Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Last Sunday after Pentecost—20 November A.D. 2011

Preparing for the Preparation of Advent

“Brethren:  We cease  not to  pray for you ... that you  may walk  worthy of  God,  in  all things pleasing,  being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge  of God....”[1]

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

    Celebration takes preparation.  When you come to Mass on Sunday you may not realize that a fair amount of work went into getting things ready.  Someone bought the hosts and the wine, someone made the vestments, someone put the flowers on the altar and polished the brass followers on the candles—the linens don't sparkle unless someone washes and starches and irons them.  Someone had to vacuum the floors and dust the benches and the pictures on the walls.  It isn't much different in our homes.  There won't be much of a celebration on Thanksgiving or Christmas if preparations are not made in advance: invite the guests, polish the silver, clean the house, buy the ingredients for the dinner and get the oven started on time—you just can't count on getting your turkey from The 7-11 on Christmas afternoon!

    In the Church we have a habit of preparing for the great feasts of the year—like Christmas and Easter—with a formal period of preparation.  For Easter we spent the forty days of Lent, and for Christmas the four weeks of Advent.  In order to prepare for feasts of such spiritual significance, we spend this time weaning ourselves away from the more worldly aspects of our lives—we place greater emphasis on prayer and spiritual reading, on attending Mass and doing good works    and we place less emphasis on parties and entertainment, eating and drinking and sleeping and watching TV.

    We might ask ourselves the purpose of such acts of penance.  Why are we doing them?  The answer should not be prove how strong we are—Lent and Advent are not contests to see who can sleep the least or who can survive on the least food.  It is not even to stop smoking or to lose weight—although that may be very good for some of us.

    The primary purpose of these penitential seasons is, of course, to refocus our attentions on God.  At one time in our history, Christian people were quite well focused on God.  Not only did the Church hold her processions in the streets, but religion and morality formed us in what we did in our everyday lives:  they were a part of our laws and our foreign policy;  they played an important role in the way we educated our children;  they guided us in the way we conducted our business and commercial affairs;  they were an integral part of our family life.  Shops stayed closed on Sundays, people prayed before meals, and no-one would have suggested that the Ten Commandments ought to be removed from the courtroom walls!

    But, today, our society no longer focuses on God—so it is necessary for us to do that focusing for ourselves.  We have to pull ourselves away from many of the practices of the secular world, and direct our attentions toward God more privately.  And one of the ways of doing it is to involve ourselves in these penitential seasons of the Church year.  It sharpens one's focus on God to observe fasting, and to attend Mass a few days a week, and to curtail legitimate entertainments, and to read spiritual things and do good works.  If you do such things faithfully, God just has to become a bigger part of your life.  And God will reward you for your efforts with the graces to grow even further in the spiritual life.

    Saint Paul warned us yesterday that if we focus too sharply on the things of the world, we become “enemies of the Cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.”  The penitential seasons help us to discipline ourselves.  The things that the Church asks us to give up for Lent or Advent are legitimate things—by definition we are already commanded to give up the illegitimate things!  But if we become used to self-discipline, even in legitimate things, then we will find it much easier to overcome the temptations to do the things we are not supposed to do.

    Right about now, you might be asking yourself why I am taking about such things before Advent begins.  The answer, once again, is that it takes time to prepare.  The Church long ago relaxed most of her Advent regulations (they used to be similar to those for Lent).  The Masses of the Season are still in purple, as they are in Lent, and the Ember Days and the Vigil of Christmas are still prescribed days of fasting and abstinence. But for the most part our Advent observance will be what we make of it for ourselves.  Now is the time to arrange the time to do so properly.  See if you can't budget some time now for daily Mass or saying the Rosary, some time for spiritual reading and doing good works.  It is, particularly, the time for arranging your social schedule so that you don't find yourself in the position of spending a great deal of time in frivolous entertainment—that is tough to do with the Christmas parties that many of our non-Catholic friends throw during Advent, but we can at least minimize the partying.

    This year Advent will last for a full four weeks, beginning next week, the last Sunday of this month, November 27th.  Advent is the best preparation there is to enjoy a good Christmas season.  The sharpening of your focus on God will help you to appreciate the meaning of Christmas    that it is more than a time of over-eating and over-spending;  more than reindeer and elves and Hallmark cards.  Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became man to restore us to the possibility of eternal life.  A good Advent will help us to understand just how important that is.



[1]   Epistle: Colossians i: 9-14

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