Yesterday was, as we know, the first Sunday of Advent, the special liturgical season that seems to creep up on us, almost without our realizing it, that liturgical time of joyfully anticipating the birth of Baby Jesus, that little infant whom God the Father sent to mankind as our Redeemer.

Advent is actually the first liturgical season of the Church year, followed by Christmas, Ordinary, Lent, Easter and Ordinary.

Do you know the colors of these seasons (as seen in a priest’s vestments on the Sunday of that season)? We have just experienced the purple color that marks Advent as seen in vestments and the candles on the Advent wreath. Christmas (white and/or gold – purity, joy, light): Ordinary time (green – life, hope and expectancy, anticipation); Lent (purple – penance and sacrifice); Easter (white and/or gold – purity, joy, light) and Ordinary.

How much of what you know about traditions, liturgical seasons and colors, feast days and fast days, and other celebrations in the Catholic Church did you learn as a youngster growing up in your family or in grammar school?

As these special days in the Church come around every year, I look back and realize how very much I did learn from Mom and Dad and from the Dominican nuns in grammar school.

Advent, for example, makes me go back in time to that season and how, growing up, we celebrated it in our home as we always celebrated Catholic feasts and holy days and traditions. I remember learning about the Advent wreath and remember having one on our table and the candles were properly lit every night at dinner. Just as they were lit in church during Mass in Advent.

And the good sisters?   They taught us so many wonderful things – great stories about people, saints, popes, Church celebrations, liturgical traditions. Who doesn’t love a well-told story and some of the nuns were wonderful storytellers and we listened, riveted, to their every word.

Fr. Townsend, who had the children’s Masses every Sunday at St. Edmunds in Oak Park, Illinois, was beyond amazing. He told great stories and always asked questions of us kids but we were OK because the nuns knew what he would talk about on Sunday and prepared us all week so that when Father asked a question, all hands were enthusiastically raised!

And our parents were riveted as well and sometimes asked questions of us after Mass!

I well remember the stories the nuns taught us in grammar school at this time of year – the stories leading up to Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the story of Mary and Joseph, of their travels from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It was great to hear their stories and then sing Christmas carols that simply retold those stories!

Above all, the sisters tried to instill in us that the Christmas gift we should most look forward to was Baby Jesus, not some item sitting under the Christmas tree, beautifully wrapped with our name on it!

Many years ago at Christmas, when I worked in a retail store, Moms and Dads would come in to shop, often bringing their children. One day, I asked a youngster who was perhaps 7 or 8, “Are you ready for Christmas?”   When he said, “yes” with a big smile, I then asked: “Are you ready to give or receive?”

It was awesome to watch his face as he pondered the question. He eventually offered with some uncertainty that maybe he was ready for both!   Who knows, maybe he is in the diplomatic corps somewhere today!

It was equally awesome to watch his Mom as she pondered the question as well. Before leaving, in a low voice with a smile, she thanked me for the question, saying it would make interesting dinner conversation!

Advent should be a time when the whole family gets ready, with joy, anticipation and thanksgiving, for the impending birth of Our Savior. The kids should know all the stories by heart.

There are countless ways that parents can impart the faith, the Church’s traditions and prayers, the lives of the saints, so much more. They can tell stories at the dinner table. They can talk about the saint of the day – or the saints that inspired the children’s names (even if, sadly, that does not happen as often today!).  They can encourage their children to ask questions. They an explain liturgical seasons and the colors!

Above all, ask your children if they are ready for Christmas!  To give or receive?

And don’t forget to have an Advent wreath! and maybe make your own Advent calendar!

Wishing you all the joy and prayerful anticipation of this beautiful liturgical season!


This is a very special story and a fascinating video to watch! Kudos and many blessings to the teams who have done the restoration and those who put this all together at the Colosseum!


We are entering the final week of Advent and are just days away from the beautiful celebration of the birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Rome and the Vatican are in the spirit with the sacred – Nativity scenes – and the profane – stores and streets and piazzas decorated with colorful lights and other Christmas symbols. Christmas trees are everywhere and their relation to Christmas falls between the sacred and the profane.

