Lord, help me to make room for you this Advent. Help me to clear out every nook and cranny of my heart and soul and to let go of all things that are not of you. Come into my heart. Give me the grace to respond to you freely and trust you completely. Fill me with your love and your grace. I know that you are all I really need, so please help me to choose you—every time. Let every movement of my heart and soul bring greater glory to you, Lord. Amen.
Reflection for Week 3: Mary's Impossible Dream
In the musical “Man of La Mancha,” when Dulcinea asks Don Quixote what it means to “follow his quest,” he responds by singing “The Impossible Dream.” Mary, who awaited the birth of Jesus some 2,000 years ago just as we do this Advent, could have written the song. She certainly lived it.
Imagine how young Mary—probably no more than 15 or 16 years old—must have felt upon receiving the news that the impossible was about to take place within her, that she would give birth to the Savior. How could she tell her betrothed, Joseph? What would her family think? Who would believe her?
“Do not be afraid, Mary,” the angel says to her. “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:30, 37). We know the rest of the story. The impossible was indeed made possible, not only at the birth of Jesus, but in the many miracles he performed, and most of all at his Resurrection. If God could accomplish all this, imagine what God can do in your own life. Advent is the season for imagining what is possible, for dreaming new dreams, for hoping beyond hope.
But it is also the season when hope can be hardest to find, dreams hardest to believe. The days draw short, the nights are long and the air turns. Expenses may loom at a time when resources are scarce. Separation, grief, loneliness, and depression are no strangers to the season. Hope may be in short supply during this time. We need Mary’s inspiring example of courage and trust in the face of uncertainty more than ever.
Mary can’t guarantee us a smooth ride, however. Look at her own difficult journey: first, she had to travel to Bethlehem late in her pregnancy (Luke 2:1–6). Have you ever tried riding a donkey? Now imagine doing so nine month’s pregnant! Later, she had to flee to Egypt with Joseph and the baby when their lives were in danger (Matthew 2:13–23).
Nor can Mary promise us a season free of anxiety and worry. Imagine how she must have worried about what was ahead for her beloved child as his messianic destiny was revealed to her, first by shepherds who left her pondering the news in her heart (Luke 2:16–19), then at the Temple by the prophet Simeon, who spoke to her of the sorrowful times ahead: “A sword will pierce your soul too” (Luke 2:22–35).
What Mary can offer us is a remarkable and inspiring example of courage in the face of adversity, patience in the face of uncertainty, and hope beyond hope that the impossible is indeed possible.
Mary stood with her son as he was crucified (John 19:25–27); she stood with his fearful followers who huddled after his death (Acts 1:13–14). She knew that the story wasn’t over yet. And she was right.
Our story isn’t finished, either, no matter what challenges or wounds burden us this season. All things remain possible with God. This is the miracle of Advent. We can once again dream the impossible dream—and reach the unreachable star.
God of Love, Your son, Jesus, is your greatest gift to us. He is a sign of your love. Help us walk in that love during the weeks of Advent, As we wait and prepare for his coming. We pray in the name of Jesus, our Savior.
Advent Amid the Gift Wrap
“Are you ready for Christmas?” asked a guy I see at the train station every day. I thought of the long list of gifts I still needed to buy and the calendar crammed with holiday events and parties, and I shook my head. “Hardly,” I said, and we both laughed knowingly.
On my train ride downtown I turned off my iPod and let my mind ponder that question a little deeper. “Am I ready for Christmas?” This time I thought about the meaning of the holiday—the Son of God coming to earth to dwell among us and show us the way to eternal life. Again I shook my head and murmured to myself, “Hardly.”
It was then that I vowed to take advantage of every opportunity to prepare my heart for the coming of the Christ Child into the world—the world you and I live in.
What I discovered was that if we know what we’re preparing for, everything we encounter on the way to Christmas can prepare us for the coming of Christ, not only in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago but also into our homes, our families, our workplaces, and our communities. The usual December distractions can instead become holy moments when we find the Christ Child in our midst.
Having the right attitude and perspective on the season will help you and your family avoid the excesses that make certain Christmas preparations frantic, yet draining and disappointing. As theologian John Shea says, “The task seems to be the delicate one of learning to make the customs and traditions of Christmas serve the Spirit.”
Take a look at some of December’s demanding activities with new eyes, eyes that fully expect to find God in every moment of this season of hope.
Advent, is a time given to us “to welcome the Lord who comes to meet us,
to verify our desire for God, to look ahead and prepare ourselves for the return of Christ.”
Praying with Mary
The very essence of prayer is recognizing that God is with us. That is the meaning of one of the Lord’s names, one that we hear over and again in Advent, Emmanuel. The Lord is with Mary. The Lord is with us.
What does it take for us to pause amidst the busyness of this season of preparation—between the shopping and decorating, the family gatherings and holiday parties? Mary’s life is dramatically interrupted by the visitation of an angel and a miraculous conception. How do I hear the angelic messenger, that still, small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12) in my days? What does God wish to conceive in me? How does God want to use my flesh to incarnate the living Christ?
As we journey through this Advent and Christmas season, we can seek Mary’s intercession, looking to her example of how to welcome the overshadowing Spirit of God. As Mary said yes to the Spirit, I can trust in her to lead me to my own yes.
Here are some possible ways to practice praying with Mary this month.
Luke 1:26–56 chronicles Mary’s encounter with the angel, her visitation to her cousin Elizabeth, and her song, which we call the Magnificat. Read this passage slowly. It’s long, so you may want to read just a few verses each day or each week. As you read, notice whether there is a word or a phrase that speaks to you. Ponder it in your heart as you go about your day. Invite the Lord to speak to you through his Word.
If the Rosary is not already part of your life, consider incorporating it once a week, or maybe try praying a decade a day. As the Joyful Mysteries recall the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, they are perfect for praying through the seasons of Advent and Christmas. As you meditate on each mystery, invite the Spirit to use the experiences of Mary and Joseph and Jesus to shine light on how the Spirit is moving in your life here and now.
The Angelus is a traditional prayer by which we can connect and reconnect with our ever-present God throughout the day. The Angelus is a brief reflection on the incarnation, recalling Mary’s yes to God’s invitation to bring Christ into the world. Prayed at 6:00 a.m., noon (often accompanied by a prayer for peace), and 6:00 p.m., the Angelus is a pause in the rhythm of our days in which we can recall Emmanuel, God with us.
How has praying with Mary enhanced your experience of Advent and Christmas?
“Jesus exhorts us to pay attention and to watch, to be ready to welcome him at the moment of his return.”
Prayers for Lighting the Advent Wreath Candles
All-powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming and call us to his side in the kingdom of heaven, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, forever and ever. ~AMEN.
God of power and mercy open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy so that we may share his wisdom and become one with him when he comes in glory, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. ~AMEN.
Lord God, may we, your people, who look forward to the birthday of Christ experience the joy of salvation and celebrate that feast with love and thanksgiving. We ask this through Christ our Lord. ~AMEN.
Father, all-powerful God, your eternal Word took flesh on our earth when the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your plan. Lift our minds in watchful hope to hear the voice which announces his glory and open our minds to receive the Spirit who prepares us for his coming. We ask this through Christ our Lord. ~AMEN.
“Advent is a journey towards Bethlehem. May we let ourselves be drawn by the light of God made man.”
A Busy Catholic's Guide to Advent: 10 Tips for Observing the Season
Advent is a criminally underrated liturgical season. It gets swallowed up in the pre-Christmas rush, and it's shorter and less intense than Lent, but it's a beautiful, quiet period worth marking. Beyond the obvious "get to Mass on all the Advent Sundays and every Sunday" exhortation, here are 10 simple tips for your Advent observation, from one busy person to another
1. Read some sort of short, daily devotion.
Just a few pages a day, max. There are plenty of great options to consider, including the Little Blue Book, Daybreaks from Liguori Press, and Scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann's new devotional Celebrating Abundance. My wife and I decided last-minute to host three discussion sessions on Brueggemann's book at our house this Advent. Due to the procrastination, we gave some friends just 24 hours to respond if they were interested. Much to our surprise, we got about 10 takers. The lesson: People are hungry for some sort of spiritual nourishment, especially around this time of year. I bet you could find a person or two to reflect on some readings with you during the season by the first Sunday of Advent.
2. Get some quiet time.
Advent the liturgical season is quiet and dark, as we await the in-breaking of Christ's light at Christmas. Advent the shopping and party season is loud and glaringly bright. Seek out some quiet time separate from bedtime. Maybe try repeating the prayer, "Come, Lord Jesus" to yourself, slowly as you breathe in and out with your eyes closed. You can do this in your office or kitchen. And in this spirit …
3. It's OK to say no.
You don't have to go to every party you're invited to or schlep to the mall the Saturday before Christmas or watch the endless loop of wintry car commercials. As a mentor of mine likes to say, " 'No' is a complete sentence." Of course, there are certain obligations this time of year — especially for parents of young kids, I'm learning — that you just can't say "no" to. So I need to practice discerning which activities are essential and which can be skipped.
4. Don't forget the Advent music.
I'm not here to play liturgical police and tell you to shelve the Christmas music until sunset on Dec. 24. However, there are plenty of great Advent hymns and songs to work into your rotation. Some of my favorites: Sufjan Stevens' version of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel;" Steve Angrisano's modern update of that same classic; composer JJ Wright's brilliant jazz/classical album "O Emmanuel;" the French hymn, "O Come Divine Messiah;" and Dan Schutte's "Christ Circle Round Us."
5. Decorate, even a little.
We Catholics are sacramental people: Smells, bells, stained glass, beautiful music, bread and wine. God can visit through our sensory experiences. So put out a nativity set (or, if you work for the church like my wife and I do and people like giving you religious gifts, put out eight or 10 nativity sets). Get some greenery or fake greenery up somewhere. And, at the very least …
6. Light an Advent wreath.
If you don't have one of these, a lot of parishes sell them. Try this short prayer from the U.S. bishops when you light it each Sunday. The family and home are what the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium calls the "domestic church," and an Advent wreath tradition is simple, lovely way to strengthen that smallest, essential community of faith.
7. Got a young kid or two? Add a Christmas book to bedtime reading list.
Speaking of the domestic church: If you have kids you read to at night, add a nativity book for children to your stack. We have already started reading some Christmas stories to our 2-year-old, and it's amazing how she is beginning to recognize the characters of the story so fast. I'm reminded how vivid and awe-inspiring the nativity story is.
8. Support an organization that works for social justice.
"Giving Tuesday" has come and gone, but the Advent and Christmas seasons are better inspirations for supporting charitable organizations anyway. As the magi brought whatever they had to give the newborn king, our own gifts to organizations that further the building of the kingdom of God on Earth is one way to celebrate their legacy. In addition to incredible, independent agencies all over the country, your own local Catholic Charities agency or Catholic Relief Services (international assistance) are reliably great nonprofits.
9. Consider the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Someone I know who's familiar with Catholic internet searches tells me "act of contrition" is one of the most popular Catholic Google search terms every Advent and Lent. This isn't all that surprising, as a lot of parishes host Sacrament of Reconciliation services during both seasons. I know my mom always wanted us to make it to the sacrament during Advent and Lent growing up. If Advent is all about preparing, there's no better way to prepare your heart and spirit. (I always freeze up when it comes time for the act of contrition, so I like to bring a paper copy or a copy on my phone with me into the confessional.)
10. Reflect on the "three comings of the Lord."
St. Bernard of Clairvaux described these three comings as the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the coming of Jesus into our lives in the present time, and Christ's final coming in glory on the last day. In Advent, we wait and prepare for all three. Most Advents, I spend about 95 percent of my prayer and reflection and energy focused on the first coming only — with the manger, the shepherds, the angels, the baby. I'm missing those second and third arrivals of Jesus. I hope I'll stick to at least some of these suggestions I've outlined here, and that they'll help me focus on the Advent story that goes beyond Bethlehem.
Before you write these ideas down on a checklist, one disclaimer: I think all 10 of these practices are good ideas, but this list not full of silver bullets that will make this Advent "the best Advent ever" for you. Faith and joy and peace are unearned gifts only God can give. Through spiritual discipline, we can only put ourselves in a posture of humility and gratitude before the Lord, invite the Spirit into our lives, and be ready to respond.
