Did you know that in the Archdiocese of Denver we have a devotion to Mary that isn’t found anywhere else in the United States? On December 16th we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of the New Advent, a title and feast of Mary that is unique to our community in Colorado. When St. John Paul II visited Denver in 1993, Cardinal Stafford presented him with a newly written icon. The icon depicted Our Lady following an ancient iconographic template, the famous Mirozh icon, but under a new title: Our Lady of the New Advent. Cardinal Stafford had asked Jesuit iconographer Fr William McNichols to write an icon under the title of Our Lady of the New Advent to coincide with a nine year novena he led the Archdiocese of Denver in, preparing for the jubilee year of 2000.
But what does it mean to call Mary Our Lady of the New Advent? What do we mean by a “new” Advent? How is Our Lady associated with this “New Advent”? In what ways might God be inviting us to experience a “new” kind of Advent this year?
Repent and be transformed
When I think about Advent, my mind goes to the familiar biblical stories we hear in the Mass during Advent. I think most about John the Baptist in the wilderness, calling the people to repentance. We are meant to listen to John’s urging and spend time taking a spiritual inventory of our hearts. One of the primary actions of our Advent preparation is repentance.
When we think about repentance, we normally think confession, communal penance services, and sin. All of these are certainly part of repentance. However, repentance involves more than the ritual act of confession. The word repentance implies a conversion has taken place. Conversion on a basic level means to change my direction; to turn away from sin and toward God. The authors of Scripture used a specific Greek word to describe this change: metanoia.
Metanoia means to change one’s mind. It is perhaps most easily understood by looking at what St Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Being transformed by the renewal of our minds is the heart of repentance. But in what ways is the season of Advent meant to help us have a transformation of our way of thinking? And how does this have anything to do with Mary?
Advent is the season of preparation for the coming of the Lord. We look back on the long centuries the people of Israel awaited the coming of the Messiah. We look forward in hope to Jesus’ glorious second coming. But what about this time in between—between his first coming and his second coming? Is Advent solely about remembering the waiting period of the Israelites and preparing in a