Last Week of Advent: Encountering Obstacles to Joy

Raise your hand if you or any of your family members have been sick this week!  It seems as though everyone I know has been hit by this vicious stomach bug, so if you are there nodding your head in exhaustion just thinking about it, I raise my hot toddy to you my friend.

Okay, to be fair, I haven’t personally been hit that hard by the bug (so far), but my sonny, my baby girl, my older sister’s whole family, and my littlest sister (who even at one point looked at me blankly and said, “Oh I won’t get it, I never get sick”) have all been hit by it.  It’s been kind of a wild ride with many sleepless nights, accompanied with lots and lots of laundry loads.

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Along with the pain of seeing my little girl so miserable.

With that said, I think it is safe to assume that all the peace that I’ve been saying I’ve had this Advent has been terribly challenged.  It’s like I’ve been given one last week to be tested in order to really prep my heart for Christmas.  My prayer time has been compromised and I’ve been fighting against my inner grumpiness that wants to act out in impatience, rudeness, and exhaustion.

In all this, I had a thought about Martha and Mary once again.  I hear all the time from women (and have even said it myself) that they feel like they are more of a Martha than a Mary.  The more I reflected on this though, I’ve realized that–wait–aren’t we all Martha by condition?   I mean, as moms, we don’t exactly have all the free time in the world.  There is laundry to be done, kids to tend to, dinners to be made, floors to be vacuumed, groceries to be bought, and I can’t even imagine what you working moms have to go through having to accomplish all that while having an extra job to do (how do you do it!?).  Our vocation as moms is just naturally busy, chaotic, messy, and (mostly) exhausting.

I think maybe that is why most of us feel that we are more of a Martha and not a Mary.  We feel busy, overloaded, and just plain tired, and we long for those moments that we can just sit and relax at the Lord’s feet, listening to his every word in peace and quiet.   I thought the reason Jesus chastised Martha was merely for her work, but in further reading I’ve realized it is much deeper than that.

Martha welcomed Jesus into her home, and in an effort to be perfect for him, she forgot to really open her heart to him.  The work that Martha was overloaded with wasn’t necessarily Martha’s problem; it was her inability to recognize that Jesus was in her midst, her quickness to cast blame on others for their “lack of help”, to see her calling in that moment to serve as an encumbrance, and to be moved to accomplish her vocational task more out of anxiety than out of love.

I have always related to Martha because of her tendency to work more than to rest, but I am seeing now how God is calling me to look deeper at my relation to Martha.  I am learning that I relate more to Martha because I have been there.  All of us have to work, and most of us are living lives that are chaotic and cumbersome, but I’m beginning to see that I relate more to Martha because I know what work without charity is, and I know what impatience, edginess, and jealousy feels like.  I walk around all the time wishing that my life was more like Mary’s and that I had the time to sit in adoration of the Lord and pour out my love for him in peace, instead of picking cheerios off the floor four hundred times a day and having to do parental calisthenics all day in response to the request upon request that come from my children.   Life does not to afford me to sit in idle peace all the time.

I have to work…but the way I go about it could definitely be improved.

After Martha grumbles to the Lord about her burdens, he admonishes her, saying: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

I don’t think that the Lord was calling Martha to merely sit at his feet, so much as listen to his Word and have an intimate relationship with him.  This kind of relationship may manifest itself in different ways—and we see this with Mary and Martha: Mary, having the ability to sit and listen; and Martha having the calling to serve the Lord.  In both situations, both women are able to choose the better part, because the better part is simply recognizing that the Lord is with them, and allowing worry and anxiety to wash away.  The manifestation of being in the Lord’s company looked different for both women, but both were given the divine opportunity of being in the presence of the Lord.

I wonder what this would look like if it played out differently on Martha’s end; if instead of overloading her plate with unnecessary burdens, she accomplished those tasks that needed to be done with full charity, serving the Lord and her sister as need be, and resting when she had the chance (instead of overloading her plate in an effort to be perfect).  Maybe this way the Lord may have said to her, Thank you for having me in your home Martha—you too, have chosen the good portion.

I’m realizing that if we merely wait for these opportunities for peace and quiet in order to open our hearts to him, we may end up missing the good portion altogether.  If we merely long to be in the situation of Mary rather than working to take her heart on for own, then we will never find the peace and joy that Jesus calls us to.

