Through the history of the Western Church the season of Advent has become a significant part of the pattern of life, faith, culture and worship that is Catholic Christianity
The ritual of Catholic Christian life provides a form into which the freshness of the Spirit can be poured again and again.For me, celebrating Advent is a call to living faith, genuine repentance, ongoing conversion and the pursuit of holiness of life - the things that really matter.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Today was a difficult day for me. If I had to try to encourage one more person out of their hangover depression after the election - or help one more person find some hope in spite of the spiraling moral decline of our culture, I think I might have crawled into a ball somewhere and wept openly. At the end of the day I was looking forward to going home and taking a short nap before the evening obligations began. However, I had an errand to run which required me to make one stop.
When I walked into the local drug store and heard these familiar words of the Christmas song from Mame entitled "I Need a Little Christmas, Right This Very Minute", it brought a much needed smile to my drooping face and lightened the load: "Haul out the holly; Put up the tree before my spirit falls again. Fill up the stocking, I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now. For we need a little Christmas, Right this very minute, Candles in the window, Carols at the spinet. Yes, we need a little Christmas, Right this very minute."
I understand the sentiment, especially this year. However, I want to suggest that what we really need is a little Advent, right this very minute. Oh, don't worry; I am not going to launch into a diatribe about commercialism and Christmas. Nor am I going to spend this column attempting to persuade my readers to hold off on Christmas decorations. Though I understand the reasons behind such admonitions - spiritually, pastorally and liturgically - I must admit that I can't wait to get out the tree this year!
However, I will simply spend some time reflecting on Advent. Maybe it will help all of us to see that Advent is the best way to prepare for a much needed Christmas this year. It is a time to empty ourselves of all that impedes the comings of the Lord and the fulfillment and true joy they bring. For many of my readers in the United States of America, the smell of Thanksgiving still permeates the indoor air but the celebratory atmosphere is wearing off. Thanksgiving was a day for family gatherings and for giving thanks. Sometimes, it also becomes a day of stress, as families deal with all the intricacies of those special relationships and are invited to learn the way of love.
Now, the Catholic Church, good mother that she is, focuses the faithful on a beautiful liturgical season which calls us to live in anticipation of a new beginning, a new coming of the Lord. Advent prededes the Feast of the Nativity we call Christmas. It is a time when we focus on all the comings of the Lord. It is a season of joyful preparation. We will be continually invited through liturgical readings and practices, to clear away all that entangles us and open a space in our hearts, our homes, our relationships and our lives, for the Lord Jesus to come. This is the gift of Advent.
The emphasis in the Office of Readings during Advent is on preparing for the coming(s) of the Lord. One of my favorite readings is taken from an Advent homily given by St. Bernard of Clairveaux. His insight unveils the special truth of this wonderful season of beginning again. He reminds us of all the Lord's comings. He then situates us where we live our daily lives, on the road of continual conversion, the heart of the Christian vocation:
"We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible while the other two are visible. In the first coming He was seen on earth, dwelling among men; . in the final coming "all flesh will see the salvation of our God and they will look upon Him whom they have pierced". The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In His first coming our Lord came in our flesh and our weakness; in this middle coming He comes in Spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and in majesty. Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last." (St. Bernard of Clairveaux)
This coming Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. Many of the faithful will bring the advent candles out of storage and set them in a wreath. Over the weeks preceding Christmas, families, religious communities and all of the faithful will gather, pray and sing together- inviting the coming of the Lord into our lives, our homes, our Churches - and into the world which God still loves so much that He sends His Son, through the Church, the Body of Christ, of which we are members.
The word "Advent" is derived from the Latin words, ad-venio or adventus, which both signify a coming. It is a liturgical season in the Catholic Church that birthed customs and practices which are meant to be filled with and fueled by living faith. When they are, they form a framework, a pattern that moves us forward in the process ...
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