the temple, Simeon and Anna encountered them. (See Lk 2:22-38)
“In their persons they represent the entire Jewish nation,” Bishop McManus said. They see Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promise.
He said the magi and Herod were opposite members of the royalty. (See Mt 2:1-18)
The magi, people beyond the Jewish race, hoped for a philosophy, person or code of life rooted in truth to help them move beyond themselves, he said. They interpreted the star as God’s sign of what they were waiting for – a great king was born.
Herod was a despot concerned only about his own power. He lived in darkness and wanted to be sure the light of Christ would be extinguished.
In our relationship to God we must always be open, Bishop McManus said.
“Christ will come two more times,” he said. He said he suspects most people spend little time thinking about Christ’s coming at the end of history and there is little preaching about it in the Church. But people are on a march to a place beyond history, and there will be a final judgment, he said.
“That’s the type of waiting we have to attend to in our spiritual lives,” he said.
“But there is also another coming of Christ,” he said. “We believe as Catholics every time we celebrate the sacraments” they are an occasion of grace, of experiencing Christ. “Advent is a very important time for us to reflect as Catholics on the gifts these sacraments are.”
Parents cannot tell these stories enough, Bishop McManus said during the question and answer period. He recalled seeing youth viewing a painting of the crucifixion, unaware of what it was. He encouraged parents to remind children God has a mission for them.
He also advocated spending time in silence: turning off the radio, “getting rid of … what do they call those … iPods?” He recalled a youth night which included silent adoration, a feature youth liked.
Asked if there is a war on Christmas, and what Christians can do about it, Bishop McManus spoke of people opposed to the faith wanting society to be free of it. He talked about the slogan “Keep Christ in Christmas,” and of displaying manger scenes in and outside one’s home. The whole Christmas Season is because of Christ, he said.
In the children’s track, Geoffrey Vaughan was eliciting amused smiles and excitement from boys ages 8-12.
“When you read a Bible story, do you know what you should do?” he asked. Ask “Does this tell me anything about Jesus? Can you figure it out?” He asked for three people “to sacrifice,” and got an eager chorus of “Me, me, I want to sacrifice myself.” He had the youth helping with the younger children confer about which “victims” to choose – to hang ornaments on the Jesse tree.
“And not the loudest ones,” he admonished.
Across the hall in the old St. Paul’s school building children ages 5-8 quietly colored their Jesse tree symbols.
In another room, Marcia Grimes tried to get tiny tots clutching stuffed animals she borrowed from her children to sing about Noah.