Let us welcome Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ into the very center of our lives; let us give Him a most warm welcome. It seems as if we are always preparing for something or someone! Graduation ceremonies, weddings, quinceaneras, relatives and friends coming for the Holidays, a son coming back from service overseas—all of these are key events that we prepare for and long for with all our heart. Usually the standard is as such: the more detailed the preparation, the more warm and joyful is the moment of encounter.
Lent is a time of preparation for the Passion, death and Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. These forty days of fervent prayer, generous almsgiving and intense penance culminate in the full-blossoming of the Paschal Mystery—the Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus.
ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS. What Lent is for Easter, Advent is for Christmas and the Christmas Season. In a word, the more intense our living out the Season of Advent, the more joyful will be that Christmas night when we encounter the Infant Jesus in the arms of His Blessed Mother. This silent night will indeed be the most holy of all nights.
LIVING OUT ADVENT. In fact, if we do not make an honest and concerted effort to live out the Season of Advent, when Christmas arrives late that night on the 24th of December, the Christmas joy we should be experiencing will be stunted, stymied, and possibly smothered by materialism and other things secondary to the reason for the season. In fact, the real reason for the season is not so much gifts, money, food, and possessions. The authentic reason for the season is the Person and purpose of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen stated that of all the titles that we can give for Jesus (Christological titles), that of Jesus as Savior is by far the most important. This is for the simple reason that Savior highlights the primary reason for His Incarnation, Life, Passion, Death and Resurrection. Jesus—meaning Savior—came to save us in totality: from sin, from sadness, from the slavery of the devil, from eternal death and the torments of hell. Jesus is the universal Savior.
Therefore, we will offer some key decisions and actions that we can carry out in Advent so that the Infant Jesus will be truly born, not only in the stable of Bethlehem, but in the very depths of our heart, the very center of our soul.
COME LORD JESUS: BE BORN IN MY HEART, MY SOUL!
1. CONFESSION. I begin by picturing my own soul as the stable for animals. Dirty, smelly, musty, cobwebs, cold and damp, a hard rock surface scattered with hay and dirt—all the above describe that stable of Bethlehem. All of these elements symbolize my soul. As a result of sin, my soul is sullied. Sin is also the hard rock of my resistance to God’s grace. Sin is coldness to God’s invitations and the way I treat others at times. The cobwebs woven by spiders can point to the cobweb of bad habits or vices that I wove for myself through the weeks, months or even years. All of this can be transformed by God’s grace by means of a good Sacramental Confession. Get a clean-sweep by the broom of the Confessional!
2. RECONCILE. How true it is that Confession reconciles our heart with God; our friendship with God is renewed. However, there is another step that most of us perhaps have to make to bridge the gap, to heal the breach, to mend what is broken. That is, we must strive to be reconciled with our brother/sister, friend, or any other person whom we have wounded due to our pride, ego, and self-love. Jesus states it very clearly. If we are about to offer our gift and are aware of our brother having something against us, then we should leave our gift, be reconciled with our brother, and then return to offer our gift. (cf Mt 5:23-24) The Lord Jesus cannot be born in the heart of someone who is hating his brother, resenting his brother, or harboring vengeance against his brother. Jesus praises those who are peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (cf Matt 5:9) As the Catholic English poet, Alexander Pope, expressed so succinctly: “To err is human; to forgive is divine.” Advent culminating in Christmas should be a time in which peace is reigning in our hearts.
3. PRAYER. We should never underestimate the indispensable value, power and importance of prayer. Prayer unites us with God. Prayer rains down peace in our hearts. Prayer is a balm that soothes our hearts and fills us with joy. Prayer bridges and connects heaven to earth. Prayer is the key that unlocks the heart of God Himself with all the infinite treasures that He so desires to shower down upon us and the entire world. What air is to the lungs, so prayer is to the soul. The most sublime, abundant, copious graces flow from Heaven to earth through the person who prays patiently, persistently, perseveringly and potently. (Lk 1:1-8—Read the Parable of the persistent and persevering widow.) Advent is a most propitious time in which we should sincerely apply ourselves to prayer. What prayers you might ask? We can offer a plethora of the variety of prayers at our disposal: Bible readings, the Psalms, Lectio Divina, the Holy Rosary, spontaneous prayers from our heart, Eucharistic visits, and the greatest of all prayers—the Holy Mass.
4. HOLY MASS: ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS. As a priest, Religious and Spiritual Director, the best advice I can give to anyone striving to live out the Season of Advent and prepare for the coming and birth of Jesus on Christmas is attending Holy Mass. Of course, first taking into account our state and vocation in life, when at all possible attendance at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass I do believe to be the greatest preparation and best gift that we can give to Jesus, Mary, and Saint Joseph as we prepare for Christmas. There is nothing more sublime! Nothing greater! In fact, the word Bethlehem actually means House of Bread. Therefore, in a very real sense, every time we receive Holy Communion with faith, devotion and love, our soul becomes a Little House of Bethlehem. Our soul welcomes Jesus, who is truly “The Bread of life” into our own Bethlehem—our own House of Bread. There is a true connection and meaning in this play on words. Look at your schedule. Determine those days in which participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, fervent reception of Holy Communion, and perhaps even some Eucharistic adoration can be part of your advent journey to the stable of Bethlehem, where the Infant Jesus awaits you in the womb of Mary, soon to be in the arms of Mary and Saint Joseph.
5. MARIAN TIME OF MOST ABUNDANT GRACES. It would indeed be remiss if we did not give time to invite Our Lady, Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church, and our own dear Mother—our life, our sweetness and our hope, to accompany us. In fact, to honor Mary is to honor and praise the Blessed Trinity. Mary is the Daughter of God the Father, the Mother of God the Son, and the Mystical Spouse of God the Holy Spirit. Thus, Mary is the short-cut to the very heart of the Blessed Trinity. Mary can be honored and venerated in countless ways in Advent, culminating in Christmas. The following are some suggestions: Pray the most Holy Rosary (Joyful Mysteries), sing Christmas hymns and carols glorifying God through Mary, spend time in prayer at the Manger scene awaiting with Mary the birth of Jesus, and then behold Jesus in Mary’s arms. Also, the sending of Christmas cards often reflects the beauty and prominence of Mary in Advent and Christmas.
Finally, from the depths of your heart, thank Mary for saying YES to becoming the Mother of God and your own dear Mother, and as a result, opening up the Gates of Heaven for you. Indeed, the more you can invite Mary to be with you, talk to you, walk with you, and accompany you in Advent, the more joyful and glorious will be that Christmas morn when Jesus is born in time and in your heart, and God Himself will be yours for all eternity!