Advent: A time of prayerful anticipation
The weeks before Christmas often are filled with tasks such as sending Christmas cards, baking, attending holiday parties and buying and wrapping gifts.
While these traditions are fun and important, two priests of the Archdiocese of Omaha remind Catholics that Advent also is a time of expectant waiting and spiritual preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.
The Advent Season, which this year is Nov. 27 through Dec. 24, helps Christians stay focused on the gift of the Christ child in Bethlehem, they said.
Father Norman Hunke, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Omaha, said Advent is a time to "step back" and recognize more clearly the Lord’s presence "in history, in mystery and in glory."
Jesus comes as a baby in Bethlehem, continues to be present in the church and sacraments, and finally will be totally present when he comes in glory, he said. Jesus also is present in the everyday moments of life, he said.
But in the busyness of life, it’s easy to get caught up in the commercialization of the Christmas season and ignore the time of preparation during Advent, said Father Bernie Starman, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in O’Neill and St. Joseph Parish in Amelia and president of St. Mary elementary and high schools in O’Neill.
Striving for a quiet, reflective and penitential Advent helps people prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth, he said.
"It is always my hope that we can slow down a little from the busyness that is ever a part of our lives and prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus," he said.
People might pause daily to reflect on what Jesus’ coming in history at Christmas has done for humanity, he said. At Mass, take time to notice the change of liturgical environment and be more aware of the words of the Advent hymns and prayers that proclaim Jesus’ promise to return to his people one day, Father Starman said.
And remember the ways Jesus already comes to his people in the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation, he said.
"The most important thing I think that any of us can do during the coming Advent season is to avoid the frustrations that the commercialization has brought into our lives, and truly prepare a place in our hearts for the Lord’s coming again," Father Starman said.
Pay attention to the liturgical changes, such as the use of the color purple and the addition of the Advent wreath.
Pray each day using an Advent wreath or calendar where there is a daily Scripture verse, prayer intention or family activity.
Attend Mass during the week in addition to Sunday Mass.
While reading the Scriptures for Sunday Mass in Advent, look for three "heroes": Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary.
Pray for the recipients of your Christmas cards as you write them.
Take time to bless the Advent wreath, Nativity scene and Christmas tree. Prayer suggestions are on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website, usccb.org.
Sing the "O" Antiphons, a church practice since at least the eighth century and available at usccb.org.
Source: Fathers Hunke and Starman; the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops