November 30, 2014

Entering Into Advent

Entering Into Advent

Advent begins today.

Advent. You know, that season of the Church that seems like a blur? The one that’s neatly tucked in between Thanksgiving and Christmas? The one that is so easy to miss?

It doesn’t help that Christmas has been secularized and that now the commercial “Christmas season” starts right after Halloween.

It also doesn’t help that the length of Advent varies from year-to-year. Advent is not like Lent, with a certain number of days each year. The length of Advent depends on when December 25 is each year. Some years Advent is only 3 weeks long. Other years it is the full 4 weeks. Either way, though, Advent marks the beginning of the new Church year.

Advent is a beautiful season of longing – of anticipation – for the coming of our Savior. Not just the birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus 2000 years ago, but the advent of our encounter with the living Jesus today. The Advent season also helps us to look forward to the final coming of Jesus at the end of time.

Why I Love Advent

Advent has a special place in my heart. It is a time of anticipation – not for the presents that Santa will leave under the tree, but for the gift of Jesus that the Father gives to us… both 2000 years ago in a stable in Bethlehem and today, right now, in whatever circumstances you and I find ourselves. During  Advent we also look forward to being together with Jesus forever in heaven.

As a kid, I can’t say that Advent was anything more than an expectant waiting for the arrival of Santa. And, I confess, that Christmas itself lost its meaning for me in childhood once I learned the Santa secret. But that all changed in Mexico in 1989.

Mother Teresa and Me - circa 1989

Advent 1989 found me in Tijuana, Mexico. I was in religious formation with Mother Teresa’s priests, the Missionaries of Charity Fathers. At the time, I had been there for almost a year, and it would be the first time in my life that there would be no presents under the tree. It would also be the best Christmas I had ever celebrated.

One of the great graces of being in the seminary was the opportunity to enter fully into the liturgical life of the Church: daily Mass, praying the Liturgy of the Hours four times a day, a daily rosary, and fellowship with my fellow seminarians. Advent 1989 was the first time that I really experienced the beauty of the season. It was the first time that I longed to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and I longed for it with expectant faith.

We All Find Our Union Before the Crib

The Nativity

Yesterday I was looking through some old journals and I came across one of my journals from Mexico in 1989. I am somewhat embarrassed to share with you what my young 19 year old self wrote in very simplistic terms, but I’m going to share it with you anyway. It highlights why that Christmas was so special for me. Here’s what I wrote:

“This Christmas is a very special one for me. I think this has been – and is – the best Christmas I have ever had. God is so good! I have been given the grace to see many things this Christmas. I feel closer to God our Father, to the Holy Spirit, to our Infant King, and to Our Lady, the saints, and to all my brothers and sisters on earth. We all find our union before the crib.”

In February, I led the first Food Meets Faith pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I had always wanted to go to the Holy Land, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, to just be close to the places where he was while on earth.

We started our pilgrimage in the north, in Nazareth, then moved south to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I fully expected the highlight of my pilgrimage to be our visit to the great Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which houses both Calvary, where Jesus was crucified and died, and the tomb of the resurrection.

But it wasn’t.

What really impacted me was Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. God comes to us in the flesh. He is not afraid of our messiness and imperfection. He comes to us in love. When God became man in Jesus of Nazareth, everything changed. Spirituality isn’t about striving to lose our humanity. It’s about embracing it.

We really do all find our union before the crib. If Jesus was born to love me and to save me, then he was born to love you and save you. That simple fact should radically affect the way that I relate with you, the way that I treat you.

There is so much to say about how the Incarnation impacts my relationship with others, especially within the family. Perhaps this Advent we can reflect more on this beautiful mystery.

Some of My Favorite Advent Resources

I am no longer in the seminary. I am married and I have three wonderful children (and one on the way!). Daily Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, daily rosary, etc. doesn’t always happen. It’s more difficult now to really enter into Advent, which is why I desperately need helps or resources.

Here are a few resources I like:

  1. O Radiant Dawn by Lisa Hendey
  2. The Advent of Christmas by Dr. Edward Sri
  3. Meditations for Advent