Yesterday, in his last Angelus before Christmas Day, Pope Francis was joined by thousands of tourists and faithful in St. Peter’s Square whom he addressed, speaking from the window of his study in the Apostolic Palace. He focused on the upcoming solemnity and said: “During this week let us look for a few moments in which to pause, have a bit of silence, and imagine Our Lady and St. Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. The journey – the fatigue of it, but also the joy of it – the commotion, and then their anxiety over finding a place to stay, the worry – and so on. In all this, the Nativity scene helps us very much: Let us seek to enter into the true Nativity – Jesus’ birth – in order to receive the grace of this feast, which is a grace of love, of humility and of tenderness.”

A day earlier, Saturday, Pope Francis celebrated his 80th birthday. It was pretty much a typical workday but there were a few exceptions.

At the Santa Marta residence Saturday at 7 am, Pope Francis began his 80th birthday by sharing breakfast with eight homeless people, eating sweets from his native Argentina, pastries, meat, orange juice and Nutella, the ever-present Italian chocolate spread.


And that was not the end of the papal giving: birthday treats and a special Christmas donation were given to the poor in soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless in the city of Rome.

At 8 am, Francis concelebrated Mass in the Pauline Chapel with all the cardinals residing in Rome. A Vatican Radio report noted that the reason for the extraordinary liturgical celebration was thanksgiving to God for the life of Pope Francis, who was born 80 years ago this day, on December 17th, 1936.

The report said: “The liturgy unfolded with the simple penitential settings of the season, and the readings were those of the day. The Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, offered words of greeting in the name of all those present and of all the members of the College, saying, ‘The risen Jesus appeared to the disciples and addressed these well-known words to Simon-Peter: ‘Simon son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?’ And the Apostle immediately replied: ‘Yes, Lord, You know that I love you!’ It is with this love that Your Holiness today carries out His mission in the world. Then we know that we are close to you, especially today, on this beautiful day of your life.

Cardinal Sodano went on to say, ‘Our prayer shall be with you always, well mindful as we are of what we repeat in the Holy Mass every day, and that is: that by communion with the Body and Blood of Christ, may the Holy Spirit unite us in One Body’.”

At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis offered thanks to the Cardinals present, saying, “For several days now, I’ve been thinking of a word that can seem ugly – no? – dotage. It is scary: just yesterday, [Office Manager for the Dept. for Relations with States in the Secretariat of State of the Holy See] Msgr. [Luigi] Cavaliere  gave me [a copy of] Cicero’s De senectute  – right? Really laying it on! Only, remember what I said to you on March 15 [2013], in our first meeting: ‘Old age is the seat of wisdom.’ Hopefully it is for me, right? Let us hope that it is so.”

The Holy Father also recalled a line of the Roman poet, Ovid: “Tacitu pede lapsa vetustas [with silent steps, old age slips up on one] It is a blow! But also, when one thinks of it as a stage of life that is to give joy, wisdom, hope, one begins to live again, right? And I can think of another poem that I quoted to you that day too [from the German poet, Hölderlin]: Es ist ruhig, das Alter, und fromm, “Old age is quiet and religious”.

The Pope spent part of the remainder of the day taking phone calls and messages from world leaders, including US President Obama, Russian leader Putin and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, among the countless messages.

Without a doubt the most heartfelt was a written message and personal phone call from Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. The press office noted that the written message was “very affectionate” and “particularly appreciated” by the Pope, as was the subsequent phone call. “In addition, Benedict XVI sent Pope Francis three small gifts that the Holy Father received as three very personal and meaningful signs for both of them,” the press office said.

Over 70,000 emails with birthday wishes were received by the Pope at the special Vatican email address. Hopefully he had time to read a few!

There was also a Skype link up with inmates of the Due Palazzi prison in Padua, Italy.


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Monday encouraged young Catholics to cultivate their relationships with their grandparents. (photo


Addressing a group of young people from the Italian Catholic lay association “Azione Cattolica Italiana” (Italian Catholic Action), the Pope spoke of the joy that derives from the coming of Jesus, and said that joy is increased and multiplied when we share it.

He invited the young people to receive the joy of Advent as they would receive a gift and to bear witness to it in their families, schools, parishes and in all places.

The Holy Father especially invited them to share it with their grandparents – and with elderly people in general – and he encouraged them to listen to the aged whom, he said, “have the wisdom of life”.

“I would like to give you a task: speak to your grandparents, … ask them questions, they have the memory of history, the experience of living, and this is a great gift for you that will help you in your life journey” he said.

