The Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty was a pioneering figure in the Catholic social justice movement, along with her friend Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker.
Raised an aristocrat in Russia, she and her family were driven into exile when the communist revolution came in 1917. Taking refuge in England, she converted to Catholicism in 1919, and from there her life took a deeply apostolic turn.
Acting on words she said she’d received from Jesus, she moved to Canada and then to America, where, beginning in the late 1930s, she founded lay-run homes for the poor and homeless in Toronto, Harlem, Chicago, and elsewhere.
During Advent, Catherine used to deliver daily talks to her coworkers. In one of these reflections, she said:
“Advent is a short season, yet it covers a long distance. It is the road of the soul from Nazareth to Bethlehem … a road into infinity, into eternity. It has a beginning, but no end. Advent is the road of the spiritual life.”
This is a beautiful idea for us as we prepare for the holy season of Advent.
Advent is a pilgrimage of the soul, an interior journey of the heart. In these four weeks, we travel, both in our liturgy and spiritually, from the annunciation at Nazareth to the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem.
We make this journey with the Virgin Mary, and as we go, we learn from her the habits of the heart that we need to welcome Jesus into our lives, to allow his life to grow within us, and to share his life with others.
I’ve always liked the fact that Advent comes at the end of the calendar year, but marks the beginning of the new Church year.
The first Christians spoke of Jesus’ coming with great joy — as a new creation, as a bright morning star that was rising in their hearts. “Behold,” Jesus said, “I make all things new!”
Every Advent is a time to awaken our hearts from the sleep of lazy habits or indifference to our spiritual lives. It’s a time for removing roadblocks and obstacles, for straightening out the paths of our hearts so that they lead us more directly to God.
We can know who we are by what we love, by what we choose to pursue and the priorities we give our time to. So, we want to make sure that our hearts are set on Jesus, on his will, on his plan for our lives. We want to be sure that we love what he loves.
The path from Nazareth to Bethlehem begins with saying “yes” to Jesus, as Mary did at the annunciation.
Mary abandoned herself into the loving arms of God and his plan for her life, telling the angel Gabriel, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
In our prayer and reflection during this season, we can begin by renewing our own act of faith, by trying harder to let go of our own priorities and plans, our own wants and wishes, and trying to entrust everything in our lives to God. Not our will, but his will be done.
St. John the Baptist is another important figure that we meet in the liturgy of Advent. He also made the decision to live for Jesus and not for himself. His beautiful expression was: “He must increase, I must decrease.”
During this Advent, we can unite ourselves to John’s desire, by deepening our efforts to live according to Jesus’ words and example, trying to approach the circumstances in our lives as Jesus did, with love and mercy.
There are three practical ways that we can encourage the growth of Jesus in our hearts during this Advent.
First is simply spending more time praying and reflecting on the Gospels, getting to know Jesus in a more intimate way. Second, we can come to Mass more often during the week, asking for the grace to increase our longing for him to transform our lives. Finally, we can try every day to do more good works for others, to live as Jesus did, with charity, mercy, and forgiveness.
Catherine Doherty’s mother used to tell her: “The days of Advent are the days of building a golden stairway that will lead us to a star, the star of Bethlehem. And this, in turn, will lead us straight to the Christ Child!”
Pray for me and I will pray for you, as together we begin this Advent journey along that path that leads from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to go with us on this journey; and in this holy season, may she help the Christ Child to grow in our hearts, as once he grew in her womb.