I think this time of disruption in my Advent peace has been actually a good thing for me, because it’s called me to put to mind and heart everything that I have been actively working on this season.  Father Mike Schmitz says that joy is an inner state of well-being—it is a choice.  It is the sense that comes from the fruit of a life lived in God, which manifests itself in the simple and honest prayer of “Father, Thy will be done”.  So, in my work (especially when it gets messy and difficult) and the crazy haze of living out my vocation as mom and wife, I hope that I can continue to work to have a heart like Mary, recognizing that Jesus is with me.  Then, instead of grumbling in complaint, I might serve with charity, love without reserve, and find joy in my heart that thrives both in peace and under pressure.

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Seven Quick Takes: More on Advent, The Domestic Church, and Family Activities before Christmas

Linking up with Kelly for the first time in a really long time for 7 Quick Takes Friday!

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Advent so far has been wonderful.  I think the concerted effort to be more aware of what this season is all about is paying off, because I find myself a bit more at peace during this hectic time of the year than I normally am.

The week of the 5th kick-started the craziness of the season for me and my family.  We hosted two parties in one week at our house, and have since celebrated three feast days (Saint Nicholas, Mary’s Immaculate Conception, and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe).

I have always wanted to be more mindful of the Feast Days in the Church, and seeing the beautiful and thoughtful things that other Catholic moms put together for their families has always left me feeling a bit #inadequate.  Sometimes the pressure to be the “perfect” mom is ridiculous–especially the perfect “Catholic” mom– and I love what Simcha had to say about her family’s celebration of the Immaculate Conception. (“Pant, pant”…just get their butts to Mass.)

The biggest thing I took from her article was that we don’t have to put together these elaborate things for our family for them to get the most out of these special days.  We just need to put our focus on what really matters, and we need to continue striving to share the faith with our kids in the best ways we know how.

So we’ve begun doing that and it has been awesome, and really alleviated the silly guilt that comes from being so very un-pinterest worthy most of the time.

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This new outlook on building our domestic church came just in time, because in the craziness of hosting people at our house on the 5th, I completely forgot to weave together the narrative of Saint Nick’s legendary stories to Eli and stick carrots and other such things in his stinky little shoes before Saint Nicholas’ Feast Day the next day .  I did buy coins and carrots and had a whole thing planned out, but completely forgot in the rush of all things. #Momfail

But I rolled with it. Who really cares?  I mean, I may not be Martha-friggin-Stewart, but that’s okay.  And let’s be honest, Eli (and certainly Lucia) didn’t even notice.

I decided to nix the whole plan and just work with what we normally do every night, which is sit together as a family and eat dinner.  I parked our ol’ Santa Claus “Saint Nick” down with us for dinner,

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gave Eli a few details about his life (Lucy nodded along, too), said a quick prayer in honor of him, ate dinner, and afterwards celebrated by eating chocolate coins and drinking eggnog by our tree. It was wonderful and simple and I think Eli got the general jist of what is really so special about the jolly old man, Santa Claus.  It’s not so much about getting the presents and toys he brings as it is about the character of the real man (a saint) who existed; a man who lived for the Lord, and loved and gave without reserve.

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We also celebrated with our friends this Advent season, on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The group gathered together and came up with this great idea to make tilmas (an idea one of the girls got from Catholic Icing), eat cookies, watch a movie about Juan Diego’s vision of Mary, and carry red roses up to Mary in honor of this day.   It was so fun and I am so glad that my kids are making friends in the Church.

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One of the parties I hosted was for Joey’s 30th Birthday!  It is becoming kind of a tradition to have a Christmas party at our house for him every year, and I think this 3rd year was our best.

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We changed the entertainment up this year (from our usual white elephant game) by playing the seran wrap game, and it was such a hit!  Highly suggest it for your family parties—except instead of candy we purchased a bunch of small gifts (chotchkies and stuff) for people to win.  Funny enough though, most of the grown men were vying for the big league chew packets of gum.

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A friend gifted me the Blessed is She Advent journal this year and I am absolutely loving it!  It is probably a bit late to buy the journal for this Advent, but you can also buy it and download a digital copy of it if you are interested!

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This year I wanted to make something that I could gift to people, and I settled on these caramel candies.  I was super nervous about making these because my history with baking is not the greatest, so I only assumed candy-making would be worse.  With only a minor hiccup (a big caramel spill, because my pan wasn’t big enough) I came out unscathed and they came out delicious!  Be happy I don’t have pictures of the process, though, because it wasn’t very pretty.  The recipe I followed was super easy, albeit a tad time consuming (took me an hour and a half to make).  Try making them for Christmas! They don’t disappoint!