And Francis also pointed out the grandparents themselves need “to listen to you, understand your aspirations and your hopes.”

“This is your task: speak to your grandparents, listen to them,” he said.

Pope Francis thanked those present for their commitment for peace and remarked on a ‘solidarity’ initiative they are carrying forward in favor of young people who live in a degraded area of Naples.

“May the Lord bless this project that does good” he said.

‘Azione Cattolica Italiana’ was established in Italy by Pope Pius X  in 1905 as a non-political lay organization under the direct control of bishops.


Pope Francis’ December 15 Tweet: “Today is my anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. Please pray for me and all priests.”

And in two days, December 17, the Holy Father will celebrate his 78th birthday! So, remember to offer another “Ave” for His Holiness.

The Pope seems to have celebrated a delightful Gaudete Sunday yesterday, as you will see by the two stories below – one about the Angelus and the second about his parish visit. There are also two news stories from today (in addition to private audiences the Holy Father had) – the Pope’s audience to TV 2000, the Catholic TV station of the Italian bishops, and the meeting of two secretaries of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin for the Holy see and John Kerry for the U.S.

Re: the blessing of the bambinelli: wouldn’t it be lovely to have this tradition become part of every parish in every diocese?

For the third night in a row (at least as far as I have observed) the dome of St. Peter’s basilica is dark – and I don’t know why. Sent an email to someone today to find out but no answer as of now.


Sunday at the Angelus, Pope Francis noted that this, the third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for joy. He said, “The heart of every person desires joy… All of us desire joy, every family, every people aspires to happiness.” The Christian, he said, is called to live and to witness to the joy that comes from the nearness of God, from God’s presence in our life. Christian joy is not simply the fullness of joy that we will experience in heaven, the Pope said. Rather, it begins even in this life, it is experienced even now, “because Jesus is our joy, our home with Jesus is our joy.” He asked the crowd to say with him “With Jesus, joy is part of the home.”

After praying the Angelus prayer with the sizeable crowd of faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis greeted all those present – families, parish groups, associations and, in particular, faithful from Poland where today the Christmas candle is lit and commitment to solidarity is reaffirmed, especially in the current Polish “Year of Caritas.”

The third Sunday of Advent is also the day that children of all ages and from all over Rome – and sometimes other towns and cities in Italy – bring their bambinelli, statues of the Baby Jesus, to be blessed by the Pope at the end of the Angelus. These statues will be placed in the cribs of nativity scenes – known as ‘crèches’ in French and ‘presepio’ in Italian, in homes and schools. Many a child holds up two or even three statues for the papal blessing as they bring a bambinello for a friend who could not make it to the Angelus. (Photo from


The Pope thanked the children for the joy they brought to the square where, among the many signs held up, one read, “With Jesus, there is joy in our home.” Francis wished them a happy Christmas and asked them to pray for him in front of their Nativity display at home, as he does for them.

“Prayer is the breath of the soul,” he said. “It is important to find moments during the day to open our heart to God, even with the simple and short prayers of the Christian people. Therefore, I thought of giving a gift to all of you here in the square – a surprise, a gift: I will give you a little pocket-sized book that gathers together a few prayers, for various moments in the day and different situations in life. Some volunteers will distribute to them to you. Take one each and keep it with you always, as a help to live the whole day with God, and so we do not forget that beautiful message you have brought here on your banner: ‘With Jesus, there is joy in our home’. Once again: ‘With Jesus, there is joy in our home’.” He asked the faithful to repeat this five times

The book, in 50,000 copies, contains Psalms, the Magnificat, invocations of Mary, the Gloria, the prayer to the Angel of the Guard, prayers to recite during the day and blessings for the table, in confession and for specific intentions. It was published in Italian by the Vatican Publishing House.


(VIS) – Sunday afternoon Pope Francis visited the Roman parish of San Giuseppe all’Aurelio, in the Primavalle neighborhood of the capital where, before celebrating Mass, he met with various groups, including children, Rom gypsies,, the ill and newly baptized infants.

