“Advent invites us to a commitment to vigilance, looking beyond ourselves, expanding our mind and heart in order to open ourselves up to the needs of people, of brothers and sisters, and to the desire for a new world.” – Pope Francis, Angelus 2018
As a child and, I confess, into young adulthood, Advent was always something to get through in order to enjoy Christmas. The wreath and the candles were nice, but Christmas was the GOAL. My perspective has changed on this. Advent should be a goal in itself.
Are you weary of the rush to advertise Christmas? This year we started seeing Christmas decorations along with Halloween decorations on shelves. Talk about mixing the sacred and secular! Apparently, Halloween and Christmas sell goods. Thanksgiving does not sell unless you are a food company. And Advent is completely lost in the mix.
Focusing on Advent
I have found that focusing on Advent helps me to find the mystery and beauty that is lacking in the push toward consuming goods. Advent provides me the opportunity to slow down. Yes, slow down, at least in personal prayer and reflection and my sense of being present in the moment. This year, why not start with the gratitude we express at Thanksgiving and carry that sense into a time of intentional preparation and anticipation that resets our relationship with Christ?
The USCCB reminds us that the word Advent comes from the Latin “ad-venire,” which means “to come to”. The USCCB website makes a connection to Lent: “ Our Advent readings call us to be alert and ready, not weighted down and distracted by the cares of this world (Lk 21:34-36). Like Lent, the liturgical color for Advent is purple since both are seasons that prepare us for great feast days. Advent also includes an element of penance in the sense of preparing, quieting, and disciplining our hearts for the full joy of Christmas.”
So how do we “slow down” as our personal and our parish calendars begin to fill up with additional events and opportunities to make donations to important causes? As Pope Francis states in the quote above, now is the time to look beyond ourselves.
Here are some ideas to help make Advent a clear priority:
Make Advent a mindset beyond the liturgy.
Fill each day with the thought of hope and preparation. Invite people to reflect on the readings from last week and to prepare for the upcoming Sunday celebration. This year, add a reflection on the hymns for the particular week of Advent. It took me until I was working as a music director in my parish to fully appreciate the importance of Advent hymns as distinct from Christmas hymns and carols. As the airwaves fill with the sounds of Christmas songs, a meditation on “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” can help a person reset for the season.
This time of year is also a time for stewardship renewal events and for year-end gifts. Advent provides the context for contemplating what it means to be a disciple of Christ. And stewardship helps us to realize our “need to give” rather than focusing on “giving to a need”. Our time of preparation can become a time to reorient our financial giving to be an expression of our faith.
Extend hours for Eucharistic Adoration.
Provide a quiet refuge for prayer and contemplation, and encourage people to pray about “ad-venire”. To consider what it means to prepare for the arrival of Jesus Christ in today’s world.
Ask parishioners to create a prayer plan.
Have parishioners look ahead through the season and layout three primary areas of focus, possibly with the Advent themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Write down intentions for each primary area of focus, including something for the family, something for the broader community and church, and a prayer of personal preparation, and create a weekly schedule for meditation and prayer about each of these. For Christmas, do a different plan for the season using prayers of gratitude.
Let’s not rush through Advent this year. Let’s focus on Advent for a Meaningful Christmas. Rather than a blur between Thanksgiving and Christmas, take each week of Advent as a highlight, building on the previous week, so that Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love fill you and lift you into the Christmas season.
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Terry Poplava is a multi-disciplined executive who is passionate about serving the Church through supporting his leaders and organizations. His experience includes coaching and training Catholic leaders, facilitating priority planning with dioceses and parishes, consulting with parish leaders to engage parishioners, and using technology to foster stewardship. Terry serves as chairman of the finance council for his home parish in Hartsville, SC, and as cantor for his parish in Myrtle Beach.