Advent is a time of preparation. Preparing our hearts, preparing our minds, preparing our bodies and our homes. As Mary and Joseph prepared their home for Jesus to be born, so should we prepare our hearts for Jesus’ birth. The world tells us that the period leading up to Christmas is for buying gifts and drinking, and for many it can come with a great deal of stress. Rather, Advent should be a time of joy! Jesus Christ, king of the Universe, will be born, and our hearts should be like a nursery. Here are some ways to prepare yourself this Advent.
1. Fasting and abstinence: Days of fasting and abstinence in the modern Church are very minimal, and so we tend to ignore this great spiritual practice. Fasting, by temporarily depriving our bodies, allows us to concentrate on the spiritual, strengthens our will against temptation, and also allows us to also reflect on our own blessings and be more mindful of those who do not have such easy access to food and comfort. In addition to fasting, we could also practice periodic abstinence from meat, sweets or other pleasurable things.
2. Acts of service and charity: Charity, for Christians, is not just a suggestion; it is a duty. Especially during winter, the everyday dangers and inconveniences of poverty are amplified, such as access to heat, clothes, food and shelter. There are no shortage of opportunities to serve or give. You can sponsor a child for the giving tree, or any other Christmas programs in the area. You can donate coats, clothes or food. You can volunteer at Almost Home or another homeless shelter or soup kitchen. You can even just be more intentional about serving the people in front of you. Do the dishes for your roommates or strike up a conversation where you would normally look at your phone. This is a joyful time, so bring joy to everyone you see!
3. Prayer: Prayer transforms us, it forms us closer to the image of God, and makes a bigger place for Christ in our heart. There are no shortage of ways to pray. You could attend daily Mass, or at least go on more than Sundays. You can go to adoration of the blessed sacrament. You can also get into the habit of praying the rosary. Mother Mary would love to hear from you, especially with two major Marian feast days during Advent (Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe). She is filled with the joy and anticipation of giving birth to Jesus, and she wants to share it with you.
4. Take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation: We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and every time we sin, we hurt our relationship with God, and hurt ourselves. Luckily, we have a sure fire way to restore that relationship. Confession! It may be scary, but Jesus never tires of forgiving us. Go into the confessional, say how long it has been since your last confession, list your sins, and say the worst ones first, listen to whatever counsel or advice the priest has, say your act of contrition, and go do your penance. Make a regular practice of it and be amazed at how much you grow.
5. Connect with your roots and learn about others: The Advent and holiday season are filled with cultural traditions that have been preparing people for Christmas for centuries. Put up an Advent wreath or Advent calendar. Make tamales or other foods associated with the season. Decorate, sing carols, wear your purple, Duhawks!
Sometimes our hearts become so filled with the things of this world that there isn’t any more room for God. This Advent, make room in your heart, and may it be like the manger, where Our Lord laid his head.