During the past few years I have found that the first Sunday of Advent, much like its secular equivalent of New Year’s Day on January 1, is a great time of looking forward with hope and anticipation, a chance to “restart the spiritual clock” and to reflect on what we can do to better prepare for Christ’s coming. (The word “Advent” comes from the Latin “Adventus,” which means “coming.”)
I think we are fortunate that Advent comes on the heels of the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S. because if we’ve spent a few hours during Thanksgiving reflecting on what we’re thankful for, and for reconnecting with people in our lives, we are given a clear reminder of the things matter most in life.
With these thoughts fresh in mind, we can also see where our attention can be redirected, and our time and resources better allocated in order to make the best use of all the gifts we have received.
You will recall that in a recent Gospel reading, we were reminded of our need to be more faithful stewards of the talents given us, servants who wisely invest these talents, rather than bury them. Our time itself is a gift that also must be invested wisely.
Last Things and First Things
Advent is the season of joyful preparation for the arrival of Christ. At the end of the liturgical year, we were reminded to “remain vigilant” and prepared for Christ’s second coming and to make sure we have enough “oil for our lamps,” — that is, to be actively -not minimally — obeying God and caring for his people,. We are told that we will be judged for what we did to the “least of these.”
This focus on final things at the end of liturgical year is not random but rather is the natural first step in preparing our hearts and minds for the season. Advent season is simply a special gift of time that helps us examine our lives in light of the fact that we know our time on earth is very limited and that there is much for us to do.
To prepare wisely, some planning is in order. Good planning takes time and effort. One way to get the time necessary for good planning is to do a formal retreat (if such a retreat allows the time needed for reflection).
If a formal retreat is not possible, we should consider carving out a few hours just to meditate on how we will use this season to draw closer to Christ. We should do this as early as possible before we get sucked into the whirling vortex of all the demands placed on us as the holidays draw near.
In my world, to ‘prepare’ is to ‘simplify’. That means I have to choose to focus on a few important activities based on how well they help me be more available to God and to people. If I fill all my free time with parties, concerts, shopping, decorating, etc., there isn’t much time or energy left for anything else. It may be uncomfortable but necessary to remove some enjoyable but superfluous activities from my schedule to allow time for the most important things.
Advent is similar to Lent in the sense that it may require giving something up. (Traditionally, Advent has been celebrated with prayer and fasting, which is why it is known as the “little Lent.”)
Can I honestly make a good Advent without a solid commitment to time for prayer, spiritual reading, and works of charity? Let’s face it: if advent is going to serve a genuinely spiritual purpose some of my priorities may need to be shifted, which means I may doing things differently than in the past. If spiritual preparation is not made the key focus of Advent, everything else that competes for my time will crowd out the important things.
In addition to setting apart a fixed time of day for prayer (if you are not already doing so) here are just a few ideas for ways to make Advent a time of true preparation.
- Set apart a fixed family time for Advent reflections on a specific day of the week. This works well with an Advent wreath. If you have small children, consider making an Advent wreath together.
- Fast on one or more day of week in Advent.Volunteer some hours to a service that helps the poor, i.e Saint Vincent de Paul, Blue Santa, Brown Santa, Meals on Wheels, area food banks, etc.
- Donate a generous amount of time to visit people who are isolated such as shut-ins or those living in retirement homes.
- Attend Daily Mass
- Spend time (or more time) in Adoration
- Prepare for and participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
- Find activities or games that can be done with the whole family.
Make a Good Advent
Whatever we do, it is best to plan early and prayerfully, asking for the grace and wisdom to make the sacrifices necessary to carry out our resolutions and to make this time truly fruitful.
Each Advent Season we are granted another opportunity to do better than before. Life is short. Let’s make ourselves fully present to the gift of Advent and use it wisely. Then let us reap the joy of drawing closer to Christ than ever before.