Waiting. Who likes to wait? As far as I can remember, I have never been very patient. I speak too fast, I start projects but often never finish them, and I tap my foot in long lines while sighing loudly so everyone can hear me. I’m very impatient, and recognize that I could always use more humility in my life. Over time and through prayer, I have begun to change my perspective. I realized that waiting can be used as a time for preparation, a chance to reflect. It can be a time to mend, a time to forgive or to be forgiven, and it can also be a time to rid my life of things that encourage an impatient lifestyle. In Advent especially, I have sometimes found it difficult to focus my attention on preparing my heart for Christ.
As Catholics, we do quite a bit of waiting, especially during Advent. It is a time to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Christ Himself. These four weeks help us remember why we need Jesus in our lives and in our hearts. In the past few weeks of blog posts, we have seen reflections on the journey that is Advent. But, Advent is also a time to remember that the waiting is not over on Christmas morning when we see the baby Jesus in the manger. In fact, we are in a constant state of waiting and preparation. We wait for new iPhones. We wait for a new year. Then we wait again for Christmas a year later through another Advent. But is that all we are waiting for?
When we look at the big picture, we must realize that we are also waiting for Christ’s second coming. This is waiting for something that really matters, something that we need to be entirely ready for. In the Gospel of Matthew, we are reminded that “you know neither the day nor the hour” when Christ will come again. As Matthew reminds us, we need to “stay awake” and prepare for this second coming, not just during Advent but throughout the year. (Matthew 25:13). At the end of time, Jesus will come again, and seek our hearts. He wants us, wholly and fully. This Advent, we will wait for Jesus to come into the world, reminded that in Him we seek goodness. In Him, we put our trust. We leave our impatient lives and tendencies in Advent, and we enter into the celebration of Christ at Christmas. While preparing our hearts at Christmas, we are readying ourselves for the day He comes again. Will you be ready?
Krissy Kirby is a Senior Early Childhood Education Major at The Catholic University of America
I have a very distinct memory from when I was a little girl (okay, twelve years old…) of anxiously awaiting the Christmas morning tradition of opening up Christmas presents. I was so excited that instead of waiting for the parental mandated 6:15am wake up call, I did it my way. I changed the time on my alarm clock, woke up my whole family and demanded that we start Christmas a little early. This moment of impatience several years ago plays into a much larger reality about this world that we live in – we are so anxious to get to the final destination as quickly as possible that we forget that the journey is just as important as the destination.
That is what Advent is – the journey to Christmas. The word itself comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” In the midst of the craziness of the holiday season–peppermint mochas and Hallmark Christmas movies included—it is natural to feel like these weeks leading up to Christmas are all about the countdown, and not about the coming. Just as I was all too anxious and turned the clock forward to get my Christmas day started, it is easy to wish away these days of simple waiting and trade them in for the hustle and bustle of Christmas Day.
In an effort to more fully appreciate this journey to December 25th, it is necessary to find ways to live out this coming in our own lives. Practically, what does this mean? It means recognizing that the Advent journey requires silence, prayer and most importantly perseverance. Although everyone loves a good peppermint mocha, it is through these three things that we can ready the way for the coming of our Lord at Christmas.
Although seemingly impossible, finding silence among the chaos of these days can be done in simple ways–whether it is turning off that Josh Groban Christmas song that has been playing on repeat in the car or taking the chance to catch one’s breath between glasses of eggnog at a family Christmas party. Finding times for prayer can be as unassuming as waking up five minutes early to read that day’s Mass readings or saying a Hail Mary when we are stressed. Lastly, perseverance is not only a necessity of the Christian life, but a necessary part of a peace-filled Advent.
The most beautiful part of these days before Christmas is that the destination of our journey is not a rigged alarm, but God Himself in the unassuming form of a baby. This innocence of the baby Jesus reminds us that this season is a time for simple acts of faith, acts of faith that both allow us to appreciate the gift that is waiting for us and the journey that makes it possible.
Lauren Scharmer is a senior at The Catholic University of America and is active in retreat and youth ministry in both the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Arlington.
