An Intersection of Opportunity
By Dan Valenti (Nov 30, 2012)
Quick: What has four wicks, shines like moon glow, and gives off altar-wise heat and light?
An Advent wreath.
Now: What has 9,792 hours, was built in Rome, and rests upon a Promised Land tradition?
The Year of Faith.
Combine the answers to these two riddles, and we have a grace-laden opportunity to begin anew, to start afresh in our faith lives, re-examining our Catholic faith for the purposes of spiritual growth, renewal, and enlightenment: Advent in the Year of Faith. Picture these two events like two giant circles, intersecting. In the common area, we find a wonderful opening, the "right set of circumstances."
This year, the first Sunday of Advent has fallen on Dec. 2.
A Time to Prepare
Advent is the four-Sunday period of preparation the Church makes for the birth of Christ:
When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present [the] ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 524).
According to the Catholic website catholicism.about.com, "The word Advent comes from the Latin advenio, 'to come to,' and refers to the coming of Christ. This refers, first of all, to our celebration of Christ's birth at Christmas, but second, to the coming of Christ in our lives through grace and the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and finally to His Second Coming at the end of time."
Participation, Preparation, and Anticipation
Combine the sense of participation, preparation, and anticipation of Advent with the invitation to all of us "to step through the threshold into a deeper relationship with [God]," as the U.S. Conference of Bishops put it, and you have the realistic possibility — probability — of spiritual rebirth.
"I believe that Advent and the Year of Faith are dual gifts for our spiritual lives," says Catholic writer Lisa Hendley. "During the season of Advent, we endeavor to journey closer to Christ as we prepare not only for our remembrance of His coming to us in the Nativity, but also for our ability to be one with Him in the Eucharist and at the moment of His Second Coming."
Hendley, author of O Radiant Dawn, 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath (Ave Maria Press), calls the Year of Faith "a gift to all of us who need spiritual rejuvenation in the midst of our often-hectic lives. This Advent, coming in the midst of the Year of Faith, is the perfect opportunity to reconnect with the truths that lie at the center of our faith and to share those with the people we love the most."
Starting from the Desert
When he opened the Year of Faith with a Mass, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the "desert of godlessness" of the world, at the same time noting how:
[I]n starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital joy for us, men and women. In the desert, we rediscover the value of what is essential for living. Thus, in today's world, there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert, people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive."
Taken as the season of preparation for Christmas, the four Sundays in Advent mark a time of prayerful preparation, waiting for the birth of Christ.
Active Voice, Not Passive
How does one await and watch? Not passively but actively, for that is the difference between preparing and mere watching. We prepare best through prayer, in that place where we engage in communication with God. An active prayer life fuels that "ardent desire" mentioned in the Catechism.
Through prayer, we open ourselves into a dialogue with God, and the more we engage in this dialogue, and the more heartfelt it becomes, the better are we able to discern His will for our lives. From such discernment, prayer often translates into a companion desire, that of action, of putting our Catholic principles into deeds performed to and for those in our own immediate circumstances.
For one, it may be purchasing a Christmas present from a "giving tree." Another may find volunteering in the local food pantry as the way to serve others in Christian charity. For another person, it might be making a meal for a sick neighbor. The point is that everyone has opportunity found within the intersection of Advent and the Year of Faith to reignite their relationship with religion.
Religion is not meant to be a stuffy, once a week proposition. It's meant to serve as the codification of a set of beliefs — core spiritual principles — that determine one's approach to life and the response to the various circumstances of life, good and bad, up and down.
Pope Offers Plenary Indulgence
In the common ground of Advent and the Year of Faith, we have what the U.S. Bishops conference called a "summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world." It's also helpful and encouraging to keep in mind that Pope Benedict will grant a plenary indulgence for the Year of Faith, valid for the entire year.
This indulgence removes the temporal punishment due to sin, given through Divine Mercy. It applies equally to the living and the dead. The indulgence may be obtained by all the faithful who, while truly penitent, go to confession, receive Holy Communion, and pray for the intentions of the Pope.
This Advent, we can encourage those around us to put some of the holiday and commercial "Christmas-ey" things in second place, behind the true, genuine, and authentic "reason for the season," which is Jesus Himself.