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Through the history of the Western Church the season of Advent has become a significant part of the pattern of life, faith, culture and worship that is Catholic Christianity

The ritual of Catholic Christian life provides a form into which the freshness of the Spirit can be poured again and again.For me, celebrating Advent is a call to living faith, genuine repentance, ongoing conversion and the pursuit of holiness of life - the things that really matter.

Advent wreath

Advent wreath

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Today was a difficult day for me. If I had to try to encourage one more person out of their hangover depression after the election - or help one more person find some hope in spite of the spiraling moral decline of our culture, I think I might have crawled into a ball somewhere and wept openly. At the end of the day I was looking forward to going home and taking a short nap before the evening obligations began.  However, I had an errand to run which required me to make one stop.

When I walked into the local drug store and heard these familiar words of the Christmas song from Mame entitled "I Need a Little Christmas, Right This Very Minute", it brought a much needed smile to my drooping face and lightened the load: "Haul out the holly; Put up the tree before my spirit falls again. Fill up the stocking, I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now. For we need a little Christmas, Right this very minute, Candles in the window, Carols at the spinet. Yes, we need a little Christmas, Right this very minute."

I understand the sentiment, especially this year. However, I want to suggest that what we really need is a little Advent, right this very minute. Oh, don't worry; I am not going to launch into a diatribe about commercialism and Christmas. Nor am I going to spend this column attempting to persuade my readers to hold off on Christmas decorations. Though I understand the reasons behind such admonitions - spiritually, pastorally and liturgically - I must admit that I can't wait to get out the tree this year!

However, I will simply spend some time reflecting on Advent. Maybe it will help all of us to see that Advent is the best way to prepare for a  much needed Christmas this year. It is a time to empty ourselves of all that impedes the comings of the Lord and the fulfillment and true joy they bring.  For many of my readers in the United States of America, the smell of Thanksgiving still permeates the indoor air but the celebratory atmosphere is wearing off. Thanksgiving was a day for family gatherings and for giving thanks. Sometimes, it also becomes a day of stress, as families deal with all the intricacies of those special relationships and are invited to learn the way of love.

Now, the Catholic Church, good mother that she is, focuses the faithful on a beautiful liturgical season which calls us to live in anticipation of a new beginning, a new coming of the Lord. Advent prededes the Feast of the Nativity we call Christmas. It is a time when we focus on all the comings of the Lord. It is a season of joyful preparation. We will be continually invited through liturgical readings and practices, to clear away all that entangles us and open a space in our hearts, our homes, our relationships and our lives, for the Lord Jesus to come. This is the gift of Advent.

The emphasis in the Office of Readings during Advent is on preparing for the coming(s) of the Lord. One of my favorite readings is taken from an Advent homily given by St. Bernard of Clairveaux. His insight unveils the special truth of this wonderful season of beginning again. He reminds us of all the Lord's comings. He then situates us where we live our daily lives, on the road of continual conversion, the heart of the Christian vocation:

"We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible while the other two are visible. In the first coming He was seen on earth, dwelling among men; . in the final coming "all flesh will see the salvation of our God and they will look upon Him whom they have pierced". The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In His first coming our Lord came in our flesh and our weakness; in this middle coming He comes in Spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and in majesty. Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last." (St. Bernard of Clairveaux)

This coming Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. Many of the faithful will bring the advent candles out of storage and set them in a wreath. Over the weeks preceding Christmas, families, religious communities and all of the faithful will gather, pray and sing together- inviting the coming of the Lord into our lives, our homes, our Churches - and into the world which God still loves so much that He sends His Son, through the Church, the Body of Christ, of which we are members.

The word "Advent" is derived from the Latin words, ad-venio or adventus, which both signify a coming. It is a liturgical season in the Catholic Church that birthed customs and practices which are meant to be filled with and fueled by living faith. When they are, they form a framework, a pattern that moves us forward in the process of continual conversion that is meant to be what the Christian life is all about. We are always invited to begin again.

This promise of a new beginning is the heart of the message which Christians bring to an age staggering in the existential sadness. The Advent candles we will light symbolize Jesus Christ, the True Light which can dispel the dreariness of an age which has all but lost hope. The message we proclaim during this wonderful season is that Lord is always coming for those who look for Him. 

The celebration of Advent dates back to the fourth century but the practice of preparing for the coming of the Lord by living as though he is always coming goes back to the very beginnings of the Church. Through the history of the Western Church the season of Advent has become a significant part of the pattern of life, faith, culture and worship that is Catholic Christianity. During the weeks which precede the Nativity of the Lord Jesus, ("Christ-Mass"), Christians (Catholics and others) are invited by the Church to prepare, to get ready, to make a place for the Lord in our lives and in our homes, to anticipate His coming(s).