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Eli had his very first Christmas program yesterday.  It was priceless.  I especially love how he pretty much “watermelon-coconuted” the whole thing, and clapped for himself at the end.  At-a-boy, you little cutie. At-a-boy.

That’s it for me this week! Hope you have a wonderful week, and if you are traveling for Christmas–safe travels!!!

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My Experiences Fasting During Advent

Today is the Feast Day of Saint John of the Cross.  In researching more about him, I came across the quote above and felt it to be very applicable and timely to where I am spiritually in this Advent season.  A few weeks ago, I mentioned the importance of fasting during Advent, and this is the first time in my life that I have actually tried putting this into practice specifically in preparation for Christmas.  I had never thought about fasting during Advent before, and I really wanted to try and make it a priority this time around—to ready my heart so that I may more aptly appreciate the blessings of Christmas.  I think Saint John of the Cross’ quote about purifying yourself of attachments speaks so perfectly to what I have been learning this Advent season.

One lesson I learn every time I fast, and which I am learning once again, is how very weak I am.  Actively choosing to abstain from certain goods during Advent has shown me just how attached I am to these goods.  There have been many times since I made the commitment to my fast that I have made excuses, been unable to refrain from partaking of the good, and even gone so far as to think to myself, God will understand.  And in a way, he does!  God understands that these goods are good (because he created them!) and that we have a desire for them (because that’s how he created us!).  God created us to gravitate towards the good and share in the blessings that he gives to us and to the world.  But God also calls us to prioritize Him above all good things, and fasting from minor indulgences this Advent has called to my attention my attachment to these goods, and shown me how the very littlest of my attachments can end up standing between me and God.  My simple little promises I offer to God are broken simply because my appetite for them in that moment is greater than the promise I made to God.  Now, God doesn’t look at me, weak and hungry, and abandon me because I have abandoned my fast.  Fasting isn’t so much about winning merits for myself, but rather about mortifying my passions. The fact that I cannot stay firm to my commitment to say no to certain goods as an offering to God, shows me how I am in need of both his mercy and that I need to evaluate how my appetite for certain goods can at times control me.  When we fast from things that are good, or refrain from partaking of things we know are particularly harmful to us, we do so in an effort to realign our priorities.  Through continued practice of fasting, I am learning that my flesh and self-control are wild, and need to be ordered properly.  Fasting is a reminder that though all of the sweets, treats, and indulgences may be good, they are merely a small fraction of the Good of God and the fulfillment that we ultimately receive in him alone.  Ordering my passions properly allows me to be more open and free spiritually, and prepares me for the times that I am tempted in bigger and more sinful ways.  

Something new that I am also learning by fasting this Advent is the connection between fasting and longing.  (I see now why the Church calls us to fast during Advent.)  While I long for Christmas to come so that I can partake in the goods that I gave up, this fast is teaching me what the Advent season is really all about: having longing in our hearts for the Lord.  During these five or so weeks until Christmas, fasting is moving me to develop within my heart a sense of longing that can only be truly fulfilled by the Summum Bonum (or, “Ultimate Good”), God himself.  Much like the longing I remember as a kid, so very excited to open presents on Christmas morning, I am beginning to realize what true longing during the Christmas season is all about.  Yes, I long for those goods that I have actively chosen to give up this Advent, but in giving up these goods I am reminded first and foremost of the Good of Christ’s love—the good that came with his entering into the world, humbly and free of all worldly attachments, in the manger in Bethlehem. Fasting is teaching me what it means to see the goods of the world “spiritually” and to “understand what is certain in them.”  Abusing them, and consistently indulging in them to the point of enslavement is not why God created them or us.  He created the goods for us to share in them, but more importantly to point us to his own sweetness–to him who is the Supreme Good itself.  

How is your fast going this Advent?  Comment below!  

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The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today is a very special Feast Day in the Church, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary!  Not only is today a Feast Day, it is a Holy Day and all the faithful are called to go to Mass to celebrate the most holy conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

To honor our Blessed Mother, here are a few facts about her Immaculate Conception:

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Though conceived without sin, Mary’s conception was a human one.   Unlike her Son Jesus (who was conceived by the Holy Spirit), Mary was conceived by two human parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim.

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Mary was conceived in a special way, without the stain of original sin, making her Immaculate.  Original Sin is the state all of humanity is born into, a result of the great Fall of Adam and Eve.  It is a deprivation of sanctifying grace (a habitual gift given to us by God,  that perfects our souls and enables us to live with God and act by his love), and as such leaves the human nature corrupt.(This is why Baptism is so essential—especially for infants—because through it we receive sanctifying grace).  Mary, however, received God’s sanctifying grace the moment she was conceived in the womb, and was preserved from the defects of original sin by the grace of Christ.

