Why, do you suppose, we Catholics don’t take to Advent the way we take to Lent?
In Lent, Catholics — at least churchgoing Catholics — really get into the season. They dutifully show up for ashes at the launch, and they wear the smudge to work. They “give something up” for Lent and whine about how much they miss it. They search online to find a good parish fish fry for Friday dinner.
In Advent, on the other hand, we … do Christmas shopping … worry about money … get stressed out.
I think we can do better.
Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas, as Lent is for Easter. Christmas and Easter are similar in many ways, and serious theologians argue about which is more important
The archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Shonborn, recently wrote: If, on the one hand, we start from the Incarnation, when God became man, then it seems to follow that Christmas is the central saving event: God became man! … On the other hand, Christ’s Paschal Mystery does nonetheless seem to be central: Easter is the turning point of salvation, the new thing that makes everything new ... Yet in fact the two belong together, each unthinkable without the other.”
And each, you’ll notice, is preceded by a season of preparation and followed by a season of celebration.
Those seasons are important. They’re the time when we discipline ourselves and moderate our emotions so that we can celebrate the feast in the best possible frame of mind. A better Advent is the truest path to a merry Christmas.
I’m not saying we should turn Advent into Lent. It’s a different season with a spirit all its own — a season of joyful expectation. But that doesn’t mean we should live it with less ardor. Here are a few things we can do.
The Benedictine Monk Prosper Gueranger suggests that we treat every Holy Communion in Advent as if it’s a Christmas. “Christians! Your Communions during Advent are to prepare you for your Christmas joy, by giving you something of the delight that Mary felt before the birth of Jesus. When you are in the House of God, prepare by recollection and prayer for receiving your Savior in Holy Communion.”
So make a special effort to be attentive at Mass. Use a missal if it helps you. Sing the hymns. Think of five special intentions you want to mentally “place on the altar” at the offertory.
Know what else you can do? Go to confession. That’s the best way to prepare for Communion, and so it’s an excellent way to get ready for Christmas.
And here’s a real challenge: Make peace with someone.
Is there anyone you’re estranged from? Anyone you’re offended, even inadvertently?
If so, then take the initiative. Make the phone call. Send the email. Apologize, and say you miss the way things used to be. Don’t make any explanations. Don’t make excuses. Just say you’re sorry in the simplest terms. Explanations, excuses, and qualifications only make things worse. They do nothing to build back trust.
I know that last one isn’t easy — but, really, none of these spiritual exercises is easy. Why should they be easy? Does anything worthwhile come easily?
Christmas is worthwhile. And it’s worth the huge effort of making “peace on earth,” beginning in our homes and relationships.