With the advent (no pun meant) of the internet, there are clergy and laity and everyone who isn’t in one of those two categories — and most everyone has something to share with us. At this time of year, we can find all sorts of Advent columns: Advent practices, Advent customs, Advent sacrifices… you name it. Sorry: here’s another one — but with a different slant.
There are three legs of the Advent stool, the stool that supports healthy, vibrant Advent faith practice. These Advent stool legs are: PRAYER… FASTING and ALMSGIVING. And we ought to consider participating in each of those. I’ll come back to those three a little later. But what I want to start with is that for loads of Catholics, Advent is almost non-existent. This is a distracted time of preparing for a commercially oriented Christmas. We’ll be up against crowds at the departments stores, the big-box stores. Even the grocery stores will seem more crowded because of buying for holiday baking and party platters and wine and such…
My goal in this reflection is to see if we can look at ourselves and our faith practices, and then to see if we can resolve to make this Advent noticeably different and meaningful. An Advent which can be offered as more oriented to, and pleasing to Jesus. Let’s try, shall we?
Think about your image of Jesus. Who is He to you? Seriously. Who is Jesus? Is He somewhere up there? Is Jesus a God who watches your every move - waiting to zap you if you commit a serious sin? Is Jesus real to you? I mean like REAL? Do you talk with Him? Often during each day? Or is your God a Sunday God? Does the Jesus that you imagine really love you? Personally? And in spite of what you’ve done or haven’t done?
When the priest lifts the host in front of you at Mass, is Jesus present to you? I mean REALLY PRESENT to you? Do you speak with him then? And at other times? Do you speak with Jesus as you would speak to a friend?
Pope Francis wrote a book called Joy of the Gospel. In it, he wrote: “Those who have a true encounter with Christ find their lives filled with happiness.” Is the Jesus that you speak to and pray to and travel to work with, the same Jesus who has filled your life with happiness? At least most of the time… I mean we are human and have ebbs/flows of emotions, I know.
My point is - if you are really, really in a relationship - a love relationship with Jesus, are you going to spend Advent not drinking Starbucks coffee and giving up candy? Let’s start by asking what we can do to be in relationship with God. A relationship which is deepened and made more real.
I heard a priest say that if you are an adult and you think that Advent is for giving up chocolate or candy… you are still at the age of ten year old in your faith walk. Each of us needs to seriously turn to the three pillars I mentioned at the beginning: PRAYER, FASTING and ALMSGIVING. I can give you examples… only examples of each pillar because I would rather Jesus speaks to your heart to invite you to deeper, more meaningful Advent practices. Practices which can lead to a much deeper relationship with the babe in the manger.
ADVENT PRAYER: If you don’t go to daily Mass, consider adding one or more daily Masses to your prayer life. A daily Mass is also a form of FASTING from the comfort of doing what you would like to do. If you don’t pray the rosary, do one rosary each day. If you don’t do an hour of Adoration each week — add one hour of sitting in the real presence of Jesus. If you happen to be so blessed that you do a daily Mass and daily rosary and an hour of Adoration, consider adding another rosary and another hour of Adoration. Quiet time spent with Jesus will deepen your prayer life and deepen your relationship with Jesus.
Have you had your home blessed? If not, consider inviting your priest or deacon to visit your home during Advent. Have all your family present to welcome the ‘anointing’ presence of God’s power and angels into your home. And related to that, go to a religious goods store and buy one or add another holy picture, crucifix or icon to your home. In our parish, we have a ministry called Home Enthronement. Briefly, this is a 45 minute ceremony during which a beautiful picture of Jesus and Mary is mounted in a prominent location in the home. And as I said, the ceremony takes about 45 minutes… time which will be like FASTING — giving up time so you can prayerfully welcome Jesus and Mary in a special way in your home. If they don’t do home enthronement in your parish, you can find information on-line about it.
And now - about FASTING itself… The testimony of many is that FASTING WITH PRAYER transforms lives and ministries. St. Francis fasted. It is said that Methodist John Wesley would not ordain a minister who would not fast on Wednesdays and Fridays until 4pm. So… forget about fasting from candy or Starbucks, fast from something you like doing on each Wednesday and Friday during Advent. But be sure to have the mindset to try and replace that activity with some time spent in prayer. Certainly fasting from full meals or fasting from eating out in restaurants can draw one into closer awareness and relationship with Jesus. Why does going without food release divine power? The answer is found in real self-denial.
Buy yourself a box of candies… but give up football. How’s that for fasting? And add some prayer time during the 4 hours you would have spent glued to the TV. Fasting empowers our prayer. It enables us to meet God more intimately in prayer, since our whole being is participating in this effort of turning towards him. Fasting also sharpens up our senses because they are not burdened with the energy needed to digest. I read somewhere that intercession is freer when it is not burdened with digestion.
I hope you will see these as far different than some of the traditional ways of viewing Advent practices. I don’t intend to take anything away from lighting Advent candles and giving up desserts. But if our pushing away from the dinner table doesn’t invoke deeper relationship… really deeper relationship with Jesus, I’m not so sure those practices are all that helpful.
And now, ALMSGIVING… We all remember the story of the rich people that Jesus observed making donations to the temple. He said they gave out of their excess… the poor woman gave alms from her livelihood. There’s a big difference… and I suspect most give from their excess — and virtually none of us give so much as that poor woman. We need to be challenged by that story. Giving an extra $25 to SVDP or to the Pregnancy Center is a nice token of seasonal response. For most, it is just a token.
Do you eat out a lot? How about if you fasted from one half of those meals and put the $25 or $30 into an almsgiving box, and just before Christmas, find a good and needed place to put the gift? We have a nurse in our parish. Jeanne donates most of her vacation time going to China or other places of need. She pays her own expenses. She volunteers for Operation Smile. Do you know what that is? Volunteer doctors and nurses repair cleft palates and other facial deformities that can change a child’s life forever… would you be willing to donate $100 to help change a child’s life forever? Forever? A 45 minute operation can do that. Your almsgiving to Operation Smile can make such a difference. So too can your donation to Catholic Relief Services… or to the Wounded Warrior Project. Or to a pregnancy home which gets pregnant moms off the streets and out of abusive situations — teaching them to become responsible mothers.
If you seek relationship with Jesus, remember his words: “Give and it will be given to you” Real Prayer. Real Fasting. Real Almsgiving. Not giving up Starbucks. Real Advent. Try it this year… as a way of saying, “Jesus… I want a real relationship with you… because I know you are real… and I want to draw closer to you this year. Especially by Christmas. Come into my heart in a real way. Amen.
Copyright 2014 Deacon Tom Fox
About the Author
Deacon Tom Fox and his wife Dee are co-hosts of the CATHOLIC VITAMINS Podcast for over 6 1/2 years. Tom has also been a member of the Catholic Mom columnists team for eight years, and was a regular contributor to the Catholic Moments Podcast for three years. Most recently, Deacon Tom has been leading a project to bring Catholic radio to the north central Arizona community where he and Dee reside. Blessings!