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Scripture gives us a window into the very special disposition of Mary’s soul.  In Luke 1:28, the Angel Gabriel greets Mary with a particularly special greeting, “Hail, full of grace (or, “favored one”), The Lord is with you!”  This greeting was a unique one, which hardly translates well in our English language.  However, the Greek expression for “Hail, full of grace” more aptly expresses the quality of Mary’s state of being.  In Greek the greeting is “chaire kecharitomene,” (a passive participle expressing an action completed in the past with an application in the present) which reads in English as “Hail, you who have been perfected in grace!”  This indicates that Mary was graced by God in the past, but continues to live in a state of sanctifying grace in the present.  Thus, Mary’s Immaculate state was not a result of the angel’s visit, but she was endowed with sanctifying grace from the moment she was conceived.

 

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As a human, Mary was still in need of Redemption, but she was saved in a special and unique way.  Mary, too, was a descendant of Adam and thus subject to the necessity of contracting original sin.  However, God intervened, preserving her from the stain and corruption of Original Sin from the moment she was brought into existence.  She was thus redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way—through anticipation (or in other words, preemptively).

 

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The following analogy might help you understand this a little more:

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Aren’t we all sinners? A quick thought if Romans 3:23 is popping into your head right now: Children before the age of reason are incapable of sinning (because sin requires the ability to reason and intend sin), and both the angels and souls in heaven are without sin.  Mary’s blessedness doesn’t take away from the glory of God, but rather, it demonstrates his great glory by showing us the work he has done in sanctifying creation.   Sinning doesn’t qualify us to be human—it is just what we are working with when we are brought into the world in our fallen condition.  It is in fact when man is without sin that he is living most fully the life that God created him to be.  Mary, chosen as the one to carry the Christ child, was preserved from sin and created exactly the way that God wanted her to be.

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Why was the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception defined so late? The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854, which is a long time after the birth of Mary.  Why did the Church wait so long to publicly declare her Immaculate Conception?  Though this delay signifies that the doctrine was merely invented, we must remember that the Church never issues definitive proclamations on teachings of the faith until a.) they either have to (to confront and avoid false teaching on the matter), or b.) to expand and clarify the teaching so that the faithful may better understand it.  The reason this particular doctrine wasn’t issued until 1854 is because the faithful at that time were desiring that this doctrine (taught, maintained, and believed to be true since the beginning) be officially proclaimed.  They did this in hopes that it would inspire a deeper devotion to Jesus through her, and help the faithful have a better understanding of her.

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Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant.  When Gabriel appeared to Mary, he announced to her that the birth of her Son will happen by the power of the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35) This “overshadowing” of the power of God is a reference to the Shekinah of the Old Testament—the Hebrew term for God’s presence among his people. This presence overcame the company of the people in the form of a great cloud, and overtime ended up overshadowing the Ark of the Covenant.  The Ark was the way in which God’s presence was always visible to the people, so that they could know with certainty that God was indeed with them.  The Ark contained the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments (on which were written the Word of God), the manna God gave the people for sustenance, and the budding staff of Aaron, who was the high priest of the people.   The Ark which held all of these three things foreshadowed the New Ark, Mary, who (overshadowed by the Shekinah of God) carried within her womb the Child of the Promise: the very Law and Word of God itself, the true Bread of Life, and the great High Priest sent to redeem all of humanity.  Thus, it makes perfect sense that the New Ark be preserved from sin and sanctified from the beginning of her creation.

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All of these facts point not just to the awesomeness of Mary, but more importantly to the awesomeness of God who created her, so blessed and full of grace.

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*The featured image at the top of the post can be found and bought by the artist on her etsy account here. 

 

Receiving the Word: Stay Awake!

