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March 11March 11
Given all the challenges we face today—including war, civil unrest, economic hardships, racial tension, uncertainty about climate change, abortion and other threats to human life—hope is hard to hold on to. In fact, it’s only in the context of spiritual renewal that genuine hope seems possible.
This Sunday, Nov. 27, we will begin the new Church year with a season of waiting, expectation and longing.
Advent is a time of spiritual regeneration. It teaches us that the blessed hope that we look forward to every time we celebrate Mass is the Lord who has come, who is here with us now, and who will come again. Advent reminds us that a personal encounter with Jesus Christ is what we truly hope for at this time of year.
It’s not possible to live in our culture and not be tempted to forget what this time of joyful waiting is really all about. We are not a patient people, and we are conditioned to expect that our desires will be fulfilled instantly or not at all. To help us make the Advent season a time of grace, rather than a time of increased stress and anxiety, here are some suggestions for making this holy season more rewarding spiritually.
First, let’s set aside times for prayer. These should be quiet times, times to be alone with God. Let’s try to spend some quality time with God, thanking him for all the blessings in our lives. We should use this time to ask for God’s help with all the things that are bothering us. Then we should pause and listen quietly for his response. We may not know it, or understand it, but God always responds to our prayers. The best way to prepare for the Lord’s coming is to give our hearts to him in prayer.
Secondly, we should go to confession—perhaps during an Advent penance service. There is no better way to prepare ourselves spiritually than to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, to confess our sins, to do penance and to begin again filled with God’s grace. “Do not be afraid,” the Lord tells us repeatedly. We don’t have to carry secret burdens of guilt deep inside us, and we don’t have to let past hurts and disappointments ruin our celebration of this holy time. We can ask for (and confidently receive) God’s forgiveness for our own sins as well as the grace to forgive those who have sinned against us. This sacrament is a great gift from God. Let’s accept it gratefully and use it wisely.
Third, let’s be more faithful—and more attentive—in our Mass attendance. Advent liturgies are among the most beautiful and hope-filled celebrations in the Church calendar. Let’s enjoy the music and the sights and sounds and smells of this amazing time of year to prepare ourselves inwardly for Christ’s coming. Masses on Christmas Eve, Christmas day and throughout the entire Christmas season can fill our hearts with gladness and remind us that God truly is with us—especially in his gift-of-self, the holy Eucharist.
Finally, let’s give spiritual gifts. Gift-giving is an important part of the Advent/Christmas tradition, but the gifts we give (and receive) don’t have to be material things. A smile, a kind word, and a helping hand can all be precious gifts, especially when given at the right moment to persons in need. Let’s make Advent/Christmas truly the season of giving, but let our gifts be spiritual gifts of self as well as material gifts.
Waiting for the blessed hope requires patience, trust and a firm belief that God will hear and answer our prayers. We hope that the Lord will give us everything we truly desire and need, and that his coming again will be our greatest source of joy.
And, so, we pray: “Come, Lord Jesus. Help us wait patiently in joyful hope. Prepare us for your coming again. Remove all the obstacles—our frustrations, pain and anger—that prevent us from being a people of hope, so that we may share your love with others and become one with you always.”
Preparing ourselves spiritually isn’t easy. Many things seek to distract us from concentrating on the hope that Christ will come again in glory.
Let’s make this Advent season a time of holiness, hope and the opportunity to experience once again the powerful presence of Jesus, who really is God-with-us, in our personal lives and in our world.