Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How is your Advent Going?

How is your Advent Going?

          Advent is almost halfway over.  Retailers will be quick to tell us how many shopping days are left until Christmas (oops, I mean, “the holidays”).  And it’s true, we probably have some shopping and cooking and decorating to do.  That’s all fine.  But as Catholics, we are trying to focus more on preparing spiritually for the celebration of Christmas.
          I’ll admit, sometimes I find it hard.  My wife and I try to do all our shopping in November so that Advent isn’t cluttered with those concerns.  We have special family prayers and other activities with our kids, and I try to spend extra time in prayer and perhaps fasting, but often I have a difficult time connecting what I am doing to Christmas.  They are fine spiritual practices, but are they really a preparation for the great Feast?
          My spiritual preparations for the Triduum and Easter have a character very specific to what we celebrate, but at Christmas I often have a more difficult time.  I am sure I am not alone.  Well, perhaps I am, but either way, I have been hoping to be a little more focused on the nature of the holiday with my spiritual preparations this year.
          What exactly are we celebrating at Christmas?  It is the coming of the Lord.  What I have sometimes forgotten in previous Advents is that the Church speaks of the three-fold coming of the Lord – in history, in mystery, in majesty – and Advent should be a preparation for all three.

          In History:  This refers to the fact that 2,000 years ago a Baby was born in Bethlehem and that Baby was God.  Advent is a preparation of three to four weeks, but it is helpful to remember that the Israelites had been preparing for the birth of the Messiah for thousands of years.  Humanity had been waiting since the time of the fall.
          We can lose a sense of that anticipation, celebrating Christmas year after year, especially if we spend all of Advent stressed out on the material preparations.  It can be helpful to reconnect ourselves to it, especially through the reading of Scripture this season.  Many people have a Jesse Tree that helps with this process, but even if we don’t, we can spend our time preparing with ancient Israel through the Old Testament.
          Start in the Book of Genesis, with the fall, and the promise of a savior in chapter 3.  We can read about some of the people whose lives were a preparation for Christ’s, like Joseph and Moses.  There are the messianic psalms and prophecies, such as Psalm 22, and Isaiah 52 and 53.  It would be great to spend some time each evening pondering one piece of Scripture, building the anticipation with the Israelites.
          Then, of course, there are the Nativity stories reported in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels.  Every time we read through them they can inspire deeper meditation.

          In Mystery:  Jesus promised in Matthew 28:20 that “I will be with you always, even to the consummation of the world.”  How has He kept that promise?  Certainly on Pentecost He sent us the Holy Spirit, which has guided the Church this 2,000 years, and which we receive at our Baptism.  But also, Jesus has stayed with us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the holy Eucharist.
          This Advent we should make time to spend with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and deepen our love of this gift and our appreciation that He comes to us so substantially and so intimately.

          In Majesty:  The first week of Advent we heard at Mass, as we had the few weeks prior, that Jesus will return in glory at the end of time.  He will come as a king, riding the clouds, with angels; the dead will rise; and the just will attain eternal life.  He warns us again and again to be ready, for He desires that none are lost.  This Advent, are we preparing for the coming of the Lord in majesty?  
          Like Lent, Advent should be a time of reflection and penance.  Most importantly, we should make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation during this season.

          I am suspecting that as I focus my spiritual activity this Advent on preparing for the coming of Christ, in history, in mystery, and in majesty, come December 25, I will be more ready to receive the Grace that Christmas provides.