On Oct. 11, Pope Benedict XVI opened the Year of Faith with a holy Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The Year of Faith offers us the opportunity for a new beginning as it invites us to look at our Catholic faith in a renewed and enlightened way.
Advent offers us the opportunity for a new beginning, too. Not only does it take place at the start of the liturgical year, but also offers us a chance to re-examine and deepen our faith. The words of the pope for the Year of Faith can apply to Advent. Both call us to a time of discovery in the joy of believing and a renewed faith in and commitment to that which is truly important — Christ.
Looking at the pope’s words for the Year of Faith in light of the Advent tradition allows us to see the similarities between them. Additionally, it will help us to make the most of the graces and benefits of Advent, thus setting the standard and pace for the rest of the year, including the graces, benefits and indulgences all holy years offer.
“I believe that Advent and the Year of Faith are dual gifts for our spiritual lives. During the season of Advent we endeavor to journey closer to Christ as we prepare not only for our remembrance of his coming to us in the Nativity, but also for our ability to be one with him in the Eucharist and at the moment of his second coming,” said Lisa Hendey, Catholic speaker and author of “O Radiant Dawn, 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath” (Ave Maria Press, $1.25). “This Year of Faith, when we celebrate our Credo, what we truly believe, is a gift to all of us who need spiritual rejuvenation in the midst of our often-hectic lives. This Advent, coming in the midst of the Year of Faith, is the perfect opportunity to reconnect with the truths that lie at the center of our faith and to share those with the people we love most, our friends and family.”
In the desert
|Mary’s faith held strong when others lost hope. Shutterstock
In the Year of Faith opening Mass homily, Pope Benedict spoke of the “desertification” of the world, and of the rampant godlessness that surrounds us. “But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive,” he said.
Advent resembles the desert described by the pope in two ways. First, if observed according to Church teachings, it creates a type of void as we await the birth of the Savior. Advent should be a time of prayerful waiting during which the faithful are called to practice penance and almsgiving. That’s far different from what the secular world tries to teach us, with its emphasis on decadence, revelry and squandering. In most discount stores and malls, the Christmas merchandise is set out as the Halloween items are put away. Christmas office parties, school programs and other celebrations take place before Dec. 25 — right in the middle of the time we should be solemn and contemplative. The desert the pope wishes for us is not a barren place, but rather a place of peacefulness, separated from the wild overindulgence of the rest of the world so that we can allow our hearts to become still and readied for Christ’s birth.
Second, Advent should be a dress rehearsal, so to speak, of our Lord’s second coming. That’s the reason for the prayerfulness, striving and sacrificing. We should use the time of Advent for Christ’s Christmas coming in the same way we should use our time to prepare for the final judgment.
“When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this 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. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease,’” the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (No. 524).
During Advent, we long for his coming, and our hearts feel empty as we move through the desert weeks before Christmas. It’s in this void that we can regain the joyfulness of our faith and rediscover the only thing that truly matters — God. Therefore, the void shouldn’t make us feel sullen or deprived of the bustle and boisterousness of our surroundings. Instead, it should make us feel encouraged and even privileged to be participating in this special time of anticipation. As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, we must become people of hope, and through our own living and examples, point the way to the Promised Land. What better time than Advent to exemplify and embody hope in the Resurrection and lead others to the promised land of heaven?
Growing in faith
How providential that Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year, comes so close to the beginning of the Year of Faith. Our enthusiasm, preparation, and pursuit in the one can only enhance our progress in the other. As we move through Advent, we can consider again and again Pope Benedict XVI’s words in this apostolic letter announcing the Year of Faith, Porta Fidei (“The Door of Faith”).
“Faith grows when it is lived in an experience of love received with and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy. It makes us fruitful, because it expands our hearts in hope and enables us to bear life-giving witness: indeed, it opens the hearts and minds of those who listen to respond to the Lord’s invitation to adhere to his word and become his disciples” (No. 7).
No doubt, there are “Christmasy” things that must be done during Advent, but that can and should be kept to a minimum. Perhaps some if not all of the decorations can wait until the last few days before Christmas. Could the wrapped presents be tucked away and brought out on Christmas Eve?
Some functions are obligatory, but we might try spending some time in quiet prayer once they’re over in order to regain the Advent spirit. Even if we’re not able to limit the number of things we do, we are able to control the attitude with which we do them. It is possible to carry on these necessary tasks while maintaining an Advent demeanor.
Marge Fenelon writes from Wisconsin.