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Bishop Julius Gitom’s Advent Message

Begin Advent journey by practising charity towards the needy

A MEANINGFUL celebration of Advent leads us to a grace-filled celebration of Christmas!

Advent season is not just a time to prepare or waiting for the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas, but is an opportunity of grace as we participate in the divinity of Christ through baptism… the moment Christ was born in our hearts.

Thus, the season of Advent is a celebration of deep gratitude and joyful thanksgiving for the immense love of God to humankind, and at the same time, to be attentive to His presence in the world. We want to celebrate this season with gratitude, not because He needs it, but because we need it as a reminder that sometimes we forget that it is God who upholds our life. Indeed, Advent is a call for a renewal of faith and a promise of new hope!

The Scriptures urges us to stay awake, alert and ready at all times to meet God as in the gospel of Matthew 24:44. Mt 25:6-10 is, in fact, a call for a renewal of our personal relationship with the Lord. We need to recapture the original spirit of Advent, drawing closer to God who is always showering His love generously. No matter how preoccupied our life may be, God is always near us, waiting for our generous response; freely he loves us and freely in return we must respond.

Such response must be expressed concretely by recognizing the Lord in the needy (cf. Mt 25:40). Thus, the practice of giving to those in need without expecting anything in return sets us free from self-absorption and allows us to grow nearer to Jesus. Let us become a blessing to the poor, lost, least and the lonely, “all for the glory of God”.

Repentance from sin is an opportunity of grace given to us by God (Lk 15: 7-10; Acts 2:38; 3:19). By recognizing our own personal weaknesses and sinfulness, or even the sins perpetrated by those given the responsibility to lead in the Church, ordained or unordained, it is then incumbent on all of us to pray for conversion and to amend our life (cf. 2 Cor 12:21). The human society is imperfect and the Church is no different.

Recently, in response to the Pope’s call to pray for healing and conversion, we flocked to the Church in the sincerity of our hearts and bent our knees asking for His mercy and forgiveness for the terrible sins, the sexual scandals in the Church, perpetrated by some priests and religious. During this Advent season, let us once more with courage and faith in the living God, pray for our personal and communal conversion, so that the coming feast may be truly grace-filled for all of us.

Part of our conversion process as Christians is to care for God’s creation. The Lord’s Prayer which we pray every day expresses God’s “will be done on earth” through our action by looking after his creation with care.

Pope Francis, in his message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation this year says, “On this Day of Prayer, I wish to thank the Lord for the gift of our common home and for all those men and women of good will committed to protecting it.” He reminds us in particular that water from the river and sea, is the most essential gift from God to humanity, but the sad reality is that humanity have failed in our responsibility to care for this most valued treasure of the Creator.

Thus, the Holy Father says, “It is my prayerful hope that Christian communities may contribute more and more concretely to helping everyone to enjoy this indispensable resource, in respectful care for the gifts received from the Creator, and in particular rivers, seas, and oceans.”

By sincere repentance, Christians are in fact proclaiming to the world that our God is a loving and merciful God (cf. Heb 2:17). He offers new hope and opportunity to start afresh, and to live in righteousness in the sight of God for “sin is a reproach by any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

Pope Francis in declaring the month of October 2019 as an Extraordinary Missionary Month, (which marks the 100th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “MaxiumIllud”, the Charter of Modern Missions), calls every woman and man to live their life in mission.

According to the Holy Father, to live a life in mission means that, first and foremost, we are to strengthen our personal encounter with Christ: we are to rediscover the value of the saints and martyrs who had sacrificed their lives for the gospel, to deepen our knowledge of our faith,and we must practise charity.

It is an opportune time for us to begin our Advent journey and life of mission by practising charity towards the needy. The more we share, the more we understand the true meaning of Christmas.

The euphoria of the 14th General Election has settled down now, with the new government promising new hope for all Malaysians; but, there is still one question playing in our minds: “Where exactly will the new Malaysia bring us?”

For us Christians, we have a sure hope for the future because our God is Emmanuel (cf. Mt 1:23). He is present in our midst. The lighted Advent candles in our Churches symbolize His Presence of hope, peace, joy and love that we want to share with the people around us.

With this certainty, we will have a blessed, meaningful and fruitful Advent that certainly enables us to celebrate Jesus’ glorious day with gladness in our hearts.

I wish all a joyful, fruitful, fulfilling celebration of the Advent season and grace-filled Christmas 2018. – Bishop Julius Dusin Gitom, Bishop of Diocese of Sandakan

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