The Season of Advent is, above all, a season of preparation by means of purification.
The words of Saint John the Baptist, which express his mission in the world, uncover the meaning of our Advent observance:
"Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight" (Mt 3:3). Even as Saint John the Baptist prepared the way of our Lord's coming into the world in time, so, too, the four weeks of Advent are our preparation to welcome our Lord more completely into our lives now, so that we may be ready to welcome Him finally and fully on the day of His coming in glory at the end of time.
Saint John the Baptist's proximate preparation of our Lord's coming brought to culmination the some four thousand years of preparing, on the part of the People of God, for the coming of the Messiah, the Lord's Anointed, which began with the Fall of Adam and Eve and God's promise of the Savior (cf. Gn 3:15).
During the weeks of Advent, we unite ourselves to our brothers and sisters of the Chosen People who looked for and longed for the Messiah, the Savior. At the Sacred Liturgy, we will listen to the Word of God, given to us through the Prophets, by which God the Father inspired and nurtured the expectant hope of His people, until the day of the Incarnation of God the Son for our eternal salvation.
During Advent, we unite ourselves especially with the Blessed Virgin Mary, the finest flower of the People of God, whom God disposed from the moment of her conception to receive the Messiah in her womb at His coming in time. We ask her intercession, that we may imitate her purity of heart, making our hearts ever more disposed to receive Christ at His coming into our lives, especially in the Holy Eucharist.
Christ Knocks at the Door of Our Hearts
Dom Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B., the renowned commentator on the Sacred Liturgy of the 19th century, writes about Advent with these words:
Now, during the season of Advent, our Lord knocks at the door of all men's hearts, at one time so forcibly that they must needs notice Him; at another, so softly that it requires attention to know that Jesus is asking admission. He comes to ask them if they have room for Him, for he wishes to be born in their house (Dom Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year, Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, 2000, Vol. 1, p. 37).
Advent is, indeed, a time of strong grace for the purifying and expanding of our hearts to welcome our Lord Jesus more fully into our lives.
Dom Guéranger's description of Advent recalls to mind the vision of Saint John the Evangelist, in which our Lord speaks to the seven Churches of Asia Minor about His coming at the end of time.
Our Lord urges repentance of sin and the rekindling of His love in the heart. Yes, our Lord's words understandably engender fear, what the Church calls "holy fear" or Fear of the Lord. It is the fear which awakens us to the ways in which we are living as if Christ had never come to us and which gets us on the road to changing our ways. It is not a fear which leads to despair, for our Lord Himself assures us:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into to him and eat with him, and he with me (Rv 3:20).
Our Lord stands ever knocking at the door of our hearts, sometimes in very dramatic ways but always in the usual ways by which He comes to us in the Church, thirsting for our love, desiring to take up His dwelling with us.
Purifying Our Hearts To Receive the Lord
The practice of penance and, above all, the confession of our sins and their absolution by God's grace in the Sacrament of Penance, are at the heart of our Advent preparation. How better can we prepare the way of our Lord into our hearts than by praying with greater fervor and by practicing acts of mortification by which our Lord frees our minds of distractions and our hearts of wrong affections!
Our Advent prayer and penance reach their fullness and, at the same time, are sustained by our regular meeting of our Lord in the Sacrament of Confession. Through the confession of our sins, be they great or small, we purify and expand our hearts, so that Christ may dwell more fully within us. Through Christ's absolution of our sins, He comes to dwell within us, helping us to take up the work of reparation, so that His mercy and love may take ever deeper root in our hearts.
A good confession of our sins, therefore, requires that a person confess "all the unconfessed grave sins he remembers after having carefully examined his conscience." Such a confession must be integral, in the sense that grave sins are confessed according to their kind and the number of times we have committed them. To do less is to fail to confront our sinfulness with honesty and to seek the forgiveness of all the sins of which we are conscious.
One is not obliged to confess venial sins, but it is good to do so, for even small faults keep Christ from reigning fully in our hearts. Not paying attention to venial sins can also lead to more serious sins. "The confession of venial faults, without being necessary in itself, is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1493).Conclusion
Christ comes knocking at the door of our hearts each day.He desires to make His home with us always.
May we all draw upon the strong graces of the Advent Season, into which we will enter on this coming Sunday, so that our ears may be attuned to hear Christ knocking, and our minds and hearts may be disciplined to welcome Him ever more fully into our lives.