How to Spend Advent

The fast pace of our lives often leaves us feeling as though we are being dispatched through life in one of those pneumatic tubes at the drive-through banking window.

So it is with the Christmas season. For Christmas decorations are displayed in stores before the dishes have been cleared from the Thanksgiving dinner table. The Christmas rush has invaded the leisurely, contemplative anticipation of the feast that the season of Advent is meant to provide. We have to make a decision between joining the stampede or walking quietly with the Church during Advent to arrive with proper dispositions at the manger in Bethlehem.

For the Church, our loving mother, who knows best what her children need, urges us to spend the four weeks of Advent in prayerful anticipation of the feast of Christmas, preparing not only our homes but also especially our hearts to receive the Infant Savior.

In Advent we hear the prophet Isaiah say to us, “A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord’” (Isaiah 40:3). Matthew's Gospel tells us that the “voice” was John the Baptist's. The Church wants us to “prepare the way of the Lord” in the wilderness and chaos of our own lives by leveling the mountains of our pride by humility and filling the valleys of our depression with the hope that the birth of the Savior brings.

That is why it is good for us to walk with the Church through the weeks of Advent—listening to the prophets, reflecting on the longing of the Jews for the coming of the Messiah, recalling how empty and meaningless our lives would be if we did not know God as “Our Father” who “so loved the world that he gave us his only Son” (John 3:16).

As we draw closer to Christmas, we can join Mary and Joseph as they make preparations and set out for Bethlehem. We can recall the difficulty and hardship of their journey and their relief at arriving in Bethlehem. Recognizing their need for privacy and quiet, we can understand why the crowded inn or caravansary was “no place for them” and why they chose the manger cave for the birth of the Son of God. Keeping our thoughts on the purpose of Advent we can gather as a family every evening around the Advent wreath, read the Scriptures and pray for hearts to open to receive God's grace.

As we prepare our hearts we must also prepare our homes. But everything should be done in proper order without rushing the season. And the more the whole family joins in the preparations—selecting and wrapping presents, cleaning and decorating the house, preparing the food and decorating the Christmas tree—the more the eager anticipation of the feast will grow and the greater will be the joy of Christmas Day, when Christ's Mass is celebrated followed by the family feast and the sharing of gifts.

For just as faith gives meaning to our lives and sustains us on our journey, so it gives special meaning and joy and excitement to the feasts we celebrate as Christian communities, especially to the feast of Christmas.

It has been said that “getting there is half the fun.” Yes. But only half. We arrive at Christmas by passing through Advent. The measured, prayerful preparations we make during Advent should be fun. If we go about them in a measured, thoughtful, prayerful way—as the Church intends—they will lead us to the great joy and excitement of Christmas. If we “make straight the way of the Lord” during Advent, on Christmas we will truly be prepared to give “glory to God in the highest” and know peace as God's people on earth.

Holy Cross Father

Thomas Feeley writes from

North Easton, Massachusetts.

For information on Holy Cross

Family Ministries, visit

www.hcfm.org.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.