January 29th- that means sixteen days until Ash Wednesday, twenty days until the first Sunday of Lent, thirty-four days until Easter Sunday, and it doesn’t end there…. Although it has only been a few weeks from the end of the Christmas season, already my mind jumps to all the feasts and celebrations that we quickly find ourselves in. This might be due to the quick race into the Lenten season this year, but I think that it has more to do with my need to plan. I confess that I am a chronic planner. My room is covered in post it notes, I have multiple color-coded calendars for the different aspects of my life, and I find nothing more satisfying than crossing something off a to-do list. Although this is the reason that I am able to balance everything in my life, it is also the reason I tend to dread stillness and quiet. I can’t plan out stillness, I can’t know when it is going to end, and it usually doesn’t end in me being able to cross something off a list. Yet, it seems as though within silence I am overwhelmed by the presence of God that is made manifest in the solitude.
Although I tried to address the problem on my own, when I brought it up to a good friend of mine he stared at me for a moment then stated simply, “So you have finally decided to start listening to some of our saints?” His wise remark rung true in my heart. I avoid the silence, I avoid the solitude, I avoid listening to the wisdom of those who have gone before me.
Many lips and pens of our Catholic spiritual masters speak and write about this realization of silence. St. Francis de Sales writes, “Never be in a hurry, do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.” Mother Teresa says “we need silence to be alone with God, to speak to him, to listen to him, to ponder his words deep in our hearts. We need to be alone with God in silence to be renewed and transformed. Silence gives us a new outlook on life. In it we are filled with the energy of God himself that makes us do all things with joy.” St Theresa of Lisieux states that if you “settle yourself in solitude…you will come upon Him in yourself.”
While the cold wind howls and the silent darkness comes upon us mid-afternoon, let us take these last few weeks of winter to enter into the stillness. Let us know the wisdom of St. Francis de Sales and not be in a hurry for spring. Let us echo in our hearts the words from Mother Teresa reminding us that in silence we are renewed and transformed through the energy of God. And let us find in silence God residing within ourselves.
In the words of the psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God (Ps 46:10)”
Pam Tremblay is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Standing between the ornate choir and high altar of Toledo’s medieval cathedral is the statue of La Virgen Blanca, one of my favorite depictions of the Blessed Mother. As Mary cradles Jesus in her arms, as if presenting him to us, Jesus’ hand affectionately clasps the chin of his loving mother. In this tender moment Mary’s face expresses an infectious joy, a joy that is quite appropriate for today’s Solemnity in which the Church celebrates Mary as the Mother of God. As we come to the end of the Christmas Octave and usher in the New Year, may we be filled with the everlasting joy that Christ alone can bring. Let us make Mary’s joy our own!
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever."
Brett Garland is the Program Development Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
"For already at the beginning of their lives they pass on. The end of the present life is for them the beginning of glory. These then, whom Herod's cruelty tore as sucklings from their mothers' bosom, are justly hailed as "infant martyr flowers"; they were the Church's first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief." St. Augustine
Twinkling lights adorn front porches; snowflakes fall softly to the earth; jingle bells sound from every street corner; and children’s voices sing praise in memory of the Savior’s birth as Christmas comes bustling into our lives. And as I watch and listen, I’m reminded that there are many voices that won’t be joining that chorus, at least not audibly. Christmas is one of my favorite times of year, but it also brings much sadness along with it as I remember my little brother who once again will not be joining us to celebrate this joyous feast. This pain is manifested in a deep way as much joy is to be shared by many.
I don’t always associate Christmas as a time to bear my cross and follow Christ; after all, this is a joyous occasion. It’s a time to celebrate Jesus’ birth, not to mourn his death. This year I can’t help but think of the cross as I find myself remembering the deep sorrow and loneliness of losing someone so dear to me. Questions flood my mind of why my little brother, so innocent and so little, had to suffer stillbirth and die. As I reflect on this experience of powerlessness, I am reminded of those mothers who two thousand years ago lost their sons as Herod viciously sought to destroy Jesus. During the Christmas Season, our Church has a beautiful tradition of honoring those early martyrs, the Holy Innocents. Just as my own parents were devastated at the loss of my brother, I know that these mothers and fathers, too, felt the almost unbearable sorrow and sense of helplessness of losing a child.
