This Sunday the Church begins her new liturgical year with the season of Advent. In the hustle and bustle of the secular Christmas season, it is an often-overlooked season. It is a time when the Church calls us as our Mother to enter into the silence and hope of waiting. Many of us live in cultures of instant gratification, so Advent is rich in spiritual truths. Christmas trees, elves, lights, and holiday decorations seem to show up in stores earlier and earlier. The day after Halloween gave way to Christmas. Here in the U.S., the cultural preparations for Christmas in previous years typically start the day after Thanksgiving, but now Thanksgiving seems to be absorbed into the frenzy of Christmas. It can be difficult during this busy time of year to enter into Advent, but a well observed Advent will deepen our joy at Christmas.
Advent, this powerful liturgical season that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are hints that God is giving us, signs of the attention he has for each one of us.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Homily at First Vespers of Advent, November 28, 2009
The season of Advent coincides with the darkest and busiest time of year. This is appropriate as it reminds us of the world after the Fall, which groaned in anticipation of the coming Savior. We are blessed to live in the world in light of the Paschal Mystery, but the Church calls us to meditate upon the centuries of waiting for the coming of the Savior. The darkness of this time of year reminds us of the darkness of sin and death. The People of God waited centuries to be redeemed and for the renewal of the world, often they fell into sin and temptation, further demonstrating the need for salvation.
We too are waiting. We are waiting for the Parousia, the Second Coming of Christ. As we wait we run the risk of giving into false idols and worldly goods even after our Baptism. The very same temptations that faced God’s People throughout salvation history are temptations we battle through our Fallen nature. The Paschal Mystery has renewed the earth and we are now propelling forward towards the end of time and the new Heaven and new earth, but for now we must battle sin and constantly turn to God for assistance. Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ at Christmas, but also in waiting in alertness for the Second Coming of Our Lord. Advent is a time to look at ourselves and ask if we are truly prepared in heart and mind for the Incarnation. If Christ came again in glory today, would I be ready? Am I a saint?
The question is: Is the humanity of our time still waiting for a Savior? One has the feeling that many consider God as foreign to their own interests. Apparently, they do not need him. They live as though he did not exist and, worse still, as though he were an “obstacle” to remove in order to fulfill themselves. Even among believers—we are sure of it—some let themselves be attracted by enticing dreams and distracted by misleading doctrines that suggest deceptive shortcuts to happiness. Yet, despite its contradictions, worries and tragedies, and perhaps precisely because of them, humanity today seeks a path of renewal, of salvation, it seeks a Savior and awaits, sometimes unconsciously, the coming of the Savior who renews the world and our life, the coming of Christ, the one true Redeemer of man and of the whole of man.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, General Audience December 20, 2006
Now is a good time to make a plan for living Advent fully. Here are some helpful tips in preparing to live this Advent season and every Advent season in the future.
Plan to enter deeper into prayer.
Prayer is an essential part of the spiritual life. It can also be the hardest part of the spiritual life. Thankfully, the catechism reminds us that “prayer is a battle” (CCC 2725). This is a reminder that we are called to persevere, not be perfect in prayer. God will perfect us through our discipline and faithfulness. The Holy Spirit will guide us to a deeper prayer life, but we must spend regular time in prayer throughout our day. The next few weeks will be full of parties, events, and requirements. If we allow our calendar to control us, then our prayer life will suffer and we will not have the disposition necessary for a deep joy and charity when the Christmas season actually begins, which is at Christmas Eve Mass. St. Therese reminds us:
…prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.
We must surge towards Heaven during this Advent season and allow God to take us deeper into the great mysteries of this season.
There are countless types of prayer we can use in our daily lives. St. Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing.” This may seem impossible, but in reality, it is the call for each one us. We can offer adoration, thanksgiving, and petitions to God throughout the day. We can also offer each task of our day to God as a sacrifice, which coincides with our call as the baptized to live the common priesthood mirrored after Christ’s divine office of Priest.
Some ways we can pray throughout the day is through a morning offering, Liturgy of the Hours, prayer with Scripture through Lectio Divina or the Ignatian Method, the Rosary, Divine Mercy, evening or night offerings, and daily Mass. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers an entire section—found in Part Four—on Christian prayer. The Church has vast resources on prayer, which we can use to prepare and live Advent. Perhaps make a concerted effort to beginning one of these types of prayer. Use Advent to offer your day to God when you get out of bed. Prayer has to be established through habit, just like virtuous living. Make a plan now for prayer time during Advent.
Dedicate time each day to silence.
This time of year is largely the antithesis of silence. We are bombarded with ads, commercials, and stores providing stimuli overload. If we stay too busy during Advent, we will not be prepared for Christmas. In fact, by the time Christmas actually gets here we may be too overwhelmed and stressed out to enter deep into the gift of the Christ-child. We need silence to grow in the spiritual life. Now is the time to plan a period of silence each day throughout Advent. Hopefully the habit will keep up long after Advent! It doesn’t need to be a full hour, although that is an excellent goal for the future. Put in ten minutes of silence each day and make a note of it now, so that it is already in the calendar to start next week. Perhaps incorporate silence and darkness, which are two aspects of the Advent season. Spend time praying before an Advent wreath with the candles lit in the darkness.
Make a plan to enter deeper into the Scripture readings for the four Sundays of Advent.
Advent is a time we prepare for the coming of Christ and Christmas, but it is also a time to contemplate the Last Things, or eschatology. All of us will come before the judgment seat of Christ at the end of our lives. The powerful imagery of Advent reminds us to re-focus our lives on holiness. Do we consciously understand that the meaning of life is to become a saint? Have we relegated the idea of sainthood to a few lofty souls canonized by the Church? Do we truly understand that the call to holiness is for every single one of us? Are we prepared to meet Christ? Make a plan ahead of time to spend a few minutes meditating on the Scripture readings for the Sundays in Advent. We must ask God to use His Word in order to deepen our understanding. We all need God to help us with continued conversion of heart and conformation to the Most Holy Trinity.
In order to fully prepare our hearts and minds for Advent, we need to have a plan in place. Far too many activities are vying for our attention during this time of year. If we do not willfully make an effort to schedule time of prayer and spiritual activities, then we run the risk of missing out on the spiritual fruits of both Advent and Christmas. If we do not take time to enter into silence and prayer, we may miss the great mysteries we live in the Church this time of year and every single day. In our busyness, we can also forget that we are still waiting. We are waiting for the Second Coming. Are we ready for His return? Let us ask God to guide us more deeply into the beauty of Advent. Have you prepared your heart and mind to enter into Advent?