‘Advent of the Heart’

As we await the coming of Christ, use the time wisely

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“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Eph 5:14).

I once challenged a lapsed Catholic to read what the Church teaches. He declined the invitation. The man was afraid he would discover that God exists and that Christianity is true. That discovery would require him to radically change his life. What a sad but honest answer!

I can relate. There was a time that I was a Sunday-Mass-only, lukewarm Catholic. Having teenagers was my wake-up call. It was then that I realized I was powerless. Letting Jesus into my heart changed everything.

Advent is our liturgical wake-up call. It is time to prepare to encounter Jesus Christ and to look ahead to his second coming. During a 2002 general audience during Advent, Pope St. John Paul II spoke of the liturgical season as a time of “intense training that directs us decisively to the One who has already come, who will come and who continuously comes.” Yet too often we get caught up in the Christmas rush that begins the day after Thanksgiving. There are trees to decorate, presents to buy, cookies to bake and parties to attend. The season of Advent is ignored outside of Mass. We forget that Jesus is coming again.
Deacons and their wives live in the secular wilderness, so we are not immune from the world’s seductions. It is even a busy time at Church. So many groups. So many parties.

The Church, however, gives us the four weeks of Advent as a gift. It is a time to remember that Christians are called to holiness. We are called to a life of continual and radical conversion as we try to imitate Christ.

A few years ago I found a wonderful book of Advent reflections by Father Alfred Delp, “Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings” (Ignatius, $14.95). Father Delp was imprisoned and eventually executed by the Nazis. He wrote: “Advent is a time of being deeply shaken, so that man will wake up to himself. The prerequisite for a fulfilled Advent is a renunciation the arrogant gestures and tempting dreams with which, and in which, man is always deceiving himself.”

The world tries to deceive us by saying that each of us can determine his or her own truth. We can be drawn into a false sense of security about our salvation like the foolish virgins who did not bring oil for their lamps. They did not prepare for the coming of the bridegroom.

How do we prepare to meet the Lord? We don’t know when Jesus will come again in glory. But we do know that each of us will have a personal end time when we meet Jesus face to face.

A good way to prepare our hearts for Advent is to consider what Father Delp called an “Advent of the Heart,” which includes four ways that Advent invites us to encounter God.

• First, our hearts are shaken awake. Find the time to reflect in prayerful silence and solitude on God’s word in the Scriptures.

• Second, we are called to be authentic Christians. For better or worse, parishioners look to deacons, and often their wives, as examples of what it is to be a Christian. Are we truly living the Faith?

• Third, we are called to confess and proclaim our faith boldly. Our culture increasingly is hostile to the Church. It often takes courage to proclaim the truth of the Gospel. Yet every Christian is called to bring Christ to the world.

• Fourth, we are called to respond to God with reverent awe, just as Elizabeth did to the child in Mary’s womb. God is our ultimate reality. We are called to love God with our whole being, and, as Christians, we must respond.
 

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Advent is a spiritual journey. Like Lent it is a time to step back and examine our lives. Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour (see Mt 25:13).

SUSAN KEHOE is co-director of RCIA at Christ the King Parish in Des Moines, Iowa, along with her husband, Deacon Larry Kehoe. She writes at adeaconswife.com.