With Advent, we begin a new liturgical year. The Latin word “Adventus” means “coming.” The meaning of Advent can be summed up in two words: “God comes.” God comes to dwell among us and to stay with us. He comes to free us from sin and death. He comes to save us. God’s coming to us in the present is linked to His coming in the past, His Incarnation, and also His coming in the future, His glorious return at the end of time. The Advent season focuses on these three comings: His coming in the flesh in the fullness of time (which we celebrate at Christmas), His coming now in the present (in our souls), and His final coming at the end of time (to judge the living and the dead). Our God is the God-who-comes.
Why does God come to us? It is because of who He is: “God is love,” St. John teaches us (1 John 4:16). Our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, explained:
The one true God, ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is not a God who is there in Heaven, unconcerned with us and our history, but he is the God-who-comes. He is a Father who never stops thinking of us and, in the extreme respect of our freedom, desires to meet us and visit us; he wants to come, to dwell among us, to stay with us. His ‘coming’ is motivated by the desire to free us from evil and death, from all that prevents our true happiness. God comes to save us.
The season of Advent is a time to remember and to celebrate God’s coming, but also a time to prepare for His coming, to prepare to welcome Him at Christmas, to prepare for His second coming, and to welcome Him now into our souls by receiving His grace.
In the liturgies of Advent, the prayers and Scripture readings urge us to be ready for Christ’s coming. Jesus Himself urges to be watchful, vigilant and alert, to stay awake. So does St. Paul. We are called to throw off the lethargy of sin and to receive the energy and vigor of grace, by welcoming and opening our hearts to God our Savior.
How can we have a fruitful Advent? The best advice I can think of is “Pray and love.”
To be watchful, alert and ready for the Lord’s coming, we need the vigilance of prayer. Pope Francis has warned us often about the dangers of lukewarmness in our faith, indifference to the Lord, and worldliness. He warns us about letting drowsiness overtake us in our Christian lives and about a dangerous kind of sleep, what he calls “the slumber of mediocrity.” The Holy Father gives us the remedy to rouse ourselves from this slumber: the vigilance of prayer. Last Advent, Pope Francis preached the following:
Prayer rouses us from the tepidity of a purely horizontal existence and makes us lift our gaze to higher things; it makes us attuned to the Lord. Prayer allows God to be close to us; it frees us from our solitude and gives us hope. Prayer is vital for life: just as we cannot live without breathing, so we cannot be Christians without praying.
I invite you to make a prayer resolution for Advent. Make watchfulness or vigilance in prayer a priority during this often too hectic and busy season. Prayer should not be just another thing on our “to-do” list before Christmas. In fact, prayer will reduce the anxiety and stress we may tend to feel during this season.
Here are a few ideas to choose from as a way to be vigilant in prayer during Advent: daily Mass, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, daily rosary, meditation on the daily readings of Advent, a special novena the nine days before Christmas. There are many ideas for Advent prayer. The important thing is that we pray, that we make room in the inn of our hearts for Jesus as Christmas approaches. We all need to slow down a bit to focus on God more than the myriad of holiday preparations and activities, maybe even trying to reduce some of them in order to have time for prayer.
The other word of advice is “love.” Again, the insights of Pope Francis can be helpful to us. He speaks not only about rousing ourselves from “the slumber of mediocrity,” but also from “the slumber of indifference.” How? “With the watchfulness of charity.” The Holy Father spoke last Advent about this watchfulness as follows:
Charity is the beating heart of the Christian: just as one cannot live without a heartbeat, so one cannot be a Christian without charity. Some people seem to think that being compassionate, helping and serving others is for losers. Yet these are the only things that win us the victory, since they are already aiming towards the future, the day of the Lord, when all else will pass away and love alone will remain. It is by works of mercy that we draw close to the Lord.
While I was meditating on the prayers and readings for the First Sunday of Advent, the theme of love or charity stood out to me. In the Collect, we ask God for “the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.” This is part of Advent – righteous deeds, works of mercy, acts of love. In the second reading, St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.
The Church emphasizes Advent as a season of hope. Christian hope is founded in our faith in God and His love, a love so great that He gave us His only-begotten Son so that we might have eternal life. Ours is not some vague hope. It is hope that is anchored in Christ, the Word made flesh, who came and who comes, to save us. In this season of hope, we prayerfully watch and wait for Jesus’ coming by the commitment to love one another as He has loved us. In this sense, the Advent season of hope is also a season of love.
We are all called to holiness. St. Paul prayed that the Thessalonians would be “blameless in holiness” at the coming of Jesus. How? “Through love for one another and for all.” This is the path to holiness. “Charity is superior to all the virtues.” (CCC 1826) “If I… have not charity,” St. Paul says, “I am nothing.”
I invite you to make a resolution to practice a work or works of mercy and charity during Advent. As you buy Christmas gifts for loved ones, think about a gift for the poor, perhaps a donation to our Catholic Charities, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Christ Child Society, or another charitable organization. Remember especially relatives, friends, or neighbors who may be having a hard time and reach out to them through a visit, phone call, or card. Reach out to those in your life who are sick, lonely, or suffering during this season and keep them in your prayers.
Throughout Advent, let us keep in mind the prayer from the First Sunday of Advent – for “the resolve to run forth to meet Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.” May righteous deeds, works of mercy, acts of charity, be part of our observance of Advent and preparation for Christmas!
The Blessed Virgin Mary is the icon of Advent. She who lovingly bore the Son of God in her immaculate womb is Our Lady of Advent. In this season of grace, we will celebrate her Immaculate Conception and her appearance as Our Lady of Guadalupe. She is our greatest human model of prayer and love. May she help us to live this Advent more authentically and fruitfully through prayer and love! May Our Lady inspire in us the true spirit of Advent!
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