Faith, Hope and Love
In just a little over a week, we will be entering the holy season of Advent, a time of waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ — both his first coming as a baby in the Bethlehem manger and his second coming at the end of time.
A good way to prepare ourselves is to use the four Sundays of Advent and the days in between to still our minds and hearts amid the hustle and bustle of activity that often leads up to Christmas. It’s an opportunity to take a break from the stress and commercialism that surrounds us this time of year so we can resynchronize our lives to be more in tune with the real meaning of the season and become better Christian disciples.
One way to enter more deeply into Advent is to set aside additional time for daily prayer and spiritual reading. Many families have a tradition — one that I would encourage — of praying around an Advent wreath and reflecting on each day’s Scripture readings. The progression of lighted candles on the wreath each week reminds us that we, too, are called to be ever-brighter lights in the world through our words and actions.
Some of the feast days on the church’s calendar during Advent can help guide us along such a path. On Dec. 6, the church honors St. Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop who is a great example of Christian generosity, charity and justice. Dec. 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy day of obligation that highlights Mary’s role in salvation history. And, on Dec. 12, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas who embraces people across all cultures and especially those in greatest need: the poor, the immigrant, the ill, the lonely and the unborn. We are called to do the same.
One thing you likely notice every Advent is that the color purple is used a lot — as part of the Advent wreath, the church’s decorations and the priest’s vestments at Mass. Purple is a penitential color (it’s also used during Lent). We use it during Advent because penance is an important part of our preparation to welcome the coming of Christ.
That’s why this year I’ve asked our pastors to schedule additional times during Advent to offer the sacrament of reconciliation at their parishes, and I would encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity. We are all sinners in need of forgiveness, of course. But the sacrament of penance is also a sacrament of growth, of reconciliation and of positive change in our lives. It’s about getting right with God but also with the way we treat other people. We need to be connected more closely to Christ and to one another as the body of Christ, and the sacrament of penance helps us to do that.
So this year, don’t skip the Advent season that begins Sunday, Nov. 30, and move too quickly into celebrating Christmas (which has its own season; but that’s something to explain in another column). If we use the time before Dec. 25 to prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming with additional prayer, generous service and participating in the sacrament of reconciliation, we will feel the joy of Christmas even more strongly when it really does arrive.
May you have a blessed and holy Advent season!
Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of Saint Cloud