Prepare for Christmas with a strong Advent

It is incumbent for Catholics to remember that Dec. 25 is a holy day, not a secular holiday         

Christmas message Bishop Richard F. Stika is encouraging the faithful to actively participate in Advent to approach the Christmas season spiritually. Photo by Dan McWilliams

Bishop Richard F. Stika is urging the faithful to use Advent to approach this Christmas season spiritually.

Bishop Stika is encouraging parishioners across the diocese to keep Christ in Christmas at this season of giving as we’re mindful of Christmas’ meaning and God’s gift to us:

“For unto us a child is born, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

In a message to parishioners, the bishop also addressed the diocese’s upcoming 25th anniversary, religious liberty, and the Bishop’s Appeal.

“When I was a kid, there was a cartoon called ‘The City That Forgot About Christmas,’ and I remember watching it at the time, and I’ve got to admit, I’ve probably watched it since I’ve been here in Knoxville,” the bishop said. “But in looking at the cartoon, I thought to myself, how could anyone forget Christmas?

“Yet we’re living in a world where there’s no longer Christmas music being played at shopping malls—it’s ‘holiday music.’ People no longer say, ‘Merry Christmas,’ they say, ‘Happy holidays.’ There are disputes about nativity scenes and such.”

Bishop Stika said it’s incumbent upon Catholics to remember that Christmas is not about a secular holiday.

“It’s a holy day,” he said. “And Christmas is so important that the Church gives us Advent for four weeks to prepare for Christmas, for without Christmas, we would have no resurrection. The Word became man, and he dwells among us.”

“So I would really urge people to enter the Christmas season by using Advent to approach it spiritually,” the bishop added. “What does it mean? To go to confession, to admit that we’re in need of God’s healing. To spend some time in prayer, maybe to have an Advent wreath with the family. Strive to have family meals. Really make Advent a spiritual time and also Christmas, to make sure that as the bumper sticker said, or the billboard, we ‘Keep Christ in Christmas.’ I think it’s a challenge, but we really have to accept the challenge because we are Christians.”

The faithful will begin celebrating Advent on Sunday, Dec. 2. Many parishes will have midnight Mass on the night of Monday, Dec. 24, as well as liturgies on Christmas Day, Tuesday, Dec. 25. One week later, New Year’s Day is also a holy day of obligation as it is the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.

As parishioners celebrate the beginning of the new liturgical year and as they bring 2012 to an end, Bishop Stika said he is grateful to those in the diocese for their gifts of time, talent, treasure, and prayers during the year. He said those gifts are vital in the success of the diocese.

He specifically noted the annual Bishop’s Appeal and its impact on the diocese.

“We’ll announce it at the conclusion of this campaign year, but I’m grateful to all the people of the diocese for their contributions to the Bishop’s Appeal,” Bishop Stika said. “It really does affect the normal life of the Church in Knoxville. I’m grateful to all the leadership, especially to the priests, and a special word of thanks goes to the 10 pilot parishes that helped us to discern the proper way to go into the future. I think it’s been a great success, and I’m just grateful to all the people.”

The Bishop’s Appeal is an annual financial appeal through the diocese’s parishes that funds all diocesan ministries.

The bishop said “religious liberty reminds us that the Constitution guarantees us not only the freedom of worship but also the freedom of religion and to exercise that religion. There are some in the world who would say it’s fine to celebrate your faith, but keep it inside the church or the synagogue or the temple or the mosque.

“I think for people of faith, it’s a reminder that we have a constitutional right to exercise our views with respect, but we also have a constitutional right to worship God and to believe in God and to allow that worship and belief to touch our lives in so many different ways.”

The New Year is part of the Year of Faith “but also leads us into the beginning of our celebration of our 25th anniversary, which is very, very significant for the Diocese of Knoxville,” Bishop Stika said.

The Jubilee year will kick off with a Eucharistic Congress on Sept. 13-14, 2013.

“We’re going to start with the Eucharistic Congress,” the bishop said. “We’re inviting speakers to come in: Cardinal [Timothy] Dolan, Scott Hahn, Father [Robert] Barron, and a number of individuals who are going to remind us in the Eucharistic Congress of the importance of the Mass.”