The 2004 election has come and gone, but the issues facing us as a nation remain just as promising and intractable as they were a month ago. Elections focus our attention. They fire up our emotions. But the real work of applying our Catholic faith to building a culture of life must happen between our trips to the voting booth.
This weekend Catholics have an opportunity to wash away the grime and heavy feelings of a difficult campaign season. The First Sunday of Advent opens the new church year. It's a chance to begin again; a time to examine our hearts in the light of the Gospel, repent of our sins and look for the coming of our Savior.
We can't really experience or understand Christmas unless we first conform our hearts to the longing of Advent. Advent calls us all to refocus our lives on God's promise of deliverance and the flesh-and-blood reality of Jesus Christ, our deliverer, Who came to us first in Bethlehem, comes to us today in the Eucharist, and will come again at the end of time.
As I said again and again over the last year, our Catholic faith, if it's genuine, must have consequences " first in our private lives, but also in our public witness. If we really believe in the coming of a Messiah, our lives will reflect that in the way we treat our families, our friends and business colleagues, the poor, the homeless and the suffering.
Real faith will drive us to live our lives in a spirit of humility, hope and courage, as Mary did. It will also guide us to press our elected leaders " of both political parties " for laws and social policies that respect the dignity of the human person, from conception to natural death.
Jesus, His mother and Joseph knew the reality of poverty firsthand. They knew the fear of being without shelter; of being hunted by enemies and being "strangers in a strange land" as refugees in Egypt. Millions of immigrants in our own country " many of them undocumented, men and women who underpin today's American economy " feel that same uncertainty and vulnerability. That's why renewed discussion of immigration policy reform is so welcome, so urgently necessary, and so in need of Catholic involvement.
But immigration justice is only one of a dozen pressing issues like adequate health care, a difficult and ambiguous war, and support for seniors and families, which now face our country and cry out for prayer and action by Christians. Prayer and action " in that order. All genuinely Catholic action begins and ends in the worship of Jesus Christ. If we want to change the world, we begin by saying "Yes" to God, as Mary did. We begin with our own obedience to God, using Mary as our model.
It's no accident that Mary is the patroness of the Archdiocese of Denver, and that the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception " the mother church for all Catholics in northern Colorado " is dedicated to her in a special way. This year we celebrate the rededication of the cathedral to Mary with special events from December 7 through December 11. There's no better way to immerse ourselves in the meaning of Advent and the renewal of our own Catholic identity than to take part in these beautiful celebrations: a concert of musical devotion to Mary; Mass and eucharistic procession; and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I hope you'll take time from the busyness of your lives to be present at the cathedral. It's a chance to begin again; to start the new church year with the longing for God that leads to Bethlehem, to our own renewal, and to the conversion of the world.
(Archbishop Chaput serves in the Archdiocese of Denver.)