Advent: A How-To Guide

The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming." The Advent season, which began Sunday, Dec. 1, is one of commemoration, expectant waiting, and preparation for what are often referred to as the "three comings."

Indeed, Advent is a time in which we:

1. commemorate the First Coming of Christ on Christmas;
2. await His Second Coming; and
3. prepare ourselves for Christ's coming into our hearts.

How are we to enter fully into the joy, wonder, and love that are the primary features of Advent? How are we to take a break from the busyness of this hectic time and remind ourselves that "Jesus is the reason for the season"? First, we must be "vigilant."

Reflecting on a Gospel reading of the Advent Liturgy is a perfect way to adjust ourselves to the season.

Jesus said to his disciples: "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.

"Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man."

What does it mean to be "vigilant" during this special season?

On the first Sunday of Advent, my parish priest summed it up thusly. He said we must "be ready and prepared" for Christ's Second Coming. In the days leading to Christmas, he said, "we can benefit from giving some consideration to who we are, what we are doing with our lives, and how we are approaching the one great test that really matters - our personal meeting with the Lord on Judgment Day."

He said we must strive to imitate Gospel standards and allow Christ to be "born into our hearts."

He continued, "During Advent, the Church makes an appeal for an improvement in our lives and for a new depth of sincerity to our religion. It calls on us to make a fresh start at building a closer relationship with Christ."

It's no wonder Advent is often described as a season of joyful anticipation, desire, longing, and expectancy.

Saint Faustina beautifully explains this longing. For her, too, it was a longing to make room for Christ in her heart. In her Diary, in 1932, she writes how "during Advent, a great yearning for God arose in my soul. My spirit rushed toward God with all its might. During that time, the Lord gave me much light to know His attributes." She writes:

The first attribute which the Lord gave me to know is His holiness. His holiness is so great that all the Powers and Virtues tremble before Him. The pure spirits veil their faces and lose themselves in unending adoration, and with one single word they express the highest form of adoration; that is - Holy ... The holiness of God is poured out upon the Church of God and upon every living soul in it, but not in the same degree. There are souls who are completely penetrated by God, and there are those who are barely alive.

The second kind of knowledge which the Lord granted me concerns His justice. His justice is so great and penetrating that it reaches deep into the heart of things, and all things stand before Him in naked truth, and nothing can withstand Him.

The third attribute is love and mercy. And I understood that the greatest attribute is love and mercy. It unites the creature with the Creator. This immense love and abyss of mercy are made known in the Incarnation of the Word and in the Redemption [of humanity], and it is here that I saw this as the greatest of all God's attributes (180).

This passage is a great example of how, when we spend our time in Advent welcoming Christ into our hearts, He will reveal Himself to us. The following are some ways in which we may welcome Him:

Make more room for Him: You can do so through more intense reading of Scripture, by spending more time in prayer, and by allowing your love for Him to be visible in all you do. Also, plan to go to confession. Attend daily Mass, if you can, or spend regular time in Eucharistic Adoration.

Help those in need: Find a family activity that lets you interact with those who are in need. Visit a home for the elderly or a homeless shelter. Or invite someone who might otherwise be alone to spend time this Advent with you and your family. Or give a monetary gift to a charitable cause or to a family you know who are in financial crisis.

Make an Advent wreath: If you don't have one already, consider making one. All you need are some evergreen sprigs. Form them into a circle set with four candles. As the Rev. Jovian P. Lang, OFM, writes in his book Dictionary of the Liturgy (Catholic Book Publishing Company), "Lighting a distinct candle on each of the four Sundays of Advent symbolizes the coming of Christ, the Light of the world." Each day or each week, you can sing hymns around the wreath and recite prayers.

These three suggestions will help us stay spiritually alert and vigilant for the One we've been waiting for: Jesus. May we welcome His arrival and prepare a place for Him to reign in our hearts forever.

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