This past Sunday marked the beginning of the season of Advent, which each year serves to prepare Catholics for the celebration of Jesus’ birth on Christmas. Advent also coincides with the beginning of a new Church year.
There is good reason to set aside time to ready our hearts and minds to celebrate the presence of a Child whose birth in a humble setting slightly more than 2,000 years ago changed the course of salvation history for all time.
Many have rightly lamented that a “holiday” season that starts with sales soon after Halloween turns our attention to gifts and get-togethers, and away from the manger in Bethlehem.
In his column titled “Forgetting Advent,” in this issue, Father Christopher Argano writes that, sadly, for many Catholics, “the season of Advent and all of the beautiful elements of it are lost, consumed by the pre-Christmas rush and frenetic pace of shopping and preparing for guests and parties.”
These things, in and of themselves, are not wrong, Father Argano explains, but if we lose sight of the season of Advent, then “we are not preparing to once again receive the graces that come when our minds turn to the Child in Bethlehem Christmas Day.”
How do we keep our focus where it belongs, on Jesus, throughout this holy season when we are supposed to be preparing to celebrate His birth, even with the distractions of modern-day life that beckon us all around?
One way is to make prayer a priority, especially during this time. Attending Mass on these next three Sundays of Advent, leading to Christmas, would be a good start.
Of course, Sunday liturgies are not the only way to pray. You might also consider daily reading of Scripture, even if it is not a regular practice. You don’t have to be a biblical scholar. A careful, reflective reading of the Word of God has something to offer each of us. Be open to hearing what God is communicating to you.
Another spiritual reading we heartily recommend is Pope Francis’ apostolic letter, “Admirabile Signum” (Enchanting Image), a beautiful and accessible meditation on the meaning and importance of the Nativity scene, which he signed Dec. 1, the first Sunday of Advent.
“The Nativity scene is like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of Sacred Scripture,” the Holy Father wrote. “As we contemplate the Christmas story, we are invited to set out on a spiritual journey, drawn by the humility of the God who became man in order to encounter every man and woman. We come to realize that so great is His love for us that He became one of us, so that we in turn might become one with Him.”
Another step you can take this Advent is to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, especially if it’s been some time since you have done so.
There is even a designated day when priests are available to hear confessions at all parish churches across the Archdiocese of New York. Reconciliation Monday will take place Monday, Dec. 16, from 4 to 8 p.m. It’s an opportunity to join with many others in beginning anew with the graces that absolution brings.
Don’t let the hustle and bustle of the “holidays” keep you from the true meaning of Christmas, which is all about welcoming a Savior into our world just as it was two millennia ago. Advent is a great place to begin.