The question is this: How am I doing this Advent? Am I using this season of preparation to clear out the materialist muck, the stress and distractions of my life? And if the honest answer is no, then the question becomes: What can I do now to get ready for Christmas? God has a marvelous way of giving us chance after chance to turn to Him in love, hope and gratitude.
Gaudete Sunday, this third Sunday of Advent and the coming week, we light the third, rose-colored candle, remembering that we “Rejoice in the Lord Always!” (Phil 4:4) We shouldn’t overreact and panic if we realize that we have not made the most of the season, we are to remember the joy of Christ’s birth and in gratitude start getting our spiritual home in order by partaking in the Sacraments, especially Confession and, whenever we are able, daily Mass. It is not too late to do the work of continuing conversion, of preparing our hearts and minds for Christ!
God is marvelous, indeed, so much so that we cannot count the marvels of His creation. In that first Advent, when Joseph, Mary, and the unborn Savior trekked toward Bethlehem we have a model for a solemn period of preparation for Our Lord’s arrival. Traveling so long a distance on foot, or for a very pregnant Mary on the back of a donkey, could not have been easy. Yet the Holy Family was joyful, seeing even the trial as a valuable means of preparing for the great Gift Who was about to make His grand entrance. He had been alive for almost nine months, to be sure, but the shepherds and kings who also sought a mystery they didn’t yet understand were on their way to welcome the Person, the event that would change history.
As we know, others saw a threat to their own power in the signs of the times, responding with fear. The death of the innocents would follow some time later, when earthly power decided it would be better to kill innocent children then face the possibility of losing his own position.
A funny thing happened just a few years ago. An American politician was touring Mexico and visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. For the occasion, the tilma upon which the miraculous image of Our Lady was imprinted almost 500 years ago was lowered for the politician’s viewing. She left the white flowers her handlers told her would be a sign of respect, per local custom, and asked “Who painted it?” A couple days later, the politician was “honored” in Houston, receiving the Margaret Sanger award from Planned Parenthood Federation for her unwavering support of abortion and birth control at the international level.
Really? Who painted it? Sometimes we can be faced with an incredible opportunity for grace, and we can miss it entirely due to our own blindness. We can go through the motions that our handlers in the culture around us tell us are appropriate, but not really make the most of our freedom – our freedom to love, which is only fully realized when we love God first and ask Him to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts.
I love the fact that today, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, falls within Advent. The image of the pregnant Mother of God, an image of Our Lady of Hope, comes to us to remind us to prepare the way of the Lord. There is enough information on the truly unexplainable aspects of Our Lady’s image, baffling scientists and politicians alike. But those who are simple, whose hearts and minds are uncluttered by sophisticated, or just sophistic, concerns aren’t so much baffled as amazed and grateful.
Don’t despair over the myriad things that are going wrong, or seem to be going wrong, in the Church and in society. It’s not that there are not real problems, it’s that we can’t despair over them – we cannot, in our pride, let the idea that it’s all up to us and our meager gifts to do what must be done. It’s not.
When Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in 1531, human sacrifice was practiced on a massive scale in certain places in what is now Latin America. Within just a few years, 11 million were converted, and the practice of human sacrifice stopped, along with those particular Cultures of Death.
Take this time to prepare for Christ, like Joseph and the very pregnant Mary did. God can use us to participate in his marvels if we make room for him in our hearts and minds. There is still time!