Letters From a Young Catholic

My reflections as a Catholic young adult passionate about the Faith, seeking to grow in knowledge and understanding of God and discerning the will of the Lord in my life.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Advent of Advent

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The first day of a new year in the liturgical calendar of the Church. It is a time to prepare for the coming of Christ. During this Advent Season we are challenged to spiritually prepare ourselves to prepare for Christ's birth but this is not the only coming of Jesus that we long for. This is also a season in which we should pay particular attention to how we prepare ourselves to receive Christ as we encounter Him every time we participate in the sacraments, particularly in Holy Mass. Yes, we're preparing during this season to meet the Infant Jesus in the manger, but let us not forget that this same child who lay in hay in Bethlehem comes to us incarnate in the Blessed Sacrament. Furthermore, Advent gives us the opportunity to spend time in prayer and reflection preparing for the second coming of Christ for "the Son of Man is coming at an hour that [we] do not expect." (Mt 24: 44).

Over these past few weeks as we've been reading through the book of Revelation at daily Mass we've been already looking towards this eschatological dimension of the Advent Season. Often when we listen to, or read, the words of Revelation it's difficult to make any sense of what is being said, but when we place it in the framework of a Christological orientation, a pointing towards Christ, we are able to see more clearly the message God is seeking to communicate to us through the Scriptures. . . stay awake and prepare the way for your Saviour is coming!

Whenever we reflect upon the unexpected return of Jesus Christ we are also challenged to recognize that we also know not the hour nor the day when we will leave this world and encounter Jesus Christ as our just judge. To prepare for the coming of Jesus should also therefore lead us to prepare for our inevitable encounter with Him when we die.

But how do we prepare for these things? For the birth of Christ, for a more attentive reception of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and for His return. . . though Advent is not a season of penance in the same way as Lent, penitential sacrifices during the weeks leading up to Christmas can help us to prepare for the great Feast that we are preparing to celebrate. Furthermore, spending time in prayer and reading over again the familiar narratives of the annunciation and Christ's birth can help us to direct our attention to the Word Incarnate. As we busy ourselves with Christmas parties, concerts, and shopping, let us also not forget to prepare spiritual gifts for Christ as well as practical gifts for Him by meeting the needs of those who are living alone, in poverty, or forgotten in our society.

Finally let us be attentive to the rich traditions which help us to prepare for Christmas and to be attentive this Advent Season. When I grew up every night during Advent my family would turn off all the lights in the house and gather in the family room, kneeling around the advent wreath, to sing Advent songs and pray together for our family. My grandparents who live just down the street would join us in this tradition. I must admit, sometimes I'd whine and complain that singing around the Advent wreath was "taking up too much of my time" or distracting me from other things I would rather be doing. Now that I've grown up and left my parent's home though I am beginning to recognize more and more how important this tradition was. It instilled in me a real understanding of the season of Advent and provided me with a means of preparing for Christmas.

As a university student I often find it difficult to actually be attentive of the Advent Season. Advent seems to get lost somewhere between final papers, final exams, and going home for Christmas. Rather than an orientation towards the birth of Christ it's easy to get caught up in preparing for final exams to the extent that you forget we're even in the Advent season. I find that during this time of year it is so easy to get lost in the pressures and anxieties of the end of the semester so that Advent is no longer about preparing for Christmas but rather making it to Christmas. This year I'm going to try and make a conscious effort though to truly be attentive to Advent. I know that I need to set out a concrete plan now as to what I'm going to do to mark this season or else it will come and go without me having done anything. Unless I plan to celebrate Advent I will arrive home a few days before Christmas and think to myself "Christmas?! Where did this come from?! I'm not ready."