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“Jesus said to his disciples: “‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.  They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.  So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man.  Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.  Therefore, stay awake!  For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.  Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.  So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.’” Matthew 24:37-44

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What does it mean to be awake? I had this on my mind after reading this Gospel last night, and in my readiness for sleep, I was short for answers.  I told myself I would think about it in the morning, but as usual I woke up not to any thought of my own, but to a little boy climbing on my belly excitedly saying, “Time to wake up?!”  Before I could even really respond, he went through his usual morning requests for breakfast (this time asking for tacos), wanted to watch “Dinosaur Train” (which he knows he never gets in the morning), and asking for Lucy, his sister, to get up with him (she’s his best friend).  His excitement for waking was met with my reluctance to start the day.  Before I begrudgingly pulled myself out of bed to tend to his requests, I remembered the Gospel I read the night before, and thought to myself:  So this is what God is calling me to?  Half of me wanted to stay in bed, but the other half knew I had to get up.  I have responsibilities that require my attentiveness and slacking on the job is not optional, or at least, not optimal.  So, in my weariness, I looked at my son’s face—so excited for a new day—and thought, if only I could wake daily with the excitement that he has.

Why was I so wanting to sleep, more than wanting to start my day?  Because a new day requires me to work again.  It requires me to get up, be alert, be ready to respond to my children’s needs and the needs of my husband; to cook, to clean, to do laundry, to run errands, to write, to study, and accomplish the most that I can, in the best way that I can, for the time that I have before I have to get up and do it again tomorrow.  And it can be exhausting.  I huff under my breath each morning, “Just a little bit more sleep”; a little bit more sleep to rest from the work that I am called to do.

In examining the very simple task I have each day of awakening (and my daily reluctance towards it), I see many parallels in my spiritual life.  It is so much easier to rest in the things that leave me spiritually complacent and carefree than to work on my relationship with God and on myself.  I allow myself to be spiritually lazy and blame it on the fact that I have got a million other things to do, and very little time to accomplish it all.  If I can squeeze in prayer or my daily examination of conscience, great.  If not, He understands.  I feel satisfied with my day when I have checked off all (or even some) of the boxes on my to-do list and can just collapse on the couch at night to wind down by watching Netflix or scrolling endlessly on pinterest.

The problem that I face in my spiritual life, though, is similar to what would happen if I decided to stay in my bed in my pajamas all day, ignoring my responsibilities and the offerings my day brings me: I would end up a less fulfilled version of myself.  If I failed to respond to the calling of the day, I would lose out on the accomplishment and daily opportunities for growth, and I would be less because of it.  I have to get up, and I have to work, but it is through that work that I find fulfillment in life.

Today’s Gospel reminds us—no, beckons us—to stay awake! Not to merely thrive physically, but more importantly, spiritually.  In the Gospel, Jesus is calling us to three things: to be alert, to work, and to guard.  Just like my physical waking is the only way I can serve, love, move and respond, so too is it in my spiritual life.  The crutch, though, is that I have to wake myself up to God’s calling—it is not anyone’s responsibility but my own.  This requires me to be alert to the opportunities God sends me every day to grow closer to him and to the people around me.   This requires me to work (harder than I do to accomplish the daily physical tasks I am called to)—to put in the effort my faith requires that is sometimes even more difficult, trying, and tiresome.  This is a calling to be joyful in the face of obstacles, frustrations, weariness, and pain; to make the effort to listen to the Lord (especially by reading Scripture and by setting aside time for prayer), instead of just throwing my petitions at him; to see the value and dignity of every human being I encounter throughout my day; to not fall into the trap our world sets for us of settling in complacency; to strive daily to live a virtuous and holy life; to be aware of Church teachings; and to guard my relationship with the Lord by devoting time to him, and especially by running to the Sacraments.

To be truly awake is to be close to the Lord, and we cannot achieve this without work. We learn who we really are and what we are called to only in and through him, and we cannot grow closer to him if we allow ourselves to stay asleep and be robbed of the gift of his love.  untitled

This Advent season, ask yourself: In what ways am I spiritually asleep?  Am I truly alert to God’s will for my life and aware of his love?  Do I guard my relationship with him, protecting it as my greatest good?  What can I do to wake myself up to his love?  What is one change I can make this Advent season that will draw me nearer to him?

May this season of Advent be a time of awakening for us all!

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Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

 

 

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It’s normal to begin seeing some signs of Christmas coming as soon as the leaves start falling off the trees and the chill begins to move in.  Though there are a few signs of Christmas as early as August (like the holiday collection at Hobby Lobby), most people usually hold off on their shopping list and home prep until at least after Thanksgiving.

This year, though, has seemed quite different.  Though Thanksgiving has barely passed, many people I know began embracing Christmas much, much earlier than usual.

It’s clear our country needs a bit of a pick me up right now.

I think in the wake of the election, most people are dying for some hope and goodness to pour forth in our country.  People are ready to experience the kind of spirit that the Christmas season brings about, where everyone is called to come together and celebrate the joy of giving and receiving, not just gifts, but one another’s company and companionship.

