Moving Closer To The Crib During a Season of Struggles and Great Hope
We read in the Catechism, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present [the]ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming (CCC, 524).”
Just recently, in his Dec. 2nd Angelus at St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict reminded us of our responsibilities as a Christian witness during this time of year. He said, “Amid the turmoil of the world, or the deserts of indifference and materialism, Christians accept salvation from God and witness with a different way of life, like a city set on a hill.”
Pope Benedict also told us that we are “a sign of the love of God, his justice that is present in the history but that is not yet fully realized, and that we must therefore always be waiting and seeking it with courage and patience.”
Advent is one of the most beautiful seasons in our Liturgical year. It’s a season of joyful expectation – all about reflecting on our faith and pausing to prepare our hearts to greet the Christ Child, and even preparing for entering our Eternal reward and looking forward to Jesus coming in His full glory one day. It is indeed a distinctive period filled with the amazing graces awaiting us – pregnant with wondrous hope!
Sometimes, though, the hype from the secular culture, which seems to scream at us at every turn, can be downright discouraging. Trying to find the necessary silence required to immerse our hearts into prayer at this time of year can be extra challenging. As well, we might be feeling overwhelmed thinking about our responsibilities to “put on a great Christmas” or to accomplish everything we feel compelled to do and maybe feeling tempted to pull off some sort of unobtainable level of perfection regarding our shopping, decorating, baking or whatever.
Our to-do list seems endless and we usually inadvertently add to it: the cookie baking, pageant watching, Christmas card writing, cleaning and scrubbing every corner of the house for the holidays, getting the tree, decorating, holiday parties to attend, the meal preparations and food shopping. Oh! Did I mention Christmas shopping?
The Advent season can get utterly lost in our busyness and the culture’s craziness. Perhaps, instead of lamenting about the fact that we feel so bombarded and stretched while facing that lack of time dilemma to truly participate in Advent, let’s instead do something different. How about attempting to change our attitudes (how about practicing the virtues?) and tweak our schedules a bit to weave in extra prayer and meditation on the marvelous events that mark the Advent season?
Advent Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated
Try to take the unnecessary pressures off of yourself. You don’t need to strive for Norman Rockwell picture perfect – seriously!
Along these lines, in my newest book, Rooted in Love: Our Calling as Catholic Women, I said:
I think that we women can become our own worst enemy by worrying that we’re not doing enough to please others and God, too. We actually heap more responsibilities (whether they be actual or emotional) than is necessary upon our own shoulders. We deal with so many demands for perfection in our lives. Many of the saints spoke about how a whole lot of us might never do very big things in life (or what some might consider “big” things). But we can lead simple yet faithful lives by doing small things with great love. This is very pleasing to God and is actually the secret to real holiness as both St. Therese of Lisieux and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta preached. And, yes, God calls all of us to become saints.
Perhaps the irony is that, as many women struggle with the demands of our society and the mass media to become “perfect,” achieving perfection is simply being faithful to the duties of our lives. God looks at perfection much differently than do we.
I think of the holy simplicity of tiny baby Jesus making His entrance into the world very quietly in Bethlehem in a cold cave in the dark of the night, warmed by the breath of animals and His loving Mother’s tender embrace.
I ponder the humility, obedience, and holy love of Mother Mary, a faithful young Jewish teen of Nazareth in Galilee who had prayed with her people for the coming of the Messiah and perhaps for half a second found it difficult to grasp that she was the simple virgin chosen by God to bring about the birth of our Savior.
When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary delivering the life-transforming message, Mary took the blessing straight away to her heart and offered her whole being to God – her Fiat. “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Through her selfless Fiat, Mary was immediately collaborating with the entire work of what Jesus would accomplish.
As we know, the angel Gabriel also informed Mary that her elderly cousin Elizabeth was pregnant with John the Baptist. Rather than worry about her own pregnancy discomforts, Mary focused on the service of another by running in haste to help Elizabeth for the remainder of her pregnancy.
Blessed Mother Teresa spoke about our Blessed Mother’s generous heart in lovingly serving Elizabeth. She said,“The wonderful tenderness of a woman’s heart: to be aware of the sufferings of others and to try to spare them that suffering, as Mary did. Do you and I have that same tenderness in our hearts? Do we have Mary’s eyes for discovering the needs of others?”
