I heard someone point out once that most of us generally celebrate two seasons – Lent and not-Lent. When Lent rolls around, we have the sense that we need to make a plan. How often we hear the week before Lent from someone: “I need to decide what I’m going to do for Lent.” We decide to live the season of Lent intentionally, to some degree. Then after the forty days are over, we celebrate Easter Sunday and go back to our regularly-scheduled programming. We rarely celebrate the season of Easter, and we will revisit things the following year when it comes time for Lent again.
Yet the Church sets out several seasons for us, not just Lent. The liturgical calendar, the calendar by which the Church prays and lives, has a purpose. We need to get back to living the liturgical calendar, as counter-cultural as it may be sometimes.
We make plans for Lent: what we’re going to do, what we’re going to give up, what we might add to our spiritual lives, what goals we might have to help purifying our lives. But what about Advent?
Have you ever thought about what you’re going to do for Advent? You might be thinking, “Yeah… I have a list a mile long… baking and buying and making…” This is the busiest time of the year for most of us, between work and families, end-of-the-year obligations and social calendar responsibilities.
That is precisely why we need a plan for Advent.
I’m not talking about when you’re going to finish Christmas shopping or when you’re going to write your Christmas cards. I’m talking about a spiritual plan, similar to Lent, which will help you prepare your heart for the coming of Christ.
You make wake up on Christmas day and feel accomplished: your cards are written, your cookies are baked, your presents are wrapped, and your travels are planned.
But is your heart any different than it was on November 27 when Advent began? All of those accomplishments are important – I love the tradition of Christmas cards, there are definitely presents that need to be purchased, and who doesn’t like Christmas cookies? There are things that we need to accomplish – and want to accomplish – during this month. But those things aren’t the things that ultimately matter, and they shouldn’t take the place of our spiritual preparation. They should supplement our spiritual preparation.
Since this is a busy time, I would recommend making an intentional plan to do certain things to celebrate Advent and prepare your heart for the coming of Christ. Remember, this season is not just a time to prepare for Christmas, but also for Christ’s second coming. And while He will come again to judge the living and the dead, He might be coming sooner to judge me personally at the end of my life. Am I living a life with eternity in mind?
If we can do each of the following four things this Advent, to the extent our particular vocation and situation allows, we will wake up Christmas morning ready.
- Daily Mass – If it is possible to go to Mass in addition to your Sunday obligation, make an effort to do so. Maybe you can add one daily Mass a week to your schedule this Advent. Do that. The worthy reception of the Eucharist is the perfect way to prepare our hearts for Christ’s second coming because He comes for us every day, at the hands of the priests on the altar. Are we there to receive Him?
- Sacrament of Confession – In this season of purifying our hearts, there’s no better way to strip our lives of what is unhealthy or unnecessary than reception of His grace and mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If it’s been a long time since you have been, make this Advent the time to return. Go to Him without fear. Remember the words of Mary when she proclaimed the time of the Messiah was imminent: “He has remembered his promise of mercy…” (Luke 11:54-55) Take him up on that promise this Advent.
- Stir up gratitude – Advent is a time of anticipation and gratitude. But perhaps we need help stirring up these things in our hearts. Maybe we have become a little jaded to the mystery of the Incarnation or the darkness of the prospect of a world without a Messiah. Stir up in your hearts these Advent desires! We can do this by reading the daily Mass readings, so heavy with the Old Testament prophecies. Add time for lectio divina into your schedule and go back to the infancy narratives, asking God to open these familiar stories to you in a new way. Pray the Joyful mysteries of the Rosary and put yourself in the place of Elizabeth or Zechariah or Mary. We can’t make our lives a prayer if we don’t pray at certain times of the day. In this busy time of year, schedule time for speaking with God and meditating on the gift of the Incarnation and mission of the Messiah.
- Say no when necessary. This is a stressful time of year. Perhaps the above suggestions to add to your responsibilities seem impossible or overwhelming. I would challenge you, however, to look closely at your list of obligations over the next few weeks and see which ones are truly obligations. Some Christmas parties are pretty mandatory and others are our favorites, but some are ones we feel we should go to… and we really don’t have to. Do you have to get your Christmas cards out before December 25, or would it be possible and more enjoyable to do them December 28? (it’s still Christmas!) Different people have different obligations and responsibilities. But don’t be afraid to make room in this stressful time for prayer and quiet time, even if that means saying no to something or admitting we aren’t superheroes that can juggle an insane amount tasks.
What is the point of the season of Advent? It’s not just about lighting purple candles and singingVeni, Veni Emmanuel. It’s also not just a time to decorate trees, bake cookies, and buy presents. Let’s spend the next four weeks doing those things… while also preparing our hearts, living with eternity in mind.