Yet, despite the great joy and happiness that comes in all that the Christmas season brings, all the details we enjoy so much this time of year (stockings, music, good food, twinkling lights, etc.) are merely glimmers of the profound depth that lies in the real meaning of Christmas.   If all the focus is on all the fun before December 25th even hits, by the time Christmas actually rolls around people are more ready to pack it all up in their exhaustion of it, then bask in the joy of Jesus’ coming.  If we celebrate too much before Christmas even arrives, we may end up missing the whole point of the Advent season.

Advent is the liturgical time in the Church (this year beginning on December 27th), which is set aside  for us to reflect on the deep longing we all have for the coming of Christ.  It is the time for contemplating three main things: the salvation history of the past, and how Jesus entered into our fallen and broken world offering redemption for mankind; how our redemption is being accomplished here-and-now, in and through Christ and his Church; and how we are still waiting in joyful anticipation for the future and final coming of Christ.

Though the time for hanging stockings, and playing Christmas music is imminent, it’s important to remember that Advent is a time specifically set aside for preparing our hearts and minds for his coming.  It is the time for us to examine all the ways that we fail to recognize the great gift we are given in God’s love and call to communion, and through hopeful longing and joyful anticipation, submit ourselves to prayerful penance and spiritual preparation in order to make room for him in our hearts.  Advent sums up and symbolizes our daily mission: to live our lives in gratitude for the gifts God has given us and daily prepare ourselves for what awaits us in eternity.  Everything else—all pieces of happiness and joy that we experience on this earth and in this season—are merely a small impression and sharing in what we receive in the gift of his coming.

Our Church offers us ways of entering into this preparatory mindset through it’s liturgical practices (through special decorations, songs, and readings), but as you unpack your Christmas lights and start prepping your home, here are some tips for preparing your heart for Christ’s coming during this Advent season:

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Spend some time each day during Advent praying with daily readings and reflections offered by the Church.  There are some great ones out there like, “The Advent of Christ,” by Edward Sri, this Advent Journal by Blessed is She, and this Advent Companion which coincides with the Magnificat readings.   This is such a special way to engage in the spirit of Advent, because these daily readings help focus your intent and guide your mind during the craziness of the season.

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If you are excited about decorating your home for Christmas, decorate with the themes of Advent in mind.  Place a Nativity Scene in your home, but leave out the baby Jesus until Christmas morning.  Hang pictures like this and others that are thematic of our hopeful longing for the day of his coming.  Save some of your best decorations commemorating the birth of the Lord to hang on the day of Christmas.

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Count down the days leading up to Christmas with an Advent Wreath which marks each Sunday before Christmas, an Advent Calendar which offers daily prayers and gives reminders for the special days in Advent, or a Jesse Tree which guides you through the story of salvation leading up to the birth of Christ.

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Celebrate Feast Days that take place before Christmas, like The Feast of Saint Nick (on December 6th), or The Feast of the Immaculate Conception (on December 8th).

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Since Advent is a time of preparation, it is considered to be a kind of “little lent” in the Church.  Thus, fasting, doing penance, and giving alms are all great ways to prepare your heart for Christmas.

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Confession is an important part of prepping for the Lord’s coming because it allows Him to draw us nearer to him and rid ourselves of all that separate us from him.  Make time for reconciliation before Christmas to really prepare your heart to receive him with great joy.

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Most people don’t connect fasting with the holiday season (the time of year we all gain a pound or two), but fasting is a great way to enter more deeply into the mystery of Christmas.  What better way to share in Christ’s gift to us, than by offering up goods in preparation for his coming (be it food, habits, or something else you find yourself clinging to).  Offering up these daily goods is a reminder that, no matter how wonderful earthly goods may be, they pale in comparison to the gift we receive in Christ.  This manger activity is a great way for the whole family to fast and prepare for Christ together!

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In the spirit of giving, Advent is a great time to practice spiritual and corporeal acts of mercy.  Giving gifts to disadvantaged families and to those in need are both wonderful ways to prepare for the Lord.  Volunteer your time, offering it to those in need, or invite people into your home who may feel isolated and lonely during the holidays.

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As you prepare for Christmas by buying gifts and preparing your home, most importantly, remember to take this time to reflect on the gifts Christ has already given us and those he promises are yet to come.

Also, throughout this Advent season be sure to check back in!  I will be posting special reflections on the Sunday Advent readings and special feast days during Advent.  Hope you take the time to read!

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