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Patrick O’Shea: Make Advent count!

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A lit candle is seen on an Advent wreath. Photo: CNS/Lisa Johnston, St Louis Review
A lit candle is seen on an Advent wreath. Photo: CNS/Lisa Johnston, St Louis Review

By Patrick O’Shea

Although we know that the festive season must arrive at the end of the year, somehow everyone manages to be caught off guard by Mariah Carey and say in unison, “gee the year has flown by” and “it’s already Christmas?”

It is precisely because the end of the year creeps up on us that I enjoy focusing on the weeks set aside by the Church as time of preparation for Christ’s birth: Advent.

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In one of His eschatological parables, which is the chosen Gospel in the Extraordinary Form for the First Sunday of Advent, Our Lord uses the imagery of the fig tree coming into bloom as analogous to the end of the world (Luke 21:29-31).

Similarly, at the first signs of the Australian spring, when we see Jacarandas flowering in every corner of every street, we begin to feel time slipping us by, as we know the end of the year is fast approaching.

“Our Lord is coming, and at an hour we don’t expect to come so soon, yet as we busy ourselves with all the domestic affairs of Christmas, we typically don’t prepare our interior affairs for the coming of Christ.”

When time does slip by so quickly, though, it means that those moments mean so much more and we cannot let them pass us by without us stopping for a moment to ponder the penultimate time of the year. As with the fig tree (or Jacarandas): as soon as we see them blooming, we must gird ourselves and begin preparations for what comes next.

How many times do we find ourselves shopping for gifts at the 11th hour because we thought we would have more time to go shopping? Our Lord is coming, and at an hour we don’t expect to come so soon, yet as we busy ourselves with all the domestic affairs of Christmas, we typically don’t prepare our interior affairs for the coming of Christ.

As December slips through our fingers, I relish the time we have to prepare for Christmas – to the point of being called a Grinch by some friends for not joining in celebrations sooner.

The ancient axiom tempus fugit (time flies) seems most appropriate in the final months of the year and yet we wish Advent away without stopping to ponder why the Church has set this time aside for us. After all, the season of Christmas does not start until the evening Mass of Christmas Eve.

To use a different liturgical season that might hit closer to home as an analogy: to celebrate Christmas as soon as Advent begins would amount to celebrating Christ’s Resurrection come Ash Wednesday.

Photo: Lisa Johnston

No one would think it proper to bring out the chocolate eggs and greet others with “Happy Easter” for the First Sunday of Lent.

Usually Catholics pry a little too much into each other’s lives and ask something along the lines of “what are you giving up for Lent?” instead.

Just as Lent is the time set aside for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving before the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord, so Advent is a penitential time to reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation and prepare for the birth of the Divine Infant. That’s the way we should approach Advent: It’s the Lent that precedes the Easter of Christmas.

By taking Advent seriously, we are able to rejoice in the festive season that follows, the only caveat being that Advent is only four weeks, as opposed to Lent’s six weeks.

“As Christ gives Himself simply to us as an infant babe, so we can prepare for His coming by giving ourselves to others in simple and ordinary ways.”

While the six weeks of Lent pass by at a snail’s pace when we’re trying keep to our Lenten fast, Advent seems to pass by in an instant when we’re buying gifts and setting up Christmas decorations all while preparing pudding for the big day.

While it is a Lenten tradition to delve into prayer, fasting, and alms giving for 40 days, I encourage you to do something similar for the four weeks of Advent.

Perhaps that could include taking up spiritual reading, or contributing to a Christmas hamper for the poor. As Christ gives Himself simply to us as an infant babe, so we can prepare for His coming by giving ourselves to others in simple and ordinary ways.

Although many would like to tell you that Christmas celebrations begin following the recessional hymn of All Saints, as Catholics we know that the Feast begins on 25 December.

The four weeks following the Feast of St Andrew the Apostle are our opportunity to take stock of our souls, and prepare our spiritual houses for the coming of the Master at an hour that comes all too quickly.

Patrick O’Shea is a young pro-life activist and a staff member of the Archdiocese of Sydney

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