People of the Night
BLESSING OF CHRISTMAS CARDS BEFORE MAILING
God of the universe,
in the beginning, you transformed the dark abyss
into light by speaking your word,
and in the fullness of time, you sent your Son, Jesus,
your Word Made Flesh,
to transform our death into life.
Change, then, the flesh of our lives into words of life,
written upon the Christmas cards we will send.
Take the stories and events of this year,
and make them glimpses of your grace.
Break the walls of separation, and unite us through
the simple gift of a written note.
As we remember the birth of your Son,
bless the words and greetings we will share
and those who will read them
so that the life-giving word you have brought to birth in us
may bring new life to the ends of the earth.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Christ Be Our Light
I look at my calendar and am amazed at how I can be in three or four or five places at once but that’s what I’m scheduled to do. Yes, it’s all so very important. Then I realized I had to prepare an Advent reflection or two and I thought oh, great another thing to do. So, what is Advent? Has it become simply the time of year between Thanksgiving and Christmas? How am I choosing to mark this time? Is it filled with the noise of places to go and people to see, shopping to be done, presents to be wrapped, cards to be sent, baking and decorating and cooking and cleaning? Have I really thought about Advent and not Christmas? If this were a test I was taking I would fail miserably. So, I can’t pontificate to you as to what you should do or what Advent should mean to you because as I write this to you I am also writing to myself.
What am I doing about Advent? Oh, I downloaded two Daily Reflection books for Advent and I have great plans to read them. I have three or four other books on the season and again, I have great plans to read those as well. That is if I can find them? I’m trying to figure out how I can fit a morning Mass or the Penance Service into my ever so important schedule. Well, I’ll pencil it in and see if I can make it between the Christmas parties, shopping, and the meetings.
The readings from Advent are some of my favorite of the liturgical year and they offer us some insight. But, they challenge me. Okay, let’s take a breath here. Think back…what is Advent? It’s a time of waiting and preparing. But, waiting and preparing for what? Can I hear the voice cry out in the wilderness or are my ears closed to the voice because of the noise of all of my busyness? Will I ever be able to hear it? Can I quiet myself enough and make time to prepare the way of the Lord?
There is a story I would like to share with you. A mother was putting her two year old to bed and as she left the room he pleaded with her not to go. His mother tried to reassure him by telling him that God would be there with him all night. The boy replied, “But I need God with skin on!” A God with skin on? Isn’t that what the incarnation is? I hope and pray all of us can find some time this week or at least before Christmas to enter into Advent, to quiet ourselves and spend some time listening for and to the voice crying out in the wilderness. If we don’t we are missing out on a great opportunity. What can we do to find Advent in our busy days? Perhaps lighting a candle and sitting in silence with your family, or reading the daily scripture readings, or reading an advent daily reflection book, or finding an advent (that’s right Advent not Christmas) concert like a Taize service and attending it with a friend, or dining (note not eating but dining for there is a difference) with your loved ones, or going to the DIA ignoring the Christmas Decorations to see and ponder Rembrandt’s Visitation, doing anything to get outside of your own busyness to simple feed your souls and to find a way to be God’s presence a “God with skin on” for someone. It’s a huge task because it takes time away from something else or someone else…but, put on Handel’s Messiah or some Advent music (not Christmas Carols) and ponder it. That may be enough to hear the voice calling us.
Advent comes year after year. Every Advent, we celebrate Jesus' coming as an infant long ago, his ongoing presence with us now, and his return in glory in the future. Advent is also a season of repentance; John the Baptist calls us to "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). We know as Christian disciples in the twenty-first century, during each Advent God calls us anew to figure out how to live in relation to a world that frequently wants little or nothing to do with getting ready to celebrate the Incarnation, without giving into an "us versus them" paradigm. We are in the world, but not of it. Ours is the mission to prepare the Lord's way.
The message Christian disciples hear this advent is first and foremost a message about who God is and all God does for his people. From the Sunday and daily Lectionary readings, we hear: God saves, God shelters and protects us, God's light triumphs, God provides nourishment, God comforts and heals, God's justice reigns. Through Advent we learn that in Jesus is the revelation of who God is. As disciples, we confess Jesus as Lord, the Son of God, and Son of Man. We trust our salvation is through him. For even if we were the one lost sheep out of the hundred, Jesus would look for us and call us back. We sill be safe forever in his Kingdom.
