When I was a nominal Catholic, I liked to pretend that I knew a lot about Catholicism. Realistically, I knew slightly less than the average 7-year-old knows about the workings of a combustible steam engine. Back then, for me, Advent was the Catholic word for Christmas. I was, for a lack of a better term, a theological idiot.
Webster’s Dictionary gives three meanings for the word Advent:
1. The arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
The advent of Christ. The advent of television. The advent of the day my husband will finally pick up the pair of socks that have been in the same spot on the floor for six weeks.
2. The first season of the Christian church year, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays.
So, all of December.
3. The coming or second coming of Christ.
If you knew this, you’re doing better than I was most of my life. One of the many drawbacks of being a lukewarm Catholic is blindly going through life thinking you know enough about the faith, yet really knowing very little, including the why and how behind most of the Church’s teachings. For a number of years, I was part of the misinformation problem.
Advent is a trifecta of celebrations:
- Celebrating Christ’s birth.
- Waiting for Christ to return to Earth again.
- Waiting for Christ to come into our hearts.
In a culture where everything is instant, we most certainly have lost the art of waiting. I blame Amazon because faith has no Prime shipping. We’ve lost the wonder and contemplation needed to appreciate the beauty and mystery of Advent. How can we find Christ at Christmas if we aren’t watching and waiting for him? How can we appreciate the time we have to wait when we can’t even wait two minutes for a slow Wi-Fi confection?
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Advent gives us a chance to really put our minds where it matters most, on the next life. Here’s how:
Quit being too busy to be spiritual
I know you have to do the thing with the thing before the thing and then you have to rush off to the other thing, and in the words of INXS, “There’s not enough time…” If you wait for the time, it’ll never come. So, make room. Turn off your phone. Set aside your to-do list. Light a candle. Say a prayer. Sit in the chapel.
Sacrifice all of the things
Then, substitute them with Jesus. Give up some part of your daily routine to fit in 20-30 minutes for Christ:
- Pray on your afternoon run.
- Dedicate a decade of the Rosary to someone you don’t know who needs prayers. No Rosary? No problem. God gave you 10 fingers.
- Listen to Scripture or faith-based books/podcasts on your commute.
- Grab a Bible and pick a psalm. Find a sentence and make it your daily meditation. Apply those words to your day and try to uncover their meaning in your life.
Take your Christmas playlist to a higher level
Traditional Christmas music is one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving through Epiphany. There’s a rumor going around that I even indulge in summer. Once or twice a week, or an hour before bed, listen to some spiritual songs, like a Gregorian chant or (my favorite) “Advent in Ephesus” by the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles. They are prayers that feel as traditional as Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” but are spiritually uplifting, calming, and peaceful.
Give, give, give
You don’t always have to give away money. Give your time, talent, and friendship. Be kind to an enemy. Pay someone a compliment who doesn’t deserve it—bonus points if you do it after they’re rude to you. Hold open a door for a stranger. Offer to help someone carry their groceries. Write inspirational quotes on cards that serve as compliments to people and randomly place them on car windshields. Remember that the smallest act of kindness is still a huge act of love.
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Have Sunday Advent dinners
If the good Lord gave you the gift of culinary skills then by all means, give Glory to God with traditional Advent meals. I was given no such skills. I am a terrible cook. Use these meal ideas to spark conversation and invite talk about Advent, God, prayer, and, of course, to eat. Obviously, feasts are important to Catholics, since we celebrate one every day. End these meals by lighting the candle on your Advent wreath for the week.
Go to Confession
Advent is diet Lent. Cough it up, fess up, spill it out. Get into Confession because if Advent is the time to celebrate the Second Coming, we should be ready at all times. No one wants to greet Jesus with a dirty soul.
I know. Gah. Bleh. Confession. Eye roll.
I get it.
No one who ever lived ever rolled their eyes at the idea of going to Confession harder than I did once upon a time. I’d even toss in a “pfffft” with the eye roll because I was a terrible person. The truth is, without Confession we really can’t allow Christ into our hearts, which is needed for deeper conversion, and that is what this is all about. That’s what it’s always been about. If you do nothing else during Advent, consider, at least, Confession.
Let’s go into Advent this year as Catholics ready and willing to serve our God. Let’s be humbled and filled with everlasting love for each other so we can show the world what true Christianity is all about. Let us find this season the path of peace and the ability to let Christ enter our hearts so that one day when he comes, we can kneel in reverence, bow our heads, and know that we served our purpose in this life: serving and loving.
You can’t find either of those on Amazon.
(Originally published December 3, 2018)