The season of Advent often flies by in a flurry of parties, preparations, and busyness. Before we know it, Christmas has come and gone and we are packing away all of the decorations. The new liturgical year invites us to take a step back from the hectic pace of the world. Advent is a time of preparation in anticipation of one of the great celebrations in our Church year.
Even though the culture around us jumps into the Christmas festivities right after Thanksgiving — or earlier — Fr. David Wheeler believes there is wisdom in allowing Advent to be simple and prayerful.
“In a very practical sense, if every day was your birthday, it wouldn’t be very enjoyable,” Fr. Wheeler says. “We have to have these times of preparation, of looking forward to the big celebrations within the Church. We can use things like fasting and extra spiritual practices to prepare our hearts.”
Growing up, Fr. Wheeler remembers his family praying together during Advent, with a Rosary on Sunday. As part of their nighttime prayers, he recalls acting out stories from Scripture with toys and blocks. Some families use the manger to help smaller children prepare for Christmas. A common practice is to place a piece of straw in the manger for every kind deed, in the hopes of creating a warm, soft bed for baby Jesus. Fr. Wheeler suggests making small changes to the usual family routine, especially in prayer.
“Try to set it apart and make it feel different,” he says.
While Lent is known as a rigorous fast, Advent is also a traditional season of fasting and penance. Making small sacrifices and building up your prayer life are good ways to use this season to draw closer to Jesus and prepare to celebrate His Incarnation.
If you don’t already take advantage of the many opportunities for prayer at the Cathedral, Advent might be the time to take the next step. From Eucharistic Adoration to the First Saturday devotion, Jesus might be calling you to greater prayer and communion with Him. The parish will also be holding a Penance Service on Dec. 18 at 7:15 p.m.
“It’s a good way to spiritually clean house to prepare for God to enter into our hearts,” Fr. Wheeler says.
Gifts are a beautiful Christmas tradition, but it’s easy to get caught up in the shopping and stress during Advent. Fr. Wheeler reminds us of the real purpose of gift-giving which can help us gain perspective.
“God gives us the ultimate gift in Himself and we want to recognize and celebrate that,” he says. “We want to recognize the value of our family and friends by giving them gifts, but in the context of that ultimate gift that was given to us.”
When Christmas Mass comes at last, it could easily feel like another obligation in a busy month. Let us approach with gratitude and celebration and we’ll be able to enjoy the true sweetness of the birth of our Lord.