Beginning with the Sunday Vigil Mass, we will sing the ever-familiar hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". That song will become the backdrop of the season, sticking in our minds - both individually and collectively. I know the tune will be hummed incessantly and do what music does when it is repeated, get down deep into our subconscious. It may even become "annoying"- as music can. However, even that annoyance gets to the root of Catholic life and faith. It is granular Christianity, filled with practices which root themselves into your bones. Catholicism is earthy, real, incarnational Christianity for earthy, real believers who understand that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ has changed everything and everyone and need to be continually reminded of that fact.

Soon the liturgical air will be filled with the beautiful "O Antiphons", taken from the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures in the Prophetic and Wisdom Books. They will be sung as a part of the formal Liturgy of the Hours beginning seven days before the Vigil of Christmas. These short prayers in the Liturgy of the Hours, or Breviary, are a part of the treasury of Catholic faith and life. This liturgy forms a foundation for our faith and places us in the heart of a Church that stretches back two thousand years and reaches forward to the final coming of the Lord.

As a Deacon of the Church, I will wear lavender vestments when I serve alongside of the priest at the altar. Lavender is a color that connotes both repentance, and expectation. These two actions and attitudes are the "heart", the "spirit" of the season. Boy do I need both! I need a little Advent, right this very minute. Advent is a time to "get ready" and to build up the hope within our hearts for the promised coming of Jesus Christ! We do so by repenting of our sin and renouncing our wrong choices. We are invited to empty ourselves of the clutter of our daily idolatry and renounce the disordered self love that can squeeze God's grace out of our lives. It is by His grace that we truly find ourselves, made new again in Jesus Christ!

Catholic Christians repeat together - experientially - through our liturgy (which means the work of worship), the deeper meaning of the Christian faith and vocation. We walk through the great events of Christian history so as to inculcate the mystery more deeply within our nitty-gritty lives in the real world. We thereby build a way -a pattern- of daily Christian living with customs, practices, and celebrations. During Advent, the Church calls us all to get ready, to clean the house, to set special times aside, so that we will be ready for all of the comings of Jesus Christ.

The Scriptural texts that we hear proclaimed at Mass will introduce us to great figures, such as John the Baptizer, who embody the call to repentance and preparing the way for all who live between the first and the final coming of Jesus. The Old and New Testament passages will be beautifully juxtaposed in every Eucharistic Liturgy and in the Liturgy of the Hours in order to expound upon all the comings that St Bernard so insightfully wrote about. The faithful will be invited to experience the extraordinary graces found in the full smorgasbord of sacramental and liturgical services.

However, ultimately, it will come down to each person, each family, to make the choice to accept the invitation and to prepare for the coming of the Lord. As I grow older, I love being a Catholic Christian more and more. I remember reading a newspaper article in an airport many years ago in which a priest wrote that Catholicism was "religion for the long haul." I see the truth of that assertion more as the years seem to fly by. Oh, I know that some other Christians see practices such as Advent as "empty ritual"; and perhaps for some, that is what they have become.

For me, celebrating Advent, indeed all the seasons of the Church year, are continual calls back to living faith, genuine repentance, ongoing conversion and the pursuit of holiness of life - the things that really matter. The ritual of Catholic Christian life provides a form into which the freshness of the Spirit can be poured again and again. I remember an old Pentecostal minister once telling me when I was twenty one years old "Son, we get filled with the Spirit, but then we leak". Boy was that guy right!

The familiar patterns and practices of Catholic faith present an opportunity for shaping family life, customs, and inform a piety that all can help us to assimilate the beauty and truth revealed in the comings of the Lord. They help us to break from the monotony of regular daily life in order to participate in something bigger than ourselves. They connect us to the One who always comes to those who are prepared. They are, as we used to say more often, "occasions of grace."

As my life goes on I need more than ever to hear the clarion call to "prepare the way for the Lord." I need these special times of grace. I need these holy seasons. Unlike my youth when I thought I had it all "figured out", I find something quite different has occurred as my hair has turned white (and sparse) and I continue in my journey of faith. I realize how little I actually do know. and how much more conversion I need to get ready for that coming when I will pass from one life to the next.

The liturgical seasons of the Catholic Church are an extraordinary gift and opportunity. After all, human beings are going to mark time. We will mark it either with the ordinary stuff of ordinary life or we will fill it as well with the things of God, thereby transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. Why celebrate Advent? I say because we need it. Bring on the candles, the songs, the colors, and the seasons. Bring on the special liturgical times, and fill the air with all the special smells.. I love it all.

Advent is a reminder of the road along which we walk this Christian life and vocation. Bernard was right. We now live in that intermediate time between the first and the second comings. We are to be changed by the first and to prepare ourselves- and the world in which we live- for the second. Jesus the Lord continues to come to all those who make themselves ready. We need a little Advent, right this very minute.


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2015
Scientists: That those involved in scientific research may serve the well-being of the whole human person.
Evangelization: Contribution of women: That the unique contribution of women to the life of the Church may be recognized always.