No matter how much we may try to run and hide from the seasonal chaos, we should remember that Advent is indeed a season of hope and expectation for the most wonderful GIFT of all, given to us by our loving God. There’s no need to go into hibernation mode to avoid the crowds at the malls or the advertizing frenzy on the TV and radio. Unless we live the life of a hermit, we are meant to associate with others – within our families and when we are out and about in our community. Amazing transformations can occur within our encounters and exchanges when we allow God in.
Perhaps we can all take some time in the coming days to ponder how God might be calling us to “run in haste” to aid someone. Could it be our spouse, our child, our relative, our fellow religious, our co-worker, or our lonely neighbor?
Reaching Out Beyond Our Comfort Zone
Reaching out to those in need around us can be accomplished in the seemingly tiniest of ways – a smile, a friendly word (even when it might be difficult to do so!) and in greater deeds too, like helping our elderly neighbor decorate for Christmas or bringing a hot meal to a shut-in and visiting for a while. When the phone rings or a message comes in through your social media from someone requesting your advice, perhaps you can consider it to be an opportunity to serve with Christ’s love even when you are so busy. Time is a precious gift, often tough to part with in these jam-packed days. But, the rewards are great indeed for everyone involved.
You can perhaps discuss with your spouse, family, or parish group possible ways in which you can make a loving difference in someone’s life this Advent season. In addition to your gesture being warm and lovely, the act becomes a Christian example, a form of evangelization.
In my new book, Rooted in Love: Our Calling as Catholic Women I talk a lot about the necessity of prayer in our lives and I express that I wholeheartedly believe that one of the most important prayers is our Morning Offering in which we offer our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings to our Lord first thing in the morning on our knees right by the side of our bed. I said:
The great thing about the morning offering is that you are surrendering everything over to God as you start your day. In this way, you are giving him complete control – handing him the reins. By doing so, you in essence are freeing yourself of worrying about how things will unfold throughout the day. All of the challenges, craziness, joys, and everything that presents itself will be enveloped in a trusting prayer to God. He will be with you and help you in every detail of your day. It’s a simple prayer requiring very little time and effort, but when sincerely and lovingly presented to God, it will guarantee that your life that day is shrouded in his infinite grace and love – no matter what happens!
Yes, schedule those essential times of personal and family prayer. But, be mindful too, that simply living out our vocations in life as faithfully as we can is in reality a prayer too. Everything that happens and each person we encounter is an extraordinary opportunity for grace. The outcome of every experience depends upon our attitude and our responses to each circumstance.
This awareness can perhaps offer us another way to view little hardships, inconveniences, and greater trials we may experience too, as well as the encounters of grumpy demeanors, or people with short fuses, “parking lot rage,” and the various needs of others in our midst.
Let’s pray for the courage and patience that our Holy Father Pope Benedict encouraged us to use during this Advent time of seeking and waiting. The world looks to us as that “city set on a hill.” Will we say “Yes” to God even when we are being challenged? Can we even pray for the people who harass us or irritate us in some way?
I’m reminded of the guy who gave me the finger in the grocery store parking lot. In return, I waved a friendly “hello” to him and then prayed a decade of the Rosary for him as I drove away. As Mother Teresa would say, that person is“Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.” Maybe there’s no one else in his life at this time who would take the time to pray for him. Perhaps God put me in his life to gift him with prayer.
Let’s ask ourselves, “Do we have Mary’s tenderness of heart and her eyes for discovering the needs of others?” Can we “renew our ardent desire” each time we utter “Yes” to our Lord in all He asks of us this season of hope?
Here I am Lord
Dear Lord, Jesus, please open my heart more fully during this Advent season and please nourish my heart and soul with Your abiding love and comfort. Help me to feel Your miraculous peace at a time when I feel stretched to keep up with all I need to do and while I struggle with what the world beckons me to accomplish. I am continually bombarded with messages from a lopsided culture and the ever-present advertising frenzy all around me and I wish to keep my eyes on You.
Show me the way to strike a healthy balance regarding preparing for the Christmas holiday and preparing my heart to welcome You more completely. Please continue to enkindle the holy flame of Your love which You have placed in my heart so that I might become a radiant beacon of Faith to all I meet this Advent season and beyond.
I pray that every person I encounter will feel Your holy presence in my soul. I humbly offer this prayer to Your most Sacred Heart, dear Lord Jesus. I trust in You. Amen.
Copyright 2012 Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle