The calendar has rendered the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas to be a bit shorter this year, and accordingly the liturgical season of Advent is also shorter, about three and a half weeks. But no matter its length, it is always a time which bears the challenge of learning how to wait reverently and expectantly. Advent offers a unique opportunity for us to learn anew how to wait patiently, to open our eyes, ears, and hearts more deeply, and to ponder the mysteries of this beautiful season. This year my focus is on hospitality. That is, my reflection is on the call to adopt an Advent disposition to be open, receptive, and inviting to the angels who come into our lives bearing messages of love; to strangers lowly and highborn who, even if briefly, come into our lives bearing gifts for our hearts; and to build up a welcoming abode for the Holy Family to be present as the mysteries of the season unfold. It all sounds good, but it is indeed a challenge when the secular world has been literally screaming for our attention and shows no sign of letting up as we enter this holy season intended for quiet, listening, pondering, and reflection. However, with all of this in mind, let us seek a different inclination of heart as we immerse ourselves in this beautiful, though somewhat challenging, season. Waiting can be difficult, but it does bring peace.
In Advent we prepare actively and passively. We need both, so it would be unfair to present Advent waiting as a time in which we should feel guilty if we are not gazing with rapt attention at our crèches and doing nothing more. Despite busyness, our active preparation can be prayerful, or at the very least it can be intentional. This means that as we go to the supermarket to choose the ingredients for foods which we will prepare for guests throughout Advent, and the time we spend trying to decide which gifts we will give our friends and family, can all be done while reflecting upon how these are meant to be acts of love. We can transform the more harried preparation into something reflective if we think of the recipients of our attention as the Holy Family, the angels bearing messages, or as the Magi and shepherds. If we think of those who enter our homes as guests coming from God, if we see the people as gifts in and of themselves, and if we enter into our charitable giving as an outreach to God’s poor ones, then we can transform our active preparations into peaceful, spiritual moments.
In preparing passively, Advent waiting can be peaceful if we view it as the time to step away from the hurry-hurry, shop-till-you-drop message from the secular world. And God knows we all need the time to stop the noise and simply enjoy the quiet. In our time of reflection upon the Scripture readings of Advent, or upon the narratives in the beginning of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we should realize that in sitting with these passages nothing is expected of us at all! Rather, we can drink it all in, perhaps identifying with Mary or Joseph after each was visited by an angel, pondering whatever message comes personally. Sitting quietly and focusing on the Advent scenes will still our minds and heal our souls; it is as restful as lying on a beach watching the sea, listening to the waves gently flowing in and out. Reflecting in this way takes us out of ourselves and into another setting, something which is peaceful and healing. It assists us in dropping our tendency to obsess over what needs to be done or the challenges that we have to face, even if we are reflecting on the more difficult parts of the Advent narratives in which the holy ones faced adversity or hardship. We long for the coming of the Prince of Peace. And we need peace desperately in our world of chaos and sin: but it is always accessible as we enter into prayer.
If we spend time with the Scripture readings of each day during Advent, we will note that of the many passages from the prophet Isaiah, all suggest a future that is brighter than the one in which we now live, emphasizing hope. Several begin with phrases such as, “On that day,” “a shoot shall sprout,” “On this mountain, He will,” and “In the days to come.” And many of the Gospel readings urge readiness with words such as “Repent, prepare…” (paraphrase), “At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come,” and so forth. The emphasis is on hopeful preparation, something we can only do if we are alert, listening, reflective, open, and hospitable.
The stance of Advent waiting, both actively and passively, is one which can produce peace because we are offering hospitality to the Holy Spirit whose grace can render our hearts pregnant with God, prepared for the Prince of Peace to enter. At the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary teaches that watchful waiting opens the door to encounter. And like her we wait in joyful expectation for Peace to make His arrival and to be at home within us. This is the gift of Advent waiting, the gift of the peace which overcomes the tendencies of a world so contrary to it.
May we be open to the Holy Spirit that His grace might enable our hearts to welcome Peace within! May we give ourselves the gift of time for reflection upon the Scriptures, enhancing our sense of joyful expectation! May we become more hospitable to Jesus as we encounter Him in others, great and lowly, friend and stranger! And may we find the peace we seek as we await the coming of Jesus, accepting the gifts He sends in this time of waiting! Let us meet in prayer during our Advent waiting! Maranatha! Come, O Lord! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
1. Icon, Mother of God After Fra Angelico by Fr. William Hart McNichols: You can find this for purchase in one of many mediums, at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/mother-of-god-after-fra-angelico-168-william-hart-mcnichols.html
2. My photo, cropped, of the fresco, Mary greets Elizabeth at the Visitation by Giotto: This fresco is part of the body of works of Giotto which adorn the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy.
3. My photo taken in the highlands of Scotland, here representing a shoot coming forth from the stump of Jesse, (Isaiah 11:1-10)
4. Painting, The Annunciation by Bl. Fra Angelico. (My all time fav!)
5. Advent candles for the first week of Advent, of course.
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart