Pastoral Letter on Advent and Christmas Season
Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City
November 10, 2014
Pastoral Letter on ADVENT and CHRISTMAS SEASON
To: Priests, Religious and Laity in the Archdiocesan Family
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. Greetings to all! I was invited to attend the Synod of Bishops of the III Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Family, as President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam (CBCV).
Pope Francis Francis summoned the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on October 9-19, 2014, to discuss the “Pastoral challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization”.
His main purpose is to listen to the Bishops especially the Presidents of the National Bishops' Conference, to indicate the status on Family Life of the Catholic world. It all stems from the love and desire to serve the people like Jesus when he saw the crowd, He felt compassion. After two weeks of working with urgency: listening, exchanges, discussion, feedback and meditation ..., the Synod was culminated on October 19, the Beatification of Blessed Pope Paul VI.
2. I left with a joyful heart and was glad to collaborate with the Pope and the fraternity of bishops with Pastoral Hearts, full of hope for the future of the Church of Christ in an era beset of changes and challenges in the world.
"Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more" (Rom 5, 20).
That is what St. Paul once preached, highlighting the selfless love of God: Love is not a condition, not a bargain, to go without calculation. It is fully self-giving, the unconditional love of Jesus revealed and fulfilled upon His death on the Cross!
My heart is full of hope for those who fully believe in Jesus, the Son of God. All of us have "great hope", the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit- the perfect love. No matter what happens, Love is still waiting for us (cf. Spe Salvi, No. 3).
3. Advent is "Waiting Season". God is patiently waiting for us. In the second letter of St. Peter tells us: "He is patient with you because he did not want anyone to perish but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3: 9b).
God waited because he wanted to meet us. Jesus Christ wants to meet us, so He will return in glory. But in this temporal life, we encounter God in faith, by listening to the Word and receiving the Sacraments. Hence, we are blessed people!
Although, we are living in the world yet we do not belong to this world, just as Jesus prayed to the Father before He goes to the Father ( John 17: 14-16 ).
4. God waits! We wait! In the depth of our human hearts, we always desire the noble, the God of Silence who is the source, the true homeland and the true nature of man.
Advent is the liturgical season of the Church that stirs up the love of Christians about the true “homeland” … look forward to this “homeland” where the Holy Trinity dwells.
In contrast, the obligation of every Christian is to change the world, to change the earth and to prepare for the "new heaven and new earth" (2 Peter 3:13) where God dwells: "Behold I make all things new "(Revelation 21.5). It is God who renews all; the Spirit of God creates and renews the face of the earth!
It’s collaboration by the Spirit to renew everything, to clear The Way for the Second Person of the Incarnate God who became man and dwelt among us.
5. John the Baptist, the precursor paved the way of the Lord. Be the voice of "The Baptist in the desert"!
Our life must become "the voice" of God. We are "messengers" of God. Hence, we need to remove part of our unworthiness. We must first renew ourselves! Let us renew ourselves! Let us block the pit to avoid falling into one! Let us pave the way so that others can come with us.
Let repentance be for the forgiveness of sins. Let us prepare ourselves to welcome the Messiah, who will come to baptize with the Holy Spirit. Consider renewing family life despite the many difficulties and challenges! Prepare to welcome God's family and listening to the Gospel of the Lord!
6. This year, we make efforts especially to bring the joy of the Gospel to the parish, to all members as well as its mechanisms and parish institutions. How to enable the parish to be more like the first Christian Community each day? (cf. Letter of CBCV, 1).
In the parish, like a family, each person has to renew oneself before requiring others to change. Repent and believe in the Gospel. There is joy of the Gospel. First of all this joy is fun to follow God and become true disciples of the Lord; to listen and practice the Word of God. The Parish will gradually become like a family of God on earth.
The parish priest and his assistants must be examples for the laity to emulate in their efforts to build the community of God. The parish council and its mandated organizations must try to change their way of life, their way of thinking and doing.
7. I have presided at Mass in the parish churches and I feel very proud to participate actively and earnestly with the members of the People of God. Few people came late, perhaps due to traffic jams or a reason; but if overcome, then it is worthy of praise. Be among those who attended the Mass, there are many people who really want to meet and get life from the Lord. I have not had the opportunity to listen to our brother priests preached at Mass but be very mindful that you prepare the sermons brief, clear and easy to understand. It will nurture a quality of life for the people of God. In catechesis, there should be close collaboration between priests and laity, but priests are still responsible on how to impart the teaching of the Word of God in the lives of believers.
8. I dream of a parish becoming the community of communion, communion with God and united together. Everyone has a place in the heart of the parish, especially the poor, the old and the young people. I dream that all the Christians in the parish will become disciples of Jesus' apostles who engage actively in evangelizing Jesus, willing to talk to people, to people of other religions, to those who do not follow a certain religious belief and be ready to answer on behalf of non-believers about the hope in your hearts and in your Christian lives.
I wish all of us, Christians become the "Paraclete", the "Advocate", like the Holy Spirit to those who have much suffering and tribulation. Let us open our hearts and expand the vision of the ancient land which was once the cradle of Christianity such as Syria, Iraq ..., let us then offer our sacrifices and prayers for them, for those who have left home for everything to witness the Lord. In Vietnam, our hearts go towards our immigrant brothers and sisters who leave the countryside for the city to find livelihood for survival.
9. Pope Francis chose 2015 as the year of "Consecrated Life". This is a good opportunity for you to deepen your consecrated identity and charism, to "constantly taste the experience of your friendship with Jesus and His message. (cf. The Joy of the Gospel, No. 264).
Such experience will urge you to love Christ more and more and share your love for others and have a stronger commitment to the mission of evangelization in close cooperation with the local church the (cf. Letters of CBCV, 2014).
10. In terms of ministry, from the First Sunday of Advent, the Archdiocese of Saigon has started implementing the program which has been proposed for 2015 Year of evangelization of the parish and Consecrated Life.
After the Advent “of waiting”, we will be glad to welcome Christmas, a celebration not only of the Catholic Church, but to all Christians in the world. We rejoice with our Lord. God made Man born in the midst of humanity, and will be with us always, until the end of the world. We will live up to this "meeting culture" that God has opened for us towards the day when everyone gathers in the kingdom of God.
11. We will follow the example of Christ, to the people, especially the poor, who came in between them, with them, sharing the joy and their sadness. Bring the light of God's love to people, to bring "trust", bring "joy of the Gospel" to everyone. Christmas is our joy.
Everything else is just playing dependent, not obscuring the Light of Christmas holy night, the sacred joy that Christ brings. Let us share our money and material possessions to the poor especially on Christmas.
I heard about the brothers and sisters living with HIV / AIDS in the rehabilitation centre which previously had a pretty tight collaboration between the religious and the government, together with civil society, people in dire need, especially in big occasions such as Christmas and Chinese New Year.
12. We will share the Joy of Christmas. God is constantly born in our hearts. Where there is love, there is God, where there is compassion, grace abounds, where there is charity, God blesses them, where there is solidarity, there is joy in their midst!
We wish you a very zealous Advent and a Christmas filled with joy and grace!
(Signed and Sealed)
+ Paul Bui Van Doc
Archbishop of Saigon Diocese
Translator: Sr. Fenecia