Welcome to our new series, Catholic Conversations! With this first installment we are pleased to kick off a regular feature that will engage a varied group of Catholic voices around one question about Catholic life and practice.
What does Advent mean to you?
Mostly it means I am running out of time. Most concretely this happens when I realize I want to get thoughtful presents for my nieces and nephews. I have a few weeks. But the time runs out, so I end up depending on Amazon expedited shipping to get me out of a jam. How superficial you say! Maybe, but giving a gift is noble in itself, and rightly a Christmas thing; yet we postpone the opportunities. On another level (analogously for the theologically minded): I know I am supposed to prepare in some way to be able to celebrate the mysteries of Christmas. Christmas is like the liturgical road-block that reminds us we have to recover the heart of a child in order to know Jesus and his Kingdom. And every year I find myself facing the approach of the 25th wishing that Christian insight and simplicity of heart could come by expedited delivery. I should have meditated [on] the Gospel more, spent more time with the Blessed Sacrament, been more conscious of ways to help the poor. Time runs out, though, and the liturgical roadblock starts looking like a vehicle heading in my direction. Jesus is coming again. I am not just heading to meet him. He is moving towards me. I sense him coming from afar. Time is a gift. Don’t let it slip away. When he comes, it will be simple. It wasn’t all about me after all. There will be joy. The hand of glory comes by way of the fingered blessing of a child.
Writer, The Catholic Weekly; author of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning
I try to think of it as a time when the baby is near. What do you do when a little baby is nearby, maybe sleeping in the next room? You try to quiet down, gentle down, make everything a little less harsh and cold. It’s not a time for sternness or strictness, but a time to give each other the benefit of the doubt, or a second chance, or a little bit of sweetness. That’s a good way to prepare for the baby who’s about to be born.
Rev. Jan Michael Joncas
Artist-in-Residence, Research Fellow in Catholic Studies,
University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN)
For me Advent is THE season of waiting. When I was quite young I thought that meant pretending to be like all humans before Christ came to earth, longing for his birth and then celebrating it at Christmas. When I grew older images of “active waiting”—pregnancy, creating a composition, seeding a field and preparing for harvest—took the foreground of my Advent waiting. Now I think I am waiting for the revelation of the “new heaven and new earth,” where God’s vision for humanity and the cosmos, now present in mystery, comes to fruition. To use a limping example, I am actively waiting for our culture to be so transformed by grace and witness that no one would even think of aborting their child or euthanizing their relative, just as no one in this culture would even think about owning another human being. Just as through suffering witness, the grace of God, and conversion of heart, slavery became unthinkable, so I believe that through suffering witness, the grace of God, and conversion of heart, abortion and euthanasia will become unthinkable. And even though I assume I will not live long enough to see that day, I will actively wait for it with every beat of my heart.
Sr. Helena Burns, FSP
Advent means quiet excitement and anticipation. The first snowfall. The pageantry of Christmas leaching in everywhere (without much resistance on my part). Advent means the most poetic and earth-shaking (in a good way) readings of the entire liturgical cycle. All God’s promises ready to reign down fulfillment. Isaiah’s comforting words of a future filled with peace. The strange paradox of Advent being the most hectic time of the year while you’re trying to be more reflective. But the Holy Family were not exactly sitting around “scratching their knees” (a pejorative Northern Italian idiom for idleness) at this time. They were the earth’s poor on a grueling, forced trek. So perhaps Advent is about life’s demanding unpredictability, fortuitous surprises, and our need to keep up with God (Jn 5:17).
James Martin, S.J.
Editor-at-Large, America magazine; author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything
For me, Advent is about desire. We all feel incomplete in our lives—emotionally, socially, intellectually, sometimes even physically. We feel like something is missing, and have an almost overwhelming desire for something more. That’s what Advent is about: the whole world longing for the coming of Christ. Of course he’s already come. But Advent gets us in touch with the desire for the only person who can fill the “God-shaped hole” in our lives: Jesus.
Editor-in-Chief, Aleteia (English edition); author of Little Sins Mean a Lot; blogger at The Anchoress
Gregory of Nyssa said, “Only wonder leads to knowing.” Advent feels like stargazing to me; it’s full of watchful expectancy. Each year it reminds me of all I do not know by teaching me something I perhaps wasn’t ready to learn, before—all born out of making a little space and time to go into the seasonal readings, and wondering anew.
Founder and author of catholicmom.com; author of A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms
I’ve grown to love Advent deeply in the past few years as I’ve allowed myself to truly embrace this season as a time to anticipate with wonder the coming of Christ, remembered with ever fresh eyes in our celebration of Christmas. Advent is for me a time to slow down, to seek silence, to turn inward so I can turn upward with longing and joy. It feels countercultural to don purple and eschew Christmas decorations for the time being in favor of an evergreen wreath and four simple candles and the color purple, so regal and yet penitent too. Advent is practicing waiting with patience. Advent is a reminder of God’s everlasting love. And Advent is joy, not just in that third week when the rose colored candle glows, but all season long.
Singer-songwriter, speaker, producer
Advent is something with which I did not grow up, but it is a special time for me now. I appreciate the chance to still myself and listen to my own heart, and hopefully hear God’s as well. Christmas can come and go so quickly when Advent is not there to pave the way—these days I find myself entering into the “spirit of Christmas” more easily and for a longer time due to my observance of the Advent season.
Stay tuned for our next conversation:
What’s your favorite Christmas carol?
Featured Photo: Steve Grant; CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0.