Today we begin the new year of Grace 2014 with the First Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time of penance and at the same time joyful anticipation. Anticipation is not celebration, however. The anticipation of Advent is a sense of waiting, quiet and reflection that helps us prepare for Christmas and the season of Chritsmas. If we enter into Advent as a time of anticipation by careful preparation and reflection, it leads us to experience the virtue of hope - hope for the salvation Christ has offered us.
As we enter this Holy Season of Advent we realize this liturgical season, like every liturgical season, has its own special graces. The Christmas Season will begin on Christmas and close on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord which this year is January 12 and it has its own special graces for us. But if we celebrate the Christmas Season during Advent we will miss the special graces given during the Christmas Season.
As I have mentioned, I have a priest friend who speaks of the “next thing syndrome.” He suggests that people sometimes miss the enjoyment of the things they do because they are constantly looking to the “next thing” to do rather than enjoying “this” thing they are doing now. It is as if we check off an activity once we begin and then focus on the “next thing.” We then lose the specific enjoyment of “this thing” we are doing. Some may unfortunately fall into this habit with Sunday Mass. They feel good that they began the activity, but are in a hurry to get to the next thing. The present activity loses its importance as we begin to focus on the “next thing.” (Some may even be tempted to leave Mass before the priest leaves the Church at the end of Mass; they don’t stay and make an act of thanksgiving.)
Don’t fall victim to this “next thing syndrome” in any part of your life; enjoy each activity to its finish and reflect upon the joy which came from the experience. Otherwise, we may succumb to the drear practice of looking at our lives as a series of dull jobs to just get done. In particular, be sure with your Sunday and Holy Day Masses, your regular confessions, daily prayers and in the liturgical seasons (like this Advent) and Feasts of the Church not to just “get them over.” Enjoy the “practice” of the Faith; and this is a good concept – we are “practicing” our Faith. We are not perfect at our religion yet, but as we discipline ourselves by “practicing,” we come to appreciate and enjoy the Faith at an ever deepening level.
Enter Advent with calm and reflection. The following may help:
• Go to Sunday and Holy Day Mass as a family rather than just getting it in as an obligation.
• Prepare for Sunday Mass by reading the Sunday Mass readings together Saturday night.
• Go to bed early on Saturday so you can get up rested on Sunday and ready for Mass.
• Wear your “Sunday best” to accent, as the Catechism teaches, the importance of the Mass.
• If possible, go to daily Mass during Advent; or at least on Wednesday nights.
• Read the daily Mass readings each day.
• Read the prophecies of the Christ in the Old Testament, especially Isaiah.
• Choose specific penances during the season personally and as a family.
• Have an Advent wreath and say the prayers each day at the dinner table.
• Have at least one meal a day together as a family and talk about the Jewish people waiting for the Messiah and what Mary and Joseph must have been thinking
as they prepared for the first Christmas.
• Read a good spiritual reading book, perhaps on the prophecies and the Nativity.
• Slow down in your decorating, shopping and Christmas preparations.
• Pledge to keep your Christmas decorations up until the close of the Christmas Season on January 12.
Enjoy the waiting and meditating on the Old Testament prophecies in this sacred time of Advent. May God bless you with a happy and blessed Advent and our Lady keep you in her care. With my prayers, Fr. Arnsparger