Keywords: advent, christmas, repentance, advent wreath, maranatha, liturgy, church year, church seasons, advent season, maranatha, coming of the Lord, Deacon Keith Fournier


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1 - 9 of 9 Comments

  1. Mary
    2 years ago

    Your article helps to push some of the darkness back, and give us a needed focus on doing that. This year, I have decided that "the secular holiday season" has so robbed Christians of the meaning of our celebration on the Incarnation of Christ that I am going to change the way which I decorate my home. The only part that remains for me now is "light", and all I intend to use is "light" and the prominance of a manager in my home. I don't think that I will even put up a tree since for me it no longer express any symbol except excessive commercialism and greed. And the gifts? What are ours? What were theirs? Desperately needed means to provide for them, as they headed into the night, again, begun with an angel's light, and then reality's darkness. Without those gifts, death lay ahead. Can we say the same about ours? That is not to say that our children should be deprived of the gifts of joy which have always been part of our Christian celebration. However, looking at the reality of the first Christmas, might help us and them to place some boundaries around the world's greed infiltrating into our homes. That is not who we are called to be, and we must also teach our children.

    They made a journey in daylight and darkness, arriving in turmoil and trembling, with Joseph, in humiiation, desperately trying to find somewhere, anywhere, they might stay in safely....accommodity that we too will soon find precarious. There were angels who must have brought "Light". Nothing else. Only the heart could preceive the incredible magnitude of the moment.

    There will be years ahead that we, and if not we, then our children may perhaps have only a hidden candle, carefully shielded, to gaze upon and know that the All Powerful Word has Leap down from Heaven, to join Himself with us.

  2. roseo64
    2 years ago

    yes, my hope increased with the deacons thoughts!
    after the election i too was rather dumfounded....
    for myself i thought maybe God is telling us we are not praying
    enough or maybe we are taking our prayers for granted.
    our Lord brings good out of evil........may we live for the
    love of matter what.

  3. judy claar
    2 years ago

    Deacon Keith, That was a "You Said All" article! My spirit was in much of your personal feeling.
    And, it was just what I needed to hear. I hope that others will enter Advent, and reap its bounty.
    Prayerful Blessings...

  4. Francis Xavier
    2 years ago

    Advent is a season of preparation. We hope to enter the circle c with renewed spirit and love

  5. Francis Xavier
    2 years ago

    Advent is a season of preparation.knowing how and when to welcome our Lord Jesus Christ.though the material preparation is good but what is more important is the spiritual aspect. I thank Father for his enlightenment

  6. Tom McGuire
    2 years ago

    Why be troubled? We are a people of hope. We are a people who know our origin, our end and what we must do in between. I like what Fr Donald Senior, CP wrote about Sunday's readings.

    All three of our readings this Sunday long for that final day where love rules and death is defeated. And all three remind us what we must do in the meantime: being awake and alert to the presence of God's grace all around us; living lives of integrity and justice; conducting ourselves in a way that pleases God. Advent reminds us that we are not to live our lives in fear nor indulge in idle speculation about the timing of the end of the world. We should not waste our time with anxious doomsday predictions but, rather, have a sense of hope and purpose and be committed to living lives worthy of God's intense love for us. The true Advent - and Christian - stance is found in Jesus' words: "Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand."

  7. DLL
    2 years ago

    Advent is a sad time. In truth I can only imagine during Advent that there is no Christ. We are dead in our sins. Life is secular,a life of sin,immersed in our own sins,and alive in a world of sin,where only the secular and abusive governments of the age rule. Without a savior we are without hope. God and the understanding of God is illusive. Who is God,what is he,does he exist,in what form,is he a cruel God or God of war,is God a punitive God? So sad and with so many questions what is life and is it even worth living? Certainly sin is the only reality as men are truly cruel and abusive as well as disrespectful to each other. Sure there is a love within families sometimes but in many there is not. Sin causes nothing but failure in human relationships. All sin all fail,some are repentant,most aren't,certainly few forgive each other when wronged. Humanity is lost in its sins and in all of its wars.
    The Old Testament speaks of the coming of a Savior who will be pure and Holy,an acceptable sacrificial lamb of God,who will take away the sins of the world,to make all things new,renewing all hope in the world,as truth will come in the form of a Christ figure. God himself will dwell among us Incarnate. He will be a son of God because through conversion of souls,all can become sons and daughters of God as well. Conversion is achieved through the forgiveness of sins. With the forgiveness of sins hope is for all who live. The Incarnation is coming! Then it will truly be Christ Mass each and every day. The savior comes to redeem the world. Conversion is possible through a new covenant,a New Testament,revealing a full and everlasting hope for everyone. The light of Truth and Love is now the hope for everyone.

  8. Kasoy
    2 years ago

    Hope amidst the troubles in the world is the theme of the end of the liturgical year ("stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand"). Hope with joyful expectation is for the advent season. Cheer up, Deacon! You'll only realize how much you made a difference in the lives of so many people by your evangelizing when that happy day comes when you'll hear Jesus say "Come, you who are blessed by my Father."

  9. abey
    2 years ago

    2000 years ago John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way of the Messiah preaching "Repentance" which way has not changed, the truth unto the day for the Word lives.

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