Monday, December 1, 2014

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Advent!

Happy Advent/New Liturgical Year!!!

Coming in with the strains of "People Look East," Nativity figures, and purple everything (candles, vestments, linens), the season of Advent is here (and since "advent" means "arrival", I've seen the "advent of Advent!" haha!)

I've mentioned it before: I love following the Church's liturgical seasons. And Advent is a great season to be in! From an Advent wreath to the Jesse Tree to an "incomplete" creche (Mary and Joseph are quite a ways off from the "stable area," since they have all of Advent to reach Bethlehem), our apartment is looking a lot like Advent. And while I love these different, awesome Advent traditions, there's always a danger in getting too caught up with material preparations. It can be easy to focus on the "checklist" of things to do (for instance, "read the Jesse Tree Scriptures, check; light the wreath, check."), and lose the spirit of the season. Several years ago, I received an awesome Christmas present: "A Monastery Journey to Christmas," a book with very short, prayerful meditations to guide you through Advent and Christmas (actually, the book starts on November 15, but every year I forget and I don't pick it up till Advent starts-woops!). I want to share the reflection from yesterday, because it is particularly helpful in cultivating one's heart to receive the Christ Child at Christmas:

"Instead of escaping into commonplace, superficial early festivities, we must make every effort to keep the true spirit of Advent in the monastery, in the parish, at home, and, if possible, in the workplace. We can sustain the true spirit of Advent by cultivating practices that enhance the temper of the season. Here are some suggestions:

1. Cultivate an attitude of stillness, of silence, an atmosphere of peace and calm within. This, in turn, fosters inner prayer and recollection.

2. Let us think of our Lady, the expectant mother, and reflect on her attitude of midn and heart while she prepared herself to welcome Jesus on Christmas an icon of the annunciation in a relevant spot at home to remind yourself of the mystery of the Incarnation, and of the unfailing protection of the Theotokos.

3. Make time for reading the Scriptures. God speaks to us through the prophets who announced the coming Messiah...Such a reading feeds our inner journey and is a source of great joy to our souls.

4. Advent has its own music of graceful and profound beauty. We could listen to, or sing, the Gregorian chant melodies of Advent: the hymns, the antiphons, the O Antiphons...other popular hymns can also nurture the Advent spirit of joyful expectancy.

5. Participation in the liturgy, in the sacramental life, and the divine mysteries are sources of grace that serve to increase Christ's presence in all of us.

6. Advent, though quiet and introspective, is not a season of gloom and sadness. Rather, it is full of expectant joy. We may delay putting up the Christmas tree and decorations, but we can replace them with a beautiful and simple Advent wreath with its four candles, each lighted progressively during the four weeks of the celebration. We can pray, read, sing, and eat by the Advent wreath...In the words of the liturgy, we pray: "Come, and deliver us, O Lord. Come, do not delay."

7. In our refectory, a small creche is placed in a prominent place at the start of Advent, but without the statue of the Infant Jesus. A candle next to it is lit during the evening meal. The empty crib in the creche is a constant reminder, in the words of the Christmas antiphon, that "the Eternal Word emptied himself for our sake and became man." It also increased our yearning to see his face on Christmas Eve when just before the singing of the Solemnity's first vespers the Infant Jesus is placed in the creche and the Christmas tree is lit.

8. We must be particularly faithful to praying the daily Angelus--the great prayer of the mystery of the Incarnation.

9. Let us remember the needs of the poor, the lonely, the ages, and those most abandoned...Ironically, the same season that brings celebrations of plenty to many can also mean a time of meager resources for those who find themselves in a bind, often having the difficult choice to make between a warm house or a warm meal.

10. Let us cultivate a grateful heart toward God and toward others...Let us, in Saint Paul's words, remain thankful in all things. Deo gratias!

Finally, if you can still handle more epicness, here's a quotation from St. Faustina's Diary for the week:
"Advent is approaching. I want to prepare my heart for the coming of the Lord Jesus by silence and recollection of spirit, uniting myself with the Most Holy Mother and faithfully imitating Her virtue of silence, by which She found pleasure in the eyes of God Himself. I trust that by Her side, I will persevere in this resolution."
(Notebook 5, 1398)

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