Reclaim Advent: Father John Burns Discusses Spiritual ‘Guidebook’ for ‘Resting With God’
‘Adore,’ a new book and companion video series, offers tools to help the faithful focus on the reason for liturgical preparation.
Amid the shopping, the baking, the school plays and concerts, the parties, and the Secret Santas, it is all too easy to lose focus on Advent and to view Christmas Day as something of a finish line where we can, at last, catch our breath and relax for a moment. It’s a far cry from the true purpose of the season — and the reason for Adore, a new book from Ave Maria Press.
Written by Father John Burns, promoter of vocations and promoter of women’s religious life for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Adore is designed to help readers reclaim this sacred season of preparation, to step aside from the hectic activity of the “holiday season,” and to focus on our relationship with the Lord.
Father Burns recently spoke with the Register about his Advent “guidebook” and how to make a spiritual adjustment now that can last all the year through.
Why did you write Adore?
This is our new year; the liturgical year starts with Advent. You can’t just wake up at Christmas and expect to enter into the faith. You have to have a season of preparation. [But] people are more and more encumbered with the pace of the temporal and secular season, the busyness of shopping and parties. They’re feeling this drift. We’re missing this really subtle, soft-flowing, powerful invitation from the Church to really get ready for Christ — and not just at Christmas, but at the end of time.
Advent is such an opportunity, but it’s so easy to miss, because there are 100 other demands on us. We need a daily excuse to break the pace, to say, “What’s the deeper narrative here that, in her wisdom, guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church has asked me to ponder?”
Why does your book include journaling opportunities?
As a priest, a preacher, a teacher, I give talks a lot, and people will often say, “That was a really good homily, Father.” And I’ll say, “What made it so good?” Often it’s hard for them to articulate what was there and how to put that into practice. When we journal, we have to take ownership of what we’ve heard, what we’ve read, reproduce the thought and articulate it outside of ourselves. Through the process of writing something down, even if just a quick thought, we’ve already taken a step toward weaving the reflection of the word with our own thought process. It changes the ability to take this into our own daily life, to apply the truths in the reflection. And it’s something I can return to over the years: “That’s what I was praying with last week, last year.” I can see growth through time, measure holiness.
In our current society, is it truly possible to step back from the material demands of the “holiday season” and experience Advent at a deeper, spiritual level?
It’s possible, but it requires something of a choice on our part. We have to pull back from the world’s demands and propose to ourselves the opportunity of resting with God for a little bit of prayer, a little bit of fasting. We can’t depart [fully] from the pace of the world and especially the holidays, but we can make a choice: “I choose to live more deeply, to live my interior life, the supernatural life God placed in me; I choose to follow that inward and upward, toward God.”
Christ said, “I came so you could have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). God wouldn’t make a promise, wouldn’t make an offer to us if it weren’t possible to live it. We’ve got to figure out if we’re going to do something about that. God is a perfect gentleman; he doesn’t demand that we stop and turn to him, but invites us to do it constantly. The culture isn’t going to give us a lot of room for that, but that doesn’t mean we have to stay within that flow.
How can we break out of that flow?
I think of St. Francis de Sales, who said everybody should pray for 30 minutes a day — and when you’re busy, you should pray for an hour. You need to have a prayer life, and the busier you are, the more important your prayer life becomes. You can’t sacrifice your interior life when you get busy; you have to be oriented to the authentic, the true good.
When you feel that nudge on your heart that you should pray, take it seriously! Go to your room and kneel down for a few minutes. Close your eyes for a few minutes in the laundry room. Wherever you are, pray, “God, help. God, I love you. God, thank you. God, I repent.”
When we choose to make time, even briefly, to quiet down and turn to the Lord every day, we have the confidence we’re giving the Lord room to speak. Without that, we are unmoored, and we drift. With that, we give God room to assert his goodness.
Your book gives a particular theme to each week of Advent. How did you come up with those themes?
The themes are “Watchfulness” — building attentiveness; “Prepare” — notice that what we’re looking for is becoming concrete; “Nearness” — it’s not just near: It’s God; “Emmanuel” — God with us.
These come especially from the Collects, the opening prayers for the Masses of Advent. The movement of the liturgical cycle really lies underneath this book. The hope is really that, if you pray through this season with this book, you’ll let the liturgy flow into your life more freely.
With a sacramental worldview, we always have an easy answer to the question, “What should I do next? What should the point of today be?” It’s one way to look through the veil of the flesh and see God work.
Adore is available from Ave Maria Press. With purchase of the book, you also receive access to the series of companion videos. More information: AveMariaPress.com/adore.
This book is part of a series: Sister Miriam James Heidland will have a similar book for Lent 2022, and then the two authors will switch themes: Sister Miriam will write an Advent book for next year, and Father Burns will have a Lent book out the year after that.