But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God.
All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. (James 1:17)
We are now in the middle of the grace-filled season of Advent. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, decoration, parties, etc. it is easy to be distracted from the true meaning of Advent. So let's slow down for a moment and refocus our minds on how to use the remainder of the Advent season to truly prepare our hearts and minds for Christmas.
The dictionary says that advent means the coming or arrival, especially of something extremely important, e.g., the advent of the computer. The word itself comes from the Latin word, adventus, meaning coming. For Catholics, Advent, above all else, is a time of preparation — a time to prepare ourselves not just for one coming but three comings: (1) the first coming of Jesus at Christmas, (2) the coming of Jesus more deeply into our hearts, and (3) the second coming of Jesus at the end times. Much has been written on the first and second coming of Jesus. I'd like to focus this article on what it means to prepare ourselves to allow Jesus to come more deeply into our hearts.
Before I do, let's start at the very beginning, literally for most of us. As Catholic Christians, Jesus has planted his divine life into us through the Sacrament of Baptism, and we have received it through faith. Nothing else can replace this combined act of divine grace and human response! It is a gracious gift, not an earned right like a military rank or an academic degree.
In light of this marvelous Baptismal reality, then what does it mean to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus more deeply into our hearts during Advent? Although they play some part in this preparation, helping out at the church Christmas party, singing Christmas carols in the choir, serving Christmas dinner at the soup kitchen, or other such works are not the entire answer to this question. Nor is reading our Bible or spiritual books more, or attending Mass more often. A big part, yes, but not the entire answer.
More than anything else, we must allow Jesus to be the center of our lives. Another way of saying this is that he has to sit on the throne of our hearts, not us. Since this is easier said than done, we need to look to the saints for some help, saints like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and others. They prepared their hearts to receive Jesus more deeply by committing their lives to Jesus Christ and to doing God's will.
Are we willing to do the same during this Advent season? This means that we must step out and do what God says! This means we become "doers of the word, and not merely hearers" (James 1:22). This means that everything we do during Advent, whether we are praying more, doing special acts of generosity and charity, we tell Jesus, "It's all about you," not "It's all about me." This will prepare our hearts to receive Jesus, to receive new life in Christ in a deeper way.
During Advent, each of us can be a "saint" in our own way. Each of us has the awesome privilege of allowing Jesus to come into our hearts more deeply through surrender, trust, and obedience to Him. Of course we can't accomplish this through works like singing in the choir or reading good books. But through Christ in us, the celebration of Christmas this year can have a profound impact on us, as we surrender our lives to him, do works of God for him, and receive eternal life through him.
Lord Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my will. All that I have and cherish you have given me. I surrender it all to be guided by your will. Your grace and your love are wealth enough for me. Give me these, Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more. (St. Ignatius of Loyala, founder of the Jesuits)
A Special Note: I know that many of you have been blessed through the Catholic Man Channel and the support and resources provided by the National Fellowship of Catholic Men (NFCM). More than ever, we need your prayers and financial support. If you believe in the vision of the NFCM, "Catholic Men, Linked as Brothers in Jesus Christ, and Called to Bring Him to Others" and have been blessed by the Catholic Man Channel and other of our resources, please consider financially partnering with the NFCM as part of your end of year giving. It is only through the support of men like you that we have been able to touch the lives of tens of thousands of Catholic men. Let's continue to stand shoulder to shoulder to reach other Catholic men for Jesus Christ and bring the light of the Incarnate Christ and his Gospel to a darkened world this Advent and Christmas season. To make a tax-deductible contribution to the NFCM and support our vision and outreach to Catholic men, just click here.
Many thanks to The Word Among Us for allowing us to adapt material from daily meditations in their monthly devotional magazine. Used with permission.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
1. It is easy during Advent to think about the coming of Jesus as a baby at Christmas. What do you think it means that Advent is also a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus more deeply into our hearts? What additional steps can you take to allow this to happen?
2. Why is the new life we receive in Christ through Baptism and faith just the beginning of our conversion to Christ, not the end of it?
3. The article asks the question, "What does it mean to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus more deeply into our hearts during Advent?" Why are "helping out at the church Christmas party, singing Christmas carols in the choir, serving Christmas dinner at the soup kitchen, or other such works" not the entire answer? What else is needed?
4. How would you describe the approach many of the saints took in preparing their hearts to receive Jesus?
5. If you are in a men's group, end your meeting by praying for one another to commit your lives more deeply to Christ using the prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola at end of the article as the starting point.