He first met with some children preparing for their First Communion, and spoke about his own on October 8, 1944. “I remember it as if it were today. I prepared for a year with a very kind nun and two catechists. … In those times, its was not possible to drink a little water before Mass, nothing – not even a drop of water. It was Pope Pius XII who saved us from this dictatorship! … And we all arrived in the Church with our hands together, singing. … And later, in the afternoon, we returned to the Church for our Confirmation: the same day. And you, who will take your first Communion, will remember that day forever, all your life: the first day Jesus came to you. He comes, He makes Himself one with us, he nourishes us to give us strength. … Do not forget the date, and every year, on that day, confess and take communion, will you?”

The Holy Father then spoke to the Rom families in the parish, wishing them peace within their families. Afterwards he met with the sick, thanking them for their witness of patience, of love for God and of hope in the Lord. “This does great good to the Church”, he affirmed. “You continually nurture the Church with your life, with your suffering, with your patience. Thank you, truly. The Church, without the sick, would not carry on. You are the strength of the Church, her true strength,”

Francis’ final encounter was with newly baptized children with their parents. “Our hopes reside in our children,” he said. “We hand them the torch of faith and life, and they will pass it on to their children, our grandchildren. This is life. And in Baptism, you have given them faith, and thus faith from Jesus’ time up to the present day is like a chain, transmitted by parents. And this is a real responsibility! Never forget the day of your Baptism.”

The Pope then revealed that he was baptized on December 25, just eight days after his birth, as was the custom at the time, Francis asked all those present to pray for him, and added, “babies and children cry, they make noise, they run about … and it bothers me greatly when a child cries in church and people expect him or her to leave. No! It is the best sermon. The cry of a child is the voice of God. Never, ever send them out of the church!”

Following his meetings with the parishioners, Pope Francis heard several confessions and then celebrated Mass. In his homily, he explained that, “the Church this Sunday anticipates the joy of the Nativity, and it is therefore called ‘Gaudete Sunday’, joyful Sunday”. The joy of the Nativity, he said, is a special joy the the Christian experiences not only on that day, but throughout all his or her life. “It is a serene, calm joy, a joy that always accompanies a Christian. Even in difficult moments, this joy is transformed into peace. The true Christian never loses this peace, even during suffering. This peace is a gift from the Lord.”

The Pope also spoke about all those people who do not know how to thank God and who are always looking for something to complain about. “A Christian cannot live like this, always complaining. … No saint has ever had a sad face. The saints always had joyful faces. Or at least, in moments of suffering, their faces showed peace.”


Catholic communication as courageous truth-telling that opens channels of dialogue and speaks to the whole person was part of Pope Francis’ message Monday morning to the management, journalists and technical staff of TV 2000 – the television broadcaster of the Italian Bishops’ Conference – as part of a special audience for them in Paul VI Hall.

He said he wished to share “three thoughts on the role of the communicator,” recalling that “the Catholic media have a very difficult mission in relation to social communication: seeking to preserve it from all that distorts and twists it for other purposes. Often communication is subject to propaganda, ideologies, political ends, or for the control of the economy or technology. He said that courageous frankness and freedom are the characteristics of the authentic communicator. and Catholic communications in particular.

The Holy Father also spoke of the duty all communicators have to do justice to the complexities of real life, without losing sight of the truth that is the object of authentic dialogue. “To open, and not to close,” channels of dialogue, said Pope Francis, “is the second task of the communicator.”

Finally, the Pope focused on the need to avoid both sensationalism and platitudes in reporting stories, and the need to cultivate an integral approach to interpersonal communication. “It is necessary to speak to people in their entirety,” he said, “to their mind and to their heart, so that they might be able to see beyond the immediate, beyond a present that is at risk of being amnesiac and fearful of the future.”  (Sources: VIS, Vatican Radio)


(Vatican Radio) – A meeting was held in the Vatican Monday between the Holy See’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.  A note from Vatican Press Office spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, specified that the American delegation included the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Kenneth Hackett and two members of the State Department staff.  The Holy See was represented by three Curia officials responsible for the topics covered.

According to Fr. Lombardi, the main topics discussed were the situation in the Middle East, and the commitment of the U.S. to avoid the escalation of tensions and the explosion of violence; also the commitment to promote a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The United States’ commitment to the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison was also illustrated and the desire expressed for the Holy See’s assistance in seeking adequate humanitarian solutions for current inmates .

The short time available for Monday’s discussions prevented both sides from examining other issues in depth, though some were mentioned – in particular, the situation in Ukraine and its prospects and the emergency surrounding the Ebola outbreak.