Embracing the spiritual opportunities of Advent

Embracing the spiritual opportunities of Advent

A reflection series by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

The word “advent” comes from the Latin term adventus, literally meaning “coming to.”  The four weeks of the season of Advent before Christmas create a unique season of hope-filled preparation for all of us in the Catholic Christian community — although it can easily be missed by society at large as simply an extended, early celebration of Christmas.  True enough, Christ has come, and we should rejoice in his Incarnation every day of our lives.  But Advent gives us all time for a prayerful “retelling” of the story of the “Hope of Israel.”  We prepare ourselves for the commemoration of Christ’s coming in history in Bethlehem, his coming in mystery each day in the Church and the Sacraments, and his coming in majesty at the end of time.

Our disposition and expectation as individual Catholics, as individual believers, truly influence and model the way in which our fellow parishioners as “communities of believers” look at Advent and incorporate its hope and excitement into their lives as Christmas approaches. Although the COVID pandemic has disrupted our ordinary lives creating physical “distance,” whether we realize it or not, we do still have a spiritual effect on one another!  

The images of Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary figure so prominently in the Scriptures we read and hear during these few, fast weeks.  And whether “in person” at Church or online, we need to let the Word sink deeply into our minds, hearts and souls.  The hymns we have always sung and the Mass prayers we pray all fix our attention in faith upon the One who has come, is coming and is yet to come, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   It is all about him, everything we are and everything we do as Catholics. 

We make every day an anticipation for yet another, more profound, more transforming revelation.  Although we have heard and sung and prayed the Advent message many times before, a pause, some quiet time of prayer, the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation all go a long way to “make all things new” … again … although the Advent and Christmas story are as old as the Church itself.

This year, permit me as your Bishop to offer some thoughts each week of Advent for your reflection, meditation and prayer, drawn from the Church’s rich spiritual treasury.


From the Gospel of the First Sunday of Advent:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come (Mark 13:33).”

“Advent is here.  What a marvelous time in which to renew your desire, your nostalgia, your real longing for Christ to come — for him to come every day to your soul in the Eucharist.  The Church encourages us: ecce veniet — he is about to arrive (St. Josemaria Escriva).”

“We do not preach only one coming of Christ but a second one as well, much more glorious than the first.  The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom (St. Cyril of Jerusalem).”

“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 (St. Charles Borromeo).”

“Advent is synonymous with hope, not the vain waiting for a ‘faceless god’ but concrete and certain trust in the return of him who has already visited us (Pope St. John Paul II).”

“Advent is a journey toward Bethlehem.  May we let ourselves be drawn by the light of God made man (Pope Francis).”

“Advent, this powerful liturgical season that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence.  It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are hints that God is giving us, signs of the attention he has for each one of us (Pope Benedict XVI).”

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