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"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." Matthew 18:20

 

Advent Preparation

Laura DeMaria

Being rather new to the active faith life as an adult, this Advent, just like Lent earlier this year, is my first "real" Advent. I cannot count those of the past where I neither paid attention nor cared about what was going on in the lead-up to Christmas, so it is with true joy that I get to experience and learn about this season now.

I went to Mass at St. Charles Borromeo for the first time last night after getting in from Thanksgiving travels. I have heard about Fr. Planty, and was very happy I ended up at that Mass because he explained in perfect detail what Advent is about, and how best to observe and grow in holiness during this time. First he explained why the readings are so focused on the second coming of Jesus: because Advent is about looking forward to the first coming of Christ, in his birth, and one cannot help but be reminded of His next coming. I missed which Saintly writer it was who developed it, but Fr. Planty mentioned the idea that there is actually a third coming, which is that of Christ into our hearts, reaching out to us, asking to be let in. And thus during Advent we seek this connection and to grow in holiness. His homily was based around the idea that, on Christmas day, after all the presents are open and the food is eaten and the music has stopped, we want to be sure we feel holiness, and not fatigue from material pleasures. I know that feeling. I do not want to go there.

So then, he gave us homework. I've never had a priest give me homework. Realizing I didn't have a pen, I took mental notes. He asked us to consider our faith life in four aspects in the next four weeks: the Sacraments (particularly Confession and receiving the Eucharist); the Word (particularly the birth story as written in Luke and Matthew); prayer (especially to pray the Rosary and to not underestimate it as a tool to get closer to Jesus); and charity (small or large; monetary or service-based). And before we went to bed last night we were to have taken a few minutes to reflect on these four areas and formulate a plan for achieving greater holiness during the Advent season so that when we wake up on Christmas, we are full of peace.

I had already been thinking about this prior to yesterday evening. The organization of the Church is one of the things about it which appeals to me the most, and thus my love of novenas, liturgical seasons, and all the things the Church has which one can prepare for ahead of time and get a great deal out of. Really, the meaningfulness of these seasons is really down to the individual: all the resources in the world are at easily available - books, podcasts, daily devotional emails, study groups and so on. One must simply prepare and pay attention. Or, in the words of Woody Allen, 80% of success is showing up. I have found that my most successful spiritual endeavors have begun with me simply showing up prepared, and the Holy Spirit does the rest.

So a couple weeks ago I bought a very small Advent daily devotional by Bishop Fulton Sheen. I am already subscribed to Fr. Robert Barron's daily Advent emails and Matthew Kelly's "Best Advent Ever" program. I decided to add an extra Rosary each week to my prayer routine and do daily Mass at least once a week. For charity, I will think about a small gesture to carry out on a regular basis. And, lastly, I will truly meditate on the birth stories found in Luke and Matthew. This would be a good time for lectio divina or even composition of place prayer - what was it like to be the Magi making the journey? How have I journeyed in the spiritual life to get closer to Jesus? What about the sound of the angels singing, the appearance of the star in the sky, the lowliness of the shepherds blessed with the knowledge that the savior had come? What did that look like, and feel like?

I am hesitant to overindulge in all of this action, so as not to do lots of things poorly rather than a couple things well. However my overall Advent plan (and I do love a good plan) shakes out, I will look for where the Holy Spirit is guiding me in the journey and stay close to that. It could be lots of rosaries or daily Mass; it could be serving the poor; it could be writing a very long and detailed essay that no one ever reads on what the great star looked like the night Jesus was born. Either way, I am so happy to get the chance to hit reset and begun a new liturgical year; wake up, be re-born and look forward to the light reappearing very soon now.