As disciples, our Advent task is to accept the charge to stay awake, to prepare ourselves for the Lord's coming. We do not know when this will be. We can, however, rest assured that God calls us to respond to all those who seek healing, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and justice in ways befitting our belief in Jesus. God's people grieve and experience injustice and heartache. Over and over, the Scriptures of Advent tell us this as well. But, God also desires that his people call out, for God has an endless, eternal font of grace to share with us.
As disciples, we live in this joy. On the Third Sunday of Advent, traditionally referred to as Gaudete or "Rejoice" Sunday, we celebrate the joy that is ours now and in the future. We believe in the incredible things God has done in Jesus. Together with Christ and his Body, the Church, we guide each other and those in need of hearing God's Word in today's world to the joy of Christmas Time. How will you embrace Advent discipleship? It's up to you.
Creator of the Stars of Night
“Advent has a special charm, it makes us experience deeply the meaning of history.”
What is Advent?
“In Advent we rediscover the beauty of all being on a journey … across the paths of time.”
My Soul in Stillness Waits
“The season of Advent restores … a hope which does not disappoint for it is founded on God’s Word.
A hope which does not disappoint, simply because the Lord never disappoints!
… Let us think about and feel this beauty.”
“The time of Advent that we begin again today returns us to the horizon of hope, a hope that does not disappoint because it is founded on the Word of God. A hope that does not disappoint, simply because the Lord never disappoints! He is faithful!”
“Let us allow ourselves to be guided by [Mary this Advent], she who is mother, a mamma and knows how to guide us.
Let us allow ourselves to be guided by her during this season of active waiting and watchfulness.”
Your light will come, O Jerusalem. The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.
We shall see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.
The sign of the cross shall appear in the heavens, when our Lord shall come to judge the world.
I have traveled many moonless nights Cold and weary with a babe inside And I wonder what I've done Holy Father, You have come And chosen me now to carry Your Son I am waiting in a silent prayer I am frightened by the load I bear In a world as cold as stone Must I walk this path alone? Be with me now, be with me now Breath of Heaven, hold me together Be forever near me, breath of Heaven Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy Breath of Heaven Do you wonder as you watch my face If a wiser one should have had my place? But I offer all I am For the mercy of Your plan Help me be strong, help me be, help me Breath of Heaven, hold me together Be forever near me, breath of Heaven Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy Breath of Heaven, hold me together Be forever near me, breath of Heaven Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy Breath of Heaven, breath of Heaven Breath of Heaven
“Once again we mark the arrival of Advent.
This holy season trumpets God’s extravagant love for us, a love beyond reckoning.
Into our beautiful yet wounded world comes Emmanuel, God-with-us, carrying the promise of fresh hope to enliven our hearts.
No matter how broken or seemingly hopeless our world may sometimes seem,
the Advent messages are rich with joyous expectation and longing,
insisting that God can and does bring forth life where none seems possible.”
Like A Shepherd
Holy Is Your Name
Creator of the Stars of Night
Keeping Christ in Christmas
1. Use postage stamps that feature a religious theme.
2. Hang an Advent Calendar and open a window each day.
3. Dispaly your nativity set in a window or on the lawn where others can see it.
4. Place a candle in the window to symbolize the light of Christ. (NOTE: Never leav candles burning unattended; electric or battery operated candles are safer than real wax candles.)
5. Listen to traditional Christmas Carols that honor Christ's birth.
6. Call radio stations and television channels requesting Chrismas carols and stories.
7. Ask stores for religious Christmas wrapping paper and decorations.
8. Read Christmas scripture and stories to your loved ones.
9. Purchase a gift, wrap it, and give it to the poor - and encourage a child to do the same.
10. Research and then explain the tradition of the original Christmas tree.
11. Utilize the Mexican custom of the Posadas, a 9-day celebration, ending on Christmas Eve, symbolizing the trials that Mary and Joseph endured finding a place to stay where Jesus could be born.
12. Use decoratons with "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays".
13. Have a child place a straw in the creche for each good deed done as a gift to the Baby Jesus during Advent.
14. Pray for the young, so that when they become adults they will not regard Christmas as just another holiday free from work.