“Wait for me!” This was an appeal I often made to the other kids as one of the youngest growing up on my street. My cul-de-sac was filled with little rascals chasing one another for a game of tag, or playing baseball where we spray painted the baseball diamond onto the road, or darting in and out of each other’s houses. Childhood was full of adventure. We were always on the go and I was intent on keeping up with the action. “I’m coming! Wait for me!”
As we begin this Year of Faith, Pope Benedict invites Catholics “to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ” (Porta Fidei, no. 2). The season of Advent is a great opportunity for this rediscovery, because it is a time of expectant waiting, in which we prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord. Saint Ephrem tell us, “He promised that he would come but did not say when he would come, and so all generations and ages await him eagerly…As holy men and prophets waited for him, thinking that he would reveal himself in their own day, so today each of the faithful longs to welcome him in his own day.”
We may not hear a resounding and youthful “Wait for me!” from Jesus; nevertheless He wants us to pause and wait for Him. Christ desires to be part of our lives—to be included in the action. At the beginning of this new liturgical year, He beautifully appeals to our hearts and invites us to learn how to wait for him, for truly He is coming.
I always appreciated whenever one of the bigger kids lagged behind until I caught up. Their willingness to linger a little reminded me that they valued my presence and our relationship. Christ desires from us the same spirit of generosity and willingness to make ourselves present to Him.
Advent is an appropriate season to take a little extra time with our prayers. You might consider lingering in a few minutes of silence before or after Mass. “We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves…on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples” (Porta Fidei, no. 3). With expectant faith quietly pray, “O come, O come, Emanuel…” This will be a healthy antidote to the hustle and bustle of the holidays, which can easily distract us from what is truly important. By lingering a little you will awaken a renewed enthusiasm for your journey of faith. Essentially, you will become more prepared to welcome the Christ Child into your life.
My neighborhood friends and I were not exempt from the whimsical ways of children, evidenced in our constant change of playful activities. As a young boy, I learned that I had to remain vigilant and prepared if I wanted to successfully keep up with the other kids. For example, if we were nearing the end of a video game and I heard murmurs that we were headed outside next, I might position myself near the door. Then, once the swarm took flight, I could slip my shoes on (which I never untied) and get a head start outside.
In our journey of faith we also need to remain vigilant and spiritually prepared as we draw increasingly nearer to the Nativity of our Lord. Again, Saint Ephrem helps us to reflect on Advent by considering His second coming, “Christ said: About that hour no one knows, neither the angels nor the Son. It is not for you to know times or moments. He has kept those things hidden so that we may keep watch, each of us thinking that he will come in our own day.” A wise priest I know often counsels, “God wants to surprise us.” He wants to enter our lives in the ways we most need Him and where we least expect Him. Our responsibility, as Jesus exhorted His disciples, is to “‘Be watchful! Be alert!’” (Mark 13:33). Saint Charles Borromeo explains: “our hearts should be as much prepared for the coming of Christ as if he were still to come into this world.” As people of faith we believe Christ desires to come to us daily, yet we need to prepare ourselves to receive Him.
During Advent the Church invites us to focus more intentionally on preparing ourselves to welcome the Incarnate Christ. Some practical tips for you and your family may include the following:
- Practice self-denial by removing anything that distracts you from the spiritual life, such as excessive use of the internet or television. In place of these distractions embrace a little more silence so that you can listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit within you and create sacred space for Christ to enter your life.
- Make use of the Sacrament of Penance, which helps us respond to Jesus’ call for conversion. Conversion is an ongoing struggle for every Christian—a struggle that is “directed toward holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1426).
- Take a refresher course in the Catholic faith by reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church on your own or with others. The Year of Faith marks the twentieth anniversary of the Catechism. Pope Benedict urges the flock to study the fundamental content of our faith as articulated in the Catechism: “Here, in fact, we see the wealth of teaching that the Church has received, safeguarded and proposed in her two thousand years of history. From Sacred Scripture to the Fathers of the Church, from theological masters to the saints across the centuries, the Catechism provides a permanent record of the many ways in which the Church has meditated on the faith and made progress in doctrine so as to offer certitude to believers in their lives of faith” (Porta Fidei, no. 11).
- Commit to praying with the Scriptures. “We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church” (Porta Fidei, no. 3). Some simple ways of accomplishing this may include reflecting on the Psalms or reading the Sunday Gospel passage during the week. You can find the readings on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
- Decorate your home to reflect the liturgical season. Displaying the nativity scene is a traditional way to remember the meaning of Advent. It is a great focal point for the family and especially for children who love to hear the Christmas story. Consider purchasing a nativity set with pieces large enough for the children to hold as you tell and retell stories about the Holy Family, the shepherds, and the three kings. The Advent wreath is another important addition to any Catholic home. Place it in the center of your dinner table, light the appropriate candles, and sing a hymn or recite a prayer together as you anticipate the coming of Christ.
Overall, in this season of Advent, bear witness to the Good News by showing excitement for the coming presence of Christ, so that your children are not solely focused on the coming presents.
Linger in prayer, engage your faith, and prepare yourself spiritually for the Solemnity of Christmas. Saint Charles Borromeo reminds us: “The Church asks us to understand that Christ, who came once in the flesh, is prepared to come again. When we remove all obstacles to his presence he will come, at any hour and moment, to dwell spiritually in our hearts, bringing with him the riches of his grace.” The Christ Child is the most blessed gift ever given and received. Wait for Him, He is coming!