Every year Christmas–or the “Holiday season”–seems to become more of a racket and less of a celebration of one of the central mysteries of the Christian faith. This is, I suppose, not an issue for people who are not Christians. But Christians are endangered by it, in this sense: We only get so many years–so many Advents and Christmases–to meditate on the faith and to try deepen our understanding of and love for God. So if we don’t take positive steps to make Advent and Christmas a religious experience, we are in danger of getting caught up in the rush and missing out on what could be a much more profound experience. With this in mind, here are some things we might consider doing to make Advent a holy season.
- Pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or even just some part of it–say, the morning prayers or evening prayers. Indeed, doing just a part would be more realistic for busy family people. At any rate, Liturgy of the Hours includes ancient and beautiful prayers of the Church that will aid us in reflecting on the gift of the faith. The responsory for morning prayer in Advent includes the following: “Your light will come, Jerusalem; the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.” Just to have that thought in one’s mind from the beginning of the day will surely do something to change–to deepen and improve–our experience of Advent. You can get the books you need to do this at most Catholic bookstores, but the prayers are also available online.
- Sing and listen to music that has Christian content. I want to hear Frank Sinatra sing “The Christmas Waltz” as much as the next man, but I have to admit that while it is a good experience in that it reminds me of much that is lovable about Christmas, it is not a song that directs my mind to the higher things. But Christian civilization has produced a lot of beautiful music that does direct us to the higher things, and we should enjoy it and be improved by it. And I don’t mean just hymns, either. There are many songs that are popular in their origins but that remind us of the Christian mysteries. Take, for example, “The Holly and the Ivy.” One verse reminds us: “The holly bears a berry, as red as any blood/And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.”
- Plan out and do some acts of charity. Take food to a food bank. Volunteer for an afternoon at a homeless shelter. Collect, or even buy, clothes and blankets and take them to one of the charitable organizations in your town or city. Call the pro-life crisis pregnancy center, find out what they need, and get some of it for them. And, to avoid making such good works just more of the Christmas rush, do it all prayerfully, calling to mind that in doing it for the least among us, you are doing it for Jesus, who was born into poverty and obscurity himself.
- Do some daily spiritual reading that relates to Advent and Christmas. There are numerous fine books on the life of Jesus that include accounts of the period leading up to his birth–the first Advent season–and of the nativity–the first Christmas. Among others, there are books by Henri Daniel-Rops, Frank Sheed, Fulton Sheen, Romano Guardini, and, most recently, our pope emeritus, Benedict XVI.