Let’s follow Mary in our approach to Advent
Advent is a rich season of the church’s year that deserves its own emphasis, rather than being overshadowed by anticipating the celebration of Christmas too soon. Advent is a precious time set aside by the church for us to prepare for the coming of Christ sometime in the future and also to prepare for the joyful celebration of Christmas in a few weeks. This season is not long, especially this year, so we must work with purpose during this blessed time.
Preparation for anything in the Christian life almost always benefits from purposeful charity, practicing the virtues, meditation on Scripture, penance and, of course, prayer. Any and all of these holy endeavors will help make our Advent a fruitful time.
One way to enter into the anticipation, preparation and joy of Advent is to do so with the Blessed Mother in mind. In a way, she is the very personification of Advent because of her patience in waiting for God to save his people, her joyful expectation for God to enact his salvific plan in the world, and her eagerness to do her part in God’s plan. Mary makes an excellent example in our approach to Advent; her qualities should be our qualities as well.
Mary was a woman of perfect charity. Her immaculate heart was and still is ready to offer love to anyone who needs it. Our Lord and our Lady possessed charity perfectly, so we, too, must strive to possess it perfectly in our lives. Charity as a theological virtue is a gift from God, but we have a part to play in asking for this gift and applying the graces of charity when they come to us. One of the best ways to prepare a place for Christ this Advent is through purposeful actions of love and mercy – at home, at work, among family and toward strangers or anyone in need.
Mary perfectly practiced virtue in her life. We know that she was all-holy and full of grace even before the Archangel Gabriel addressed her at the Annunciation. Being persons of virtue like the Blessed Mother means that in any given situation, we always tend toward the good in our decisions and that we strive to offer our best at all times.
The Blessed Mother had the graces to be completely virtuous from her Immaculate Conception. We can gain graces to be virtuous through the sacraments, but we must accept and work with these graces. So this Advent, let us make our utmost effort to change our bad habits into making good, holy choices and give our best constantly while relying on God’s help to do so. When Advent is over, we might find that we have gained a holy habit or two where before we may have lacked goodness.
As a faithful daughter of Israel, Mary knew the Scriptures well. About 1,000 years ago in pious images of the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary began to be pictured as meditating on the Scriptures at the moment the archangel appeared to her. The point was that her familiarity with the Scriptures through meditation on them helped her to be ready to bring the Savior into the world. We, too, will have a place in our lives for the Savior when we come to know him better through our knowledge of God’s word. The daily readings of the Mass would make excellent sources of reflection this Advent.
Though she did not need to do so, certainly Mary observed Jewish penitential practices, as did our Lord. If they performed penances, then how much more do we need to practice penance to help remedy the damage sin does within us and toward others in the church? While Advent is not necessarily a time for harsh penances like a "little Lent," there is always a need for penance in our lives so we may detach further from sin and grow in holiness. Along these lines, a good confession would be helpful in our Advent preparation.
Mary was a woman of prayer. Motivated by her holiness and piety, she would have prayed daily and thus praised God and made petitions asking him for blessings upon herself and others. So we should be people of prayer this Advent, praising him, asking for the things we need and interceding on behalf of others. Perhaps much like a novena, we could focus on a particular special intention or two to help focus our purpose as we make our efforts during this Advent preparation.
Our Lord gave the Blessed Mother to us to be our mother, also. He wants us to see in her what his grace can do for us. If we model our Advent on her goodness, the Savior will find a welcome place in our hearts and in our homes.
Father John Broheimer is the pastor of St. Peter Parish, Omaha.