Advent: Put cultural noise on hold, tune in to God
A television commercial offers recipes for holiday leftovers — yet the holidays are still many weeks away.
Even before Halloween, stores and radio stations are playing Christmas music, decorations are up and seasonal merchandise has arrived and is being promoted with gusto.
Some people, so weary of the season, are tempted to take their decorations down before Dec. 25.
Between the commercialism and the busyness of the season, it's easy to forget the spiritual importance of Advent, a time of preparation leading up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and a redirection of our hearts and minds to Christ's second coming.
The goal is balancing the sacred part of Advent with the many chores in getting ready to spend time with family and friends. Making time for quiet reflection and prayer can be a boost physically, emotionally and spiritually for those worn down by the Christmas preparations.
"There's always that tension in our culture between Advent, which says let's wait before we celebrate Christmas until the 25th, and the culture, which says let's do it right now,'" said Msgr. William McCumber, director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship and pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Richmond Heights.
Advent, Msgr. McCumber said, is a season of waiting, hope and assurance.
It is a time "to be renewed in the assurance that God is sending His Son and fulfilling His promise that the Son is going to be everything we hoped for and desired," Msgr. McCumber said.
"As Blessed John Henry Newman said, Christians are people who are called to wait for their Savior," the priest said.
Advent, Msgr. McCumber said, is "a time to expand our hearts to embrace the fullness of that promise of our Savior."
A prayer from Mass two weeks before the start of Advent is a preview of the season: "Help us to drink of His truth and expand our hearts with the joy of His promises so that we may serve You in faith and love."
The Church stresses the penitential and preparatory nature of Advent with priests wearing purple vestments, the Gloria omitted during Mass and more. On the third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday, priests can wear rose-colored vestments, a reminder that Advent is half over.
What to do
Some suggestions Msgr. McCumber has for keeping Advent in mind are:
• Focus on the daily readings of Mass. A list of the readings is included in most bulletins or see the full readings online.
• Have a small prayer service centered around a family Advent wreath. Lighting the Advent candles represents the promise of the coming of Jesus, the light of the world. Traditionally there are three purple candles and a rose candle used for the third Sunday.
• Involve the family in a Jesse tree, an ancient tradition representing the family of Jesse, father of King David. The tree can be made from paper, cloth, branches or a tabletop Christmas tree. Add an ornament each day to represent the ancestors of Jesus and read a paragraph or story about each, tracing the roots of Jesus in the Old Testament.
• Read a blessing of the Christmas tree and a blessing of presents.
• Set aside time for the Sacrament of Penance, a perfect way to prepare for Christ's coming.
• Take part in a cultural tradition such as Las Posadas, popular in Spanish-speaking areas, a re-enactment of Mary's and Joseph's journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem as they search for and are denied lodging.
• Obtain and daily follow a devotional book such as "Give Us This Day," or "The Word Among Us," with Scripture readings and reflections. Consider the "Lexio Divina," practice of reading, meditation and prayer usually centered on a short portion of Scripture. Online sites with resources include creativecommunications.com, liguori.org and litpress.org. Or visit a Catholic bookstore.
• Pray the Joyful Mysteries as a preparation and reminder of the Incarnation of Christ; consider inviting neighbors and make it a multi-family gathering.
• Find ways to reach out to people in need.
"As we welcome Jesus into the world, we welcome Him into our lives," said Msgr. James Pieper, pastor of St. Clement of Rome Parish in Des Peres.
Prayer and reflective reading are the best way for an individual to spend time on the meaning of the coming of Christ into the world "and perhaps more importantly the coming of Christ into the lives of each of us," he said.
The goal is "to make it a more prayerful season, reflective upon the coming of our Lord," he said.
One way, if possible, is to attend daily Mass, he said, or reflecting on each day's readings.
Such a welcoming of the Lord "shows Him that we are grateful to Him for coming into the world and for what He's accomplished on our behalf," Msgr. Pieper said.
Msgr. Pieper also recommends attending a Christmas novena, traditionally nine days of prayer leading to Christmas.
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