by Father Mark Goldasich
“Holy cow, I can’t believe that it’s Thanksgiving already! Where has this year gone?”
For the past few weeks, I’ve been hearing many variations on this theme. We live in a speeded-up world with unrelenting demands. Time is a precious and scarce commodity, particularly during the season of Advent, which begins on Thanksgiving weekend.
I feel guilty every Advent. While I want to experience quiet prayer to prepare
my mind, heart and soul for a deeper coming of Christ at Christmas, there are extra confessions to hear, gifts to buy and wrap, cards to send, and concerts and shows and parties to attend — all in addition to regular duties. Advent passes in an incredible blur and, more often than not, I find myself welcoming Jesus on Christmas with a lot less joy and a lot more stress than I feel I should have. And I suspect I’m not alone in this.
Perhaps this year, doing a little thinking in this week before Advent (with a calendar sitting in front of us) can help clarify what we hope to accomplish in these days and when we can realistically get these things done.
I always do better with a guide and, because I don’t “do Advent” very successfully, I’m actually going to rely on two guides — both from right here in the archdiocese — to keep me on an even keel and provide me with a rhythm to keep things humming along. Each guide has compiled detailed Advent instructions in book form, so you don’t have to add “travel to visit guide” to your already bulging “to-do” list.
The first guide is one of my favorites: Father Ed Hays. I’m embarrassed to say that his booklet — “Meeting Christ at Broadway & Bethlehem: Day by Day Through Advent” — actually came out last year . . . but I was too busy and preoc- cupied to read it. (See how I don’t do Advent well?)
Father Hays helps us navigate this “confusing” season. On the one hand, there’s Bethlehem: the four-week Advent season of “preparation with prayer, repentance and quiet contemplation.” On the other hand, there’s Broadway: the world around us “aglow with glitzy yuletide glamour and decorated in tinsel-lighted Christmas trees.” How we can make our way in these contradictory worlds — “one longing for Christ’s coming and the other already joyously celebrating its arrival” — is the focus of the book. Each day’s one-page entry has a short meditation, a practical task to bring some Advent joy to the day, and a brief closing prayer.
Father Hays offers a refreshing vision of Advent, where we do yearn “for the coming of the reign of God-among-us, while at the same time reveling in the joyful reality of that Kingdom already present here and now in our everyday lives.” Yes, Broadway and Bethlehem will intersect; Father Hays teaches us to appreciate both without guilt and live Advent with prophetic joy. By the way, at just $2.25 a copy, it won’t even dent your holiday budget.
A second helpful guide — one that takes readers from Advent through Epiphany — is written by Benedictine Sister Judith Sutera, of Atchison’s Mount St. Scholastica Monastery. Entitled “Advent and Christmas: Wisdom from St. Benedict” (Liguori Publications, 2010; $10.99), this work highlights that saint’s belief “that most of our earthly existence does not occur in ecstatic moments of divine enlightenment, but in the ordinary moments of daily life. If we can be aware of the presence of God in each of these moments and do each small thing with holy attentiveness, then we will be able to attain great insight for the whole of life.”
Each entry in the book starts with a selection from the writings of St. Benedict (or about him), followed by a brief Scripture passage, a prayer and then an “Advent action.” These actions make the prayer and meditation spring to life. For example, Sister Judith invites readers on various days to pray for people who annoy us and who we find hard to welcome; to remember those who are sick and unable to participate in the festivities of this time of year; to make some extra food when doing holiday recipes to donate to a program that serves the poor; or to reconnect with someone we’ve “neglected or from whom you have been distanced.” I especially like Sister Judith’s idea of using this book as part of our night prayer. She includes a format that can be used by individuals or groups. Reading the next day’s meditation the night before can not only calm our heart and soul but give our mind the opportunity to dream creatively about how to pursue the next day’s Advent action.
Finally, because time — or a lack of it — is what we’re concerned about in this holiday season, I invite you to join me in pondering — then acting on — the following wise words from an anonymous source:
Take time to think — it is the source of power.
Take time to play — it is the secret of perpetual youth.
Take time to read — it is the fountain of wisdom.
Take time to pray — it is the greatest power on earth.
Taketimetoloveandbeloved—itisa God-given privilege.
Take time to be friendly — it is the road to happiness.
Take time to laugh — it is the music of the soul.
Take time to give — it is too short a day to be selfish.
Take time to work — it is the price of success.
Find time — and the rest is easy!