With one week of Advent under our belts, it’s worth asking how we’re doing so far. Admittedly, there are many challenges to our Advent preparation.
As usual in our fallen world, the work of the spirit becomes the first casualty to anxiety, excessive activity, and stress. Our souls are easily eclipsed by extreme activism and urgency. And so, as we diminish our Christmas gift list, we have to ask if we’ve accomplished as much in the realm of our souls.
As we compose our lists for gifts to be bought, and tasks to be accomplished, maybe we can draft a similar “to do” list for our souls and the interior work that needs to be done this penitential season. Such a list can be greatly assisted by our ascetical tradition. The Church is overflowing in ideas on how each of us can deepen in our relationship with Jesus Christ.
With the spiritual treasury as our foundation, what could we put on our Advent list?
Here are some suggestions:
Holy Communion: Be sure to participate in Mass (either in person or by livestream, if required) and to receive Holy Communion with an open and willing heart. If you’re able, go to daily Mass.
It’s shocking how many Catholics (who are able) don’t even consider the possibility of going to daily Mass. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that Holy Communion, when received worthily, helps us to draw closer to God, other believers (both living and dead), and to have a heart for the poor and those in need.
In summary, Holy Communion makes us better people and Christian believers.
Confession: As a penitential season, Advent calls out for us to confess our sins and seek the absolution of the Lord. If it’s been awhile, then Advent is a great time to get back to Confession. Some believers still think that Confession is a once-a-year event, but our spiritual tradition has always praised and encouraged frequent Confessions.
As reflected in the Catechism, Confession is a new beginning, a fresh start. It helps believers to put sins, guilt, and a heaviness of heart behind them, and so move forward toward greater freedom and virtue. The graces of Confession make us humble and sensitive to our own fallenness. It compels us to be more compassionate and gentle to those around us.
Anointing of the Sick: For those who are sick or of older age, the Anointing of the Sick is especially important. In many ways, it’s a forgotten sacrament, but one that has great spiritual power. It heals and builds up those who are suffering. It’s a powerhouse of hope and peace. During Advent, this sacrament shouldn’t be ignored. It’s a powerful help to the sick and those of older age.
Prayer: In the throes of a busy life, the idea of prayer can seem like a synonym for fantasy world or mere wishful thinking, but prayer is about relationship. Unlike popular notions of it, prayer is not just about asking God for things. Before prayer is about voicing our requests, it’s about being with God and allowing ourselves to be loved and accompanied.
Prayer is knowing that we are never alone, and that the things of this passing world do not define us. Prayer gives us a supernatural, eternal perspective from which we can derive rejuvenation and strength.
If we haven’t been praying, Advent is a great time to start anew. However small, even if only five minutes, we need to pray. Prayer is a part of being human. We are better and more ourselves when we pray and are united with God.
Bible Devotion: The Bible is the written Word of God. As such, it’s a living word. Whenever we read the Bible, it’s also reading us. The Word desires to take root in our hearts and come alive. If we haven’t been reading the Bible, Advent is a great time to begin such a new habit. This liturgical year, we are reading Saint Mark’s Gospel at Sunday Mass.
As an easy reference, we can read a chapter of this gospel on a rotating schedule every morning or evening. Or we can read another book or portion of the Bible. The most important thing is that the People of God are reading the Word of God.
Service to the Poor and Sick: Advent is a time to remember the poor, the sick, the lost, or abandoned. It’s a time to give gifts to others who cannot reciprocate them.
The above are only a few suggestions. Of course, each of us has to compose our own Advent list. What’s on our list is important, and so the first step is saying a prayer and composing the list now. As we start the second week of Advent, we must make our list – and ready our hearts – for the Lord is coming.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby