Advent: Time of Consolation and Encouragement
We begin a new Liturgical Year with the celebration of the First Sunday of Advent. Fittingly, we begin the Church Year with four Sundays of preparation for Christmas, the celebration of the great mystery of the Incarnation. The two principal celebrations of the mystery of the Incarnation are the Solemnity of the Annunciation (March 25), in which we recall the conception of God the Son in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit; and the Solemnity of the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ (December 25).
Advent means literally coming or arrival, namely, the coming or arrival of God into our midst with the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son made man. In truth, Christ first arrived in our midst at the moment of His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary, at the Annunciation. At Christmas, we celebrate the first fruit of His conception, His Birth at Bethlehem.
The Advent Season is a time of great consolation and encouragement for us. It is a time of consolation, for it reminds us of how much God loves us. God loves us so much that He has made His home with us first at Bethlehem and now in the Church. It is a time of great encouragement, for it brings us the grace to live more intensely in the company of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Preparation for Christmas
Advent is the season of preparing for Christ's Coming, but what do we mean by Christ's Coming? We mean, first of all, His Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Bethlehem. If we do not prepare well for the annual commemoration of our Lord's Birth, then surely we will not understand the meaning of our Christmas celebration. No matter how many times, over a lifetime, we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, it always seems new to us. The mystery of the Birth of God the Son in our human flesh can never be fully comprehended by us. We never cease to wonder at the great mystery of God's love for us.
Preparation for Christ's Coming in the Church
We also mean Christ's Coming to us in the Church or, better, His dwelling with us always in the Church. The Advent Season reminds us of the many ways, most of all, the Holy Eucharist, in which Christ, Who first came into the world at Bethlehem, now remains with us in the Church, until He returns in glory on the Last Day. Through our observance of Advent, we overcome the tendency to reduce the life of Christ within us to an idea or sentiment, and we come face-to-face with the truth that, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we are alive in the same Christ Who was born at Bethlehem and Who died for us on Calvary.
Preparation for Christ's Coming on the Last Day
Lastly, the Coming of Christ, for which we prepare during Advent, is His Final Coming at the end of time. Christ, born at Bethlehem and alive for us in the Church, will bring to fullness His saving work, when He returns in glory to restore us and our world to God the Father. As Advent brings us more fully into the company of Christ, it also strengthens us for the pilgrimage of this life, which will reach its fullness, on the Last Day, when we, body and soul, will be with the Lord in the Heavenly Kingdom.
Preparing by Growing in Knowledge
How do we prepare for the Coming of Christ? Fundamental to our preparation is a deeper knowledge of the mystery of the Incarnation through studying the Word of God, above all, the Gospels, and the teaching of the Word of God in the Church, above all, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
I recommend that your Advent observance include a daily reading from the Gospel according to Luke and the study of nos. 456 to 478 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Preparing by Growing in Prayer
Hand in hand with the growing knowledge of the mystery of the Incarnation is the experience of the mystery in prayer and through participation in the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist. I recommend receiving the forgiveness of your sins in the Sacrament of Penance, both at the beginning of Advent and again as Christmas draws near. Frequent participation in Mass during the week, daily, if possible, is also an excellent means of observing Advent. The experience of our Lord's dwelling with us in the Holy Eucharist is profoundly deepened through visits to the Blessed Sacrament and adoration before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. We are blessed with so many chapels of Eucharistic Adoration in the Archdiocese.
If you do not already have a regular hour of adoration each week, why not make Advent the time to begin spending a weekly hour with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament? Why read the Gospel according to Luke and study the mystery of the Incarnation, as it is presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, during your Eucharistic adoration?
Advent is also an excellent time to renew devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, "formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary" (Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) and "pierced by our sins and for our salvation" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 478). If you have not enthroned the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in your home, why not request the booklet for the Enthronement from the Office of Sacred Worship?
The Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary is an excellent Advent prayer, helping us to meditate on the richness of the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption. Especially, when the inviolable of human life is under such severe attack in our society, why not join in the Rosary Crusade for the Safeguarding of Embryonic Human Life. What better way to prepare for the Coming of Christ Who gave His life to save all men, without boundary or exception!
Lastly, deepening our knowledge of Christ's Coming and our experience of His Coming, we are led to witness to Christ's dwelling with us and to draw others to Christ. In our totally secularized society, the need of the new evangelization — the living of our Catholic faith with new enthusiasm and new energy — is more urgent than ever. May the Advent Season also be the time for us all to give Christ to others through the outpouring of pure and selfless love, in our homes, and through the educational, charitable and missionary works of the Church.
Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, have mercy on us.