This senseless loss is my cross, as I can imagine it is a struggle for anyone who has lost a loved one, and yet Jesus doesn’t leave me alone for long. Words of St. Augustine come rushing into my head, comforting me: “For almighty God…because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.” Hope. Reassurance. The cycle of death and life revealed. And then I realize why Christmas is so dear to me. Christmas manifests the time to celebrate life and to remember that good is ever being born into this world. Through his Beloved Son, God lovingly demonstrates His desire for good to triumph. As St. Augustine reminded me, God not only desires good but God always brings good out of evil situations, even though we might not always recognize it.
My mind is amazed as I ponder the mystery of the Incarnation. Gratitude fills my heart as I feel Christ with me a midst my joy and my sorrow. The beautiful gift of a child, of the God incarnate, sent to us to share in our life and to bring good out of evil in a truly personal way. Church bells ring; incense lifts gracefully to the heavens; angels proclaim Good News of great joy; the Body of Christ is broken and shared; and I know in my heart that my little brother lives.
Amy Winkler serves as an Echo Faith Formation Apprentice in the Diocese of Camden, NJ
 St. Augustine, Enchiridion, 3, 11; PL 40, 236 as cited in CCC #312.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We have just heard in the Gospel the message given by the angels to the shepherds during that Holy Night, a message which the Church now proclaims to us: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:11-12). Nothing miraculous, nothing extraordinary, nothing magnificent is given to the shepherds as a sign. All they will see is a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, one who, like all children, needs a mother’s care; a child born in a stable, who therefore lies not in a cradle but in a manger. God’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. Only in their hearts will the shepherds be able to see that this baby fulfils the promise of the prophet Isaiah, which we heard in the first reading: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder" (Is 9:5). Exactly the same sign has been given to us. We too are invited by the angel of God, through the message of the Gospel, to set out in our hearts to see the child lying in the manger.
God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him. […] The Son himself is the Word, the Logos; the eternal Word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the Word could be grasped by us. In this way God teaches us to love the little ones. In this way he teaches us to love the weak. In this way he teaches us respect for children. The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn. Towards children who are placed as soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved. In all of these it is the Child of Bethlehem who is crying out to us; it is the God who has become small who appeals to us. Let us pray this night that the brightness of God’s love may enfold all these children. Let us ask God to help us do our part so that the dignity of children may be respected. May they all experience the light of love, which mankind needs so much more than the material necessities of life. […]
All this is conveyed by the sign that was given to the shepherds and is given also to us: the child born for us, the child in whom God became small for us. Let us ask the Lord to grant us the grace of looking upon the crib this night with the simplicity of the shepherds, so as to receive the joy with which they returned home (cf. Lk 2:20). Let us ask him to give us the humility and the faith with which Saint Joseph looked upon the child that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit. Let us ask the Lord to let us look upon him with that same love with which Mary saw him. And let us pray that in this way the light that the shepherds saw will shine upon us too, and that what the angels sang that night will be accomplished throughout the world: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." Amen!
An abridged version of the homily given by Pope Benedict XVI at the Christmas Midnight Mass 2006 in St. Peter’s Basilica.
“God became man so that man might become God” ~St. Augustine, Sermo 13 de Tempore
I recently went to a Christmas open house at the home of my housemate’s parishioners. Like most events during our two years of service, heads turn when they see a group of four twenty-something year-olds enter the room where the median age is 60+. The questions start flying: “Who are you?” “Why are you here?” “You go to Notre Dame- did you watch the last game?” “Are you single?” “Have you met my grandson?” The one that always gets me is some form of, “…wait, you’re 23 and you want to be a practicing Catholic?”
Many times, not wanting to get too deep too fast, I simply shrug and say “Yeah, I must be crazy but I love our faith.” This time, maybe due to the Christmas spirit in the air, I could not contain myself and I blurted out- “THE INCARNATION!” As the woman stared at me and my housemates continued the conversation, I was left thinking; how could someone not want to be Catholic when we have the doctrine of the Incarnation? How could I ever leave a faith where I am deeply loved, completely known, and have the ability to not only know God but bring about His Kingdom in the here and now?
In just a few days at Christmas Mass we will hear the Word proclaimed and we will hear that this Word became flesh in the form of a babe. It is tempting for us to sit at Mass thinking of all the things we have going on that day: the food to cook, the family to visit, the last minute gift to buy for the cousin we forgot about. Yet, at Christmas Mass we are told of a most unique reality, that God became human! This is RADICAL. No faith outside of Christianity professes that God took on human form out of love to unite himself with his creation.
The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World writes that “by his incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every human. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind, acted by a human choice, and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin” (Gaudium et spes §22) ‘
Because of the Incarnation, Christ knows us completely. He knows our pain, he knows how we feel, and he knows what it is like to endure the daily realities of being human. But the Incarnation goes beyond even this great gift. God, in becoming human, transforms human tasks that simply get us from point “A” to point “B,” to tasks that are doing the will of God and making God manifest. As St. Augustine puts it, "God became man so that man might become God".
REJOICE this Christmas season for we are given the news that we can become God! In the humble birth of a babe, the Word became flesh and our lives were transformed! Live with the knowledge that you are deeply loved and act in such a way that God is made present- this is challenge the Incarnation gives to us. Let us accept this challenge and live our Catholic identity with great JOY knowing the truths that the doctrine of the Incarnation makes possible.
Pam Tremblay is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Some years ago, a dear friend and I began what we would term our "Advent Tradition." We would do something to celebrate Christmas before we both left Washington, D.C. for the holiday. (I hope that sounds as ridiculous to you as it does to me…) That year, we went to see Messiah at the Kennedy Center. It was our first time seeing Handel's oratorio, heard over and over in concert halls across the world in the days leading up to Christmas. After the singing of the "Hallelujah Chorus," my friend leaned over to me and said, "I thought that was supposed to be a Christmas song, but we had to wait until Easter for them to break it out."
Advent has always occupied a special place in my imagination. Initially, I'm sure, it was because of those quintessential Advent practices. We had an evergreen wreath with four candles, a new one lit each week (when do we light the pink one??). We sang songs at church that we didn't hear at any other time of the year. The rest of the world was tiring of "All I Want for Christmas is You" by mid-December and, in church at least, we hadn't heard one strain of "O Come, All Ye Faithful." Resisting the temptation to peek behind the doors of our Advent calendar taught me something about patience and delayed gratification.
What I came to realize, though, is that Advent, with all of these little traditions, encapsulates the tension of living the Christian life. We live in the here and now, knowing that Christ in his first coming has sanctified all of our existence, but longing for the day when he will return to us. Longing for the day when the confusion and struggles of this life will be no more, when mountains will be lowered and valleys filled, when the lion will lie down with the lamb, and when peace will reign.
Living in Advent is living in tension - aware of what is our past and what we long our future to be. Every day we live in the Advent tension of life and death, of suffering and wholeness, of love and loss, of peace and violence, of acceptance and rejection, of excess and poverty, of oneness and loneliness, of questions and surety, of hope and doubt. The question is, do we welcome Christ into this tension?
As my friend and I walked out of the Kennedy Center that night, I realized that, despite an attempt at celebrating Christmas, we glimpsed an Advent moment. We were reminded, one more time, that without the Passion, we could not shout "Hallelujah!" The tension of Advent surrounds us, but how well do we allow Christ to enter into that uncertainty and woundedness? If we do welcome Christ into our tension, we also welcome the new life that Christ brings with his Resurrection. That's an Advent worth celebrating.
David Pennington is the Associate Campus Minister for Liturgy and Worship at The Catholic University of America.