“What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'” MK 13:37
Is THIS how we kick off Advent? With an exhortation from Jesus to the disciples to be on high alert, to not slack, and to be watchful? It’s not exactly the hot chocolate with marshmallows of readings we might like to begin our month-long sprint toward Christmas. We might rather have our star-filled night sky and cuddly baby Jesus readings rather than this, which seems to be alarmingly about Jesus’ second coming at the end of the world.
Mary conceived a child by the Holy Spirit, and then, just like every other earthly expectant mother, she waited for roughly nine months and then gave birth to her baby. It was a finite amount of time to wait and watch.
For us, waiting and watching for Christ’s return seems neverending, sometime in the far-distant future. I mean, it hasn’t happened yet, and it’s been over 2,000 years. So why did Jesus make this seem so urgent?
The parable gives us our clue: “It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming…” MK 13:34-35
What he said to his disciples then, he says to all his disciples now, including us. That we’re supposed to be busy doing our work–which is his work–until he comes. And we are to behave as if he could come at any time.
Advent is an excellent time to put some watchful practices in place.
- Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent. Putting our souls right with God is one of the best ways to be ready for his return.
Parishes: Send your parishioners times and places for Confession and encourage them to go at least once before Christmas.
- Attend a daily Mass (or more) during Advent. Even one extra daily Mass during Advent will be a blessing. Look for a time and place that can fit into your schedule–early morning, noon, or evening. Most daily Masses are brief.
Parishes: Make sure daily Mass times are easily found on your website or app like PocketPlatform.
- Read about the life of one (or more) of the saints of Advent. During Advent, we celebrate the memorials of St. Ambrose, St. Lucy, and St. John of the Cross, and optional memorials of St. John Damascene, St. Nicholas, St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, Pope St.Damasus I, and St. Peter Canisius. Each has something to teach us about our work and responsibilities as disciples.
Parishes: Include a link or a brief bio of each of these saints on your site, in your bulletin, or in your app so parishioners can easily be inspired by their stories.
- Practice the Daily Examen. This powerful daily practice helps us become aware of the ways God is active in our lives and brings to mind ways we could be better cooperating with his grace. There are several methods, all adapted from a technique developed by St. Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. The five steps are typically: 1.) Become aware of God’s presence. 2.) Look over the events of the day with gratitude. 3.) Notice your emotions. 4.) Ponder a feature of your day and pray with it. 5.) Look toward tomorrow. More information on the Examen can be found on IgnatianSpirituality.com.
Parishes: Provide the steps of this prayer on your parish website, or ask interested parishioners to opt into a daily email sent as a reminder to pray.
- Offer up your suffering. Whatever causes you pain–a disappointment, a broken relationship, a health issue, financial problems–offer these to Jesus for the good of souls with a short prayer like, “Jesus, take my suffering and unite it with yours on the Cross for the salvation of souls.”
- Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The world is in desperate need of Divine Mercy! Ask for God’s mercy to be received by all, especially those in most need.
Parishes: Include step-by-step instructions on your parish website or link to a resource like the USCCB. Push notifications at 2:45 to pray the chaplet at 3:00 pm, the hour of great mercy.
- Call, write, or visit someone who is alone. Holidays can be very lonely and depressing for people who are alone. They may not want to draw attention to their grief or pain, so don’t wait for them to ask for help or comfort.
Parishes: Help parishioners connect with those who are alone. Put a note in the bulletin for people who want to help, then “assign” them to someone who needs some encouragement. In MinistryPlatform, pastors and staff can be notified immediately when someone needs in-person care. You can then track communications and visits and keep notes on the ministry they have received over time.
- Forgive someone from the heart. This is another way to “clean house” in our hearts during our waiting and watching. There’s no time like now to make the conscious decision to forgive someone who has hurt you. It may not manifest face-to-face (for instance, if someone has died or moved away), but you will experience the relief and the grace that comes from forgiving.
- Practice Lectio Divina. Try this with one of the Gospel readings during Advent (or all of them!). The steps are simple: read, reflect, respond, and rest (or, some say, “act”). Lectio Divina can be done for personal prayer or in a small group setting. In a group, the Scripture passage is usually read three times. First, to hear the Word of God and reflect in silence. Second, to listen for a word or phrase that spoke to us. And third, to share aloud how we feel God is moving us to respond. There are several online resources to help facilitate group Lectio Divina
Parishes: This is another prayer practice you can include on your parish website or link to an online resource. This is also an excellent practice to do in person with teens or young adults to open their minds and hearts to the beauty of Scripture. For group Lectio Divina, use your communications tool to send invitations, solicit volunteers to read, book facility space, and send reminders.
- Memento mori–remember your death. Wait, isn’t this for Ash Wednesday? Why think about our death during Advent? This is one way we can respond to the Gospel reading for the first Sunday (and other readings throughout Advent). We remember that we are going to die so that we maintain focus on living a life devoted to Christ every day, not just on Sunday.
Even if you can only add one or two of these ideas into your Advent journey this year, you will be actively “watching” by working on your faith. And every little step we take closer to Jesus makes us more ready for when he returns.
About Polly King
Polly King has over 30 years in the marketing and communications field, the last 12 in Catholic publishing. As a convert to the Catholic faith, she has a deep passion for helping parishes engage and evangelize their communities. This led her to join ACS Technologies as part of their mission to serve the Church with technology and solutions that support their ministries. Polly currently resides in Indiana with her husband Bob and their 14-year-old Australian Shepherd, Riley. Her commitment to her faith and dedication to her profession make her an inspiring figure for those looking to make a positive impact in their communities.