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Philippa Martyr: Five easy ways to make the most of Advent

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Advent is a special season, but so many of us join the throng in eating, drinking, spending and fussing, and don’t make time for God. Photo:
Advent is a special season, but so many of us join the throng in eating, drinking, spending and fussing, and don’t make time for God. Photo:

It’s the first Sunday of Advent, so happy new liturgical year for Year B. Admire the picture of the lion in the St Paul’s Sunday missal!

Advent is an excellent time to start your new year’s resolutions for 2024. You can use it as a dress rehearsal to find out how awful you are, when you give something up for Lent.

It’s also a good time of year to turn and bravely face the onslaught that’s about to deluge us. I don’t just mean the Mariah Carey Christmas songs, or even the movie Die Hard.

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With Christmas coming, it’s also the worst time of the year for human kindness, patience, charity, and mercy. We eat too much, drink too much, spend too much, and do too much.

By the time Christmas Eve rolls round, we have aching legs, short tempers, and substantial credit card bills. We have engaged in at least one car park rage incident, and are now officially fed up to the back teeth.

This is the time of year dreaded by domestic violence services, suicide hotlines, and women’s shelters. Divorce lawyers also get busy in January and February of the following year. That’s consistent across the US, the UK, and Australia.

Spend some time sitting on a bench in an average shopping centre any weekend between now and 31 December, and just watch. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a brief insight into a world bereft of Christ.

And yet you and I were created for this very hour. We were called out of nothingness and given incredible gifts to help us go out there and light a path for ourselves and others, instead of cursing the darkness.

Do you want to spend your Advent doing good things for the world and the church? Or are you planning to join the throng and eat too much, drink too much, spend too much, and do too much?

The latter choice would make you useless to God and to other people. But if you’d rather be useful, you need to get that light out from under the bushel (which it will eventually set fire to) or under the bed (ditto).

Here, free of charge, are my best suggestions for spending Advent in a way that might actually make you a better person, rather than an awful one. You can think of these as your new liturgical year resolutions.

1. Unsubscribe. Go through your emails and unsubscribe from everything that’s filling your head up with nonsense. Also, switch most of your notifications off. This will help you to calm down, waste less time, and spend less money.

2. Say no. Don’t cram Advent with family parties, end-of-year parties, and thank-goodness-HR-got-rid-of-the-creepy-coworker parties. If you have friends—and I’m sure you do—you can see them at any other time during the year. This will make things a lot easier on everyone.

3. De-clutter. When I was in religious life, once a year we had to go through our room and remove everything that didn’t belong there and put it back in its rightful place. Given that we didn’t own anything, it’s amazing how much stuff turned up in individual rooms. Now try doing this with your entire house.

4. Buy less. Hoarding is a growing problem in Australia. My sister has worked with people with this problem, and she assures me that in every hoarder house, you will find at least one of those giant 100-pack plastic cylinders of Christmas tree baubles—unopened.

You have far too much stuff already, and if you’re doing the full Christmas, it’s about to get worse. You can control the level of stuff by getting rid of things now.

Three piles: keep, donate, bin. And when you are tempted to buy something, imagine yourself throwing it out in a few years’ time.

5. Make time for God. I’m reading Fr Jacques Philippe’s book Time for God, and he’s got plenty of tips. Make a time for prayer, and stick to it like glue, daily.

It’s not about you. It’s about giving God joy because he loves just having you hang out with him, no matter how boring you find it.

Plan and book a 2024 spiritual retreat now. Stop putting it off and fix it firmly in place so that you won’t wriggle out later.

And on that topic, next weekend I’ll be on my women’s retreat with eight other ordinary Catholic women who recognise their desperate need for time and space and silence at this time of year. Pray for us!

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