The Institute for Christian Formation
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Wednesday of the First Week of Advent
December 4, 2013
Rich foods and choice wines, tables and baskets, loaves and fishes…the readings for this Wednesday of the First Week of Advent leave us focused on feasting and feeding.  Our First Reading today is Isaiah 25:6-10a, which is a very popular first reading at funeral liturgies due to its references to the feast the Lord will provide, and the destruction of death and wiping away of tears.  Our Responsorial Psalm is one of the most beloved and well-known of the psalms, Psalm 23.  Here there is a reference to the table being spread.  And our Gospel, Matthew 15:29-37, includes the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.
Parents…take note!  It should be no surprise that more than a decade of research by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has consistently found that the more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs. "Family Day: A Day to Eat Dinner with your Children” is a national initiative begun by this Center to remind parents that what your kids really want at the dinner table is you!  While “Family Day” is celebrated annually on the 4th Monday in September, every day can (and should be) be family day in our homes!  You can download their “Family Day Parent Toolkit: Recipes, Conversation Starters, Facts, Family Fun Ideas, and Morehere

Looking for an interesting placemat for your every day family meals?  We have just begun a new Liturgical Year, and Liturgy Training Publications sells a “2014 Year of Grace Liturgical Calendar” that is laminated and is in a perfect notebook/placemat size.  The calendar’s art this year focuses on "All Creatures of Our God and King."  Using this calendar as a placemat is sure to generate some great table conversation.
Table-fellowship and service are certainly essential to Christian life, whether it be sacramentally sharing in the Eucharist at the Table of the Lord at Mass, or gathering with family and friends around our own tables, or sharing with those who hunger and thirst.  Take some time this Advent to reflect on the “Five Fs” (as I call them): Feasting, Fellowship, spiritual Formation, Family, and Faith!  Make dinnertime special.  Sit down at the table with real dishes and no television.  Even if you are eating alone, set a nice table, light your Advent Wreath, and slow down as you eat your meal. 
Set a date to host a special Feast Day Dinner…perhaps as early as Friday for Saint Nicholas’s feast day or the following day as we celebrate Saint Ambrose!  This web site is full of suggestions for recipes and traditions to help you get started.  And there are an abundance of books and other resources, as well, many of which are referenced here on this site.  One such book is “A Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family and Faith Throughout the Christian Year” by Evelyn Birge Vitz, Parker Leighton (Illustrator).   And if you still need more ideas, contact me…I have hosted a number of traditional Feast Day Celebrations over the years!
A lovely Advent hymn for today is “People Look East.”  Reflect especially on Verse 1 about preparing your house, hearth, and table.  Remember – Love, the guest, is the Lord…and whenever we welcome someone in Jesus’ name, we are welcoming Jesus!
Talk with your children about the many “feeding” stories in the Bible, such as the story of the loaves and the fishes in today’s Gospel.  A wonderful children’s book is “God Speaks to Us in Feeding Stories.”  (This would make a great Christmas gift for children.)

And make the connections between your table and the Table of the Lord where we celebrate the Eucharist.  Visit the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ web site for more information and resources on the Eucharist.
Feast (optional memorial) of Saint John of Damascene
Click on image above to download our ICF handout on  Saint John Damascene.
December 4 is also the feast day (optional memorial) of Saint John Damascene.  You can find out more about this saint by downloading our John Damascene handout on this page.  It is fitting on this feast of Saint John Damascene to pray for the people of Syria.  Here is Prayer for Peace in Syria from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  For a talk about Saint John Damascene given by Pope Benedict XVI on May 6, 2009, click here.  And here you can read the text of Saint John Damascene on Holy Images.  In honor of Saint John Damascene, if you have any icons or icon holy cards, place them prominently in your home today.  All the better if these are Advent images and/or images of Mary!
50th Anniversary of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy
December 4, 2013

Today is the 50th anniversary of the first document of Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, or The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which Pope Paul VI promulgated on December 4, 1963.  This document set the stage for the entire Vatican Council II by listing in its first paragraph the four goals of the Council.  The document then speaks of the nature of sacred liturgy, offers suggestions for liturgical reform, and describes the riches of the Church’s liturgy and sacred art.

You can read the statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Stewards of the Tradition – Fifty Years After Sacrosanctum Concilium”, here.