Advent is season for listening and waiting for the Lord

Listen in prayer. Rest in God. Trust that Jesus is coming.

Those simple but profound actions help prepare hearts to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of our Lord, advised a deacon and a priest of the archdiocese.

"We live in a very distracted culture, fast paced, easily bored," said Deacon James Keating, director of the archdiocese’s permanent diaconate and director of theological formation at the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF) in Omaha.

"We need to become more fastened to the supernatural, not as something else to do but as the very definition of our lives, said the deacon, also a member of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Omaha.

Encouraging people to attach themselves to God is the primary goal of an Advent morning presentation that Deacon Keating and other leaders of IPF have given annually the last several years. This year’s event will be at Christ the King Parish in Omaha, and will include 8:15 a.m. Mass, a continental breakfast, short presentations, silent prayer before the Eucharist and opportunities to share faith experiences.

Both Deacon Keating and Father James Rafferty, IPF’s director of communication and mission, emphasized that Advent should be centered on God.

"It’s helpful for us at Advent to recognize the need for God, and to call out to him and listen for his love," Father Rafferty said. "He’s aching for us to invite him more into our hearts, lives and experiences."

"Advent is a gift the church gives to its people each year, and to the culture if they would welcome its beauty," said Deacon Keating, "so as to rest in prayer, preparing the heart to welcome the coming of God. Without silence, rest, receptivity, no one can fully receive the love of God."

But the busyness of the season can be distracting, Father Rafferty said. Attention given to purchasing gifts, going to parties, preparing elaborate dinners and other activities can begin to take precedence over the necessary quiet, he said.

Simple practices can bring the focus back to preparing to celebrate the Savior’s birth, he said. Prayerfully and progressively lighting the four candles of the Advent wreath in the four weeks before Christmas reminds people first of how dark life is without God, and ends with a "crescendo of light," Father Rafferty said.

Spending a few minutes or more with Scripture each day of Advent – including the liturgical readings from Isaiah and the Gospels as John the Baptist proclaims the coming of one greater than himself – can help people ready themselves to receive God’s grace at Christmas and beyond, he said.

And meditating on how Mary and Joseph prepared for the Lord coming into their lives can bring new insights and blessings, he said.

Deacon Keating recalled one Advent when his family helped decorate the church for Christmas. They began to realize that "such actions ought to define our interior life as well," he said. "We ought to always be attentive, to prepare a space for Christ, to host him, if you will, and therefore to receive his presence deeply."

That conversion of heart and the powerful presence of Christ inspires people to make a gift of self for others, which is one of the greatest gifts any community can receive, Deacon Keating said.

That is what Mary and Joseph did, and what everyone is called to, Father Rafferty said.

"Mary and Joseph offered themselves to Jesus Christ," he said. "That’s the same invitation for every baptized person, to offer our lives to Jesus Christ, and to have his love radiate from us to the rest of the world. We are at his disposal for the good of the world."

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