During my formative years, when phones still had chords and folks hung out on porches to talk to their neighbors, one of my favorite times of the year was Advent. 

My own memory, fading as it is, always associated Advent with a time of joy, a time of anticipation. Naturally, as with any young person, I eagerly anticipated the holiday season, especially those magical Christmas mornings. 

But even as a young Catholic, including my days as an altar boy, I understood there was something special about Advent, which was trumpeted by the priests finally ditching their green vestments they had been wearing seemingly forever to purple and a festive rose for the Third Sunday of Advent.  

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In the classroom, the women religious emphasized the true meaning of Advent, and how the season is one of preparation for the birth of our Lord.  

By contrast, Lent was always somber, one of sacrifice and penance, which even as a youngster seemed almost fitting in an odd sort of way after the raucousness of Mardi Gras. Unlike Advent, Lent was dreaded, especially since it involved fasting and giving up meat on Fridays, a troublesome dilemma for someone like myself who has a disdain for eating any sea-faring critters.  

Personally, this Advent has more of a Lenten presage. Yes, spiritual joy is present in anticipation of the Lord’s birth, yet the recent clergy abuse scandals blistering the Catholic Church have seemingly cast a pall over this Advent. 

Just as we envelop ourselves in the sacredness and spirituality of the season, seemingly another scandal is reported, and our moods darken, like a rapidly fading late autumn sun. </span id=”6″>

For myself, the scandal is perhaps a bit more disturbing because of my own positive experiences with priests starting at an early age. Two priests particularly stand out as being role models through my tumultuous teen years and into adulthood.  

Because of their influence, and exemplary lives, at one point my thought was drifting to the priesthood. But the lure of a family complete with the white picket fence eventually won out, and, yet, neither dream was realized as God apparently had other plans.  

We are indeed fortunate in the Diocese of Baton Rouge because I firmly believe that collectively we have a tremendous group of clergy members. 

Their spirituality, concern for others, love of the church and even their enormous sense of humor and love of life is truly inspirational, especially for a Catholic who often struggles with his own faith.  

Unfortunately, the majority suffer for the horrid actions of a few, and because of that this Advent feels like one of healing rather than joy. I go into this season a bit tepid, if not downright challenged, in my faith, taking solace in the fact knowing I am not alone.  

Similar to so many others, I am left wondering what I can do as a lone voice, or what can we or should be doing collectively.  

 Of course, prayer is always encouraged. Occasionally, though, even that can become  rote. How does one pray when the faith that you live has a target on its back?  

And how do we each reconcile the sins of the past, not only the actions of the abusers but also of some of the church’s highest leaders from around the country who moved abusers from one parish to another in their own individual dioceses?  

Personally, my focus this Advent will be on the Eucharist, which defines the very existence of the Catholic Church. Receiving the body and blood of Christ is at the heart of what we believe, the DNA of Catholicism.  

Struggle as we may, either collectively or individually, receiving Jesus through the Eucharist is our healing, our own spiritual panacea.  

Ultimately, the church is our mother, and like every family, we are not without blemishes. But the misguided actions of our own family members should not allowed to break down the entire family.  

Healthy families are rooted in love, and it is in love where one finds the necessary healing to endure the most difficult of times. Along with the joy of Advent, let the next for weeks also be a time of healing, especially for those affected by the abuses of the past, forgiveness for heinous acts of the past and for a church that is clearly hurting.