Advent a time  of prayer 

By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator  

The turkey is but a mere carcass, yams are nowhere to be found and long-lost relatives who drop in once a year for the annual feast have departed.  

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Bishop Michael G. Duca blesses the Advent wreath at the Catholic Life Center in 2018. Advent, which begins the Church’s liturgical year, encompasses the four Sundays leading up to the celebration of Christmas. The final days of Advent, Dec. 17 – Dec. 24, focus on our preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord.  File photo | The Catholic Commentator

 

Thanksgiving is over, the only evidence being a kitchen of dirty dishes and the silence of treasured memories.  

So what’s next? Naturally, for many, Thanksgiving night or Black Friday is the kickoff for the Christmas season, replete with the insanity of all of the holiday trappings.  

Often buried in the hustle and bustle is Advent, tucked somewhere behind finding the perfect Christmas gifts and placing the LSU ornament on the carefully selected tree. So where should Advent fit during this four-week sprint?  

Dina Dow, director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, said the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas is “much more than (getting caught up in the holiday craziness).”  

“Advent is a preparatory time; it’s a spiritual time when we prepare our hearts for the birth of the Lord, which is what Christmas is,” Dow said. “You’re getting ready for the ultimate celebration in an outward way.”  

Practically, though, how does one eschew the holiday madness and spiritually celebrate Advent? Dow said from a religious view it’s simply a matter of packing necessities into one’s spiritual backpack, discarding whatever weighs one down.  

So what might that include? She said it begins with a need to focus on the Holy Family and the Christmas story. 

The first thing packed should be attending Sunday Mass, where the entire journey to Christmas will be related through the readings.  

“Within that story, we know exactly what we are getting ready for,” she said.  

One’s backpack should also include a commitment to attend at least one Mass during the week or even daily Mass for the more ambitious. Participating in what the churches offer during the Advent season (found in the Christmas section in this issue of the Catholic Commentator), including missions, should also find their way into the backpack since they offer a way to be ready for the birth of Christ. 

Dow also recommended accessing a number of resources, including those found online or at area Catholic bookstores, which might include reflection booklets. Contained in those booklets are Scripture readings, reflections and a daily challenge.  

Families or individuals should consider reaching out to those who are grieving by inviting them to dinner.  

And what holiday season would be complete without Christmas cards? But, Dow added the caveat Christmas cards should have a Nativity scene or other religious symbols and reflect Christ.  

Topping out the backpack might include volunteering at a homeless shelter and having an Advent calendar at home.  

Holiday decorating can be a bit trickier, Dow said, but stressed it should also reflect Advent. She noted the actual Christmas season begins on Christmas Eve and lasts through Epiphany.  

“We have the whole season of Advent to celebrate first,” Dow said. “I would challenge there are a substantial amount of signs and symbols that point toward Christmas, that point toward Christ.”  

For example, she decorates her living area in the color purple, including putting a purple tablecloth on the kitchen table. Similar to Lent, the color purple is predominant at churches during Advent.  

Placed in the center of Dow’s kitchen table is an Advent wreath, which she called the “greatest (Advent) symbol,” noting it comes with its own set of prayers and meditations.  

She recommended lighting the wreath daily while praying, even if it’s just silent prayer. As more candles are lit the wreath is “very bright and you know something is coming.  

“Make an intentional effort to have family friends around the table, light the Advent candle and have a meal without any distractions or hurriedness. The prayers are written for you.”  

Decorations should include a Nativity scene but Dow was emphatic in saying the Christ child should not be in place. Same goes for the three Wise Man.  

“There is no Christ child because he’s not here yet; (his birth) is something we are anticipating,” she said.  

Naturally, her decorations also feature the traditional, such as Santa Claus and snowmen. But they are in a separate room, so as not to take away from Advent.  

Her tree even includes “more religious ornaments than anything else.”  

She recommended with a smile that topping off the tree should include a star or angel and “no football helmets.”  

Distractions to be left out of the backpack start with sin, which could range from gossiping about others to much more serious offenses. Dow defined sin as anything that distracts someone from the Lord.  

“Every day in our journey of life we are packing around sins, even though we may not acknowledge the fact it is sin,” she said, explaining that starting with the Ten Commandments is an effective guide to determine if one’s actions are sinful.  

She warned of not allowing distractions such as attending a Saints game or going to a concert to take away from the worship of God, including missing Mass.  

“What’s the greater worship at that moment,” she said.  

Navigating the busy Advent season can be difficult, she said, especially as parents are scurrying from soccer practice to dance rehearsals. But the simple solution is setting priorities.  

“Why would we want to hasten our meditation?” she asked. “If soccer and dance and other priorities are outside the realm of faith and actually making us hastily say prayers, that is our problem and something needs to be out of our backpack and left behind. If we can take time to schedule practices why can’t we have time to schedule prayer time?  

“Advent is a time to set priorities that are rooted in the faith and family and friends rather than what the world tells us is most important at that second.”  

She also encouraged receiving the sacrament of reconciliation and fasting.  

“Just like we fast for Lent, why can’t we set new things for Advent?” she said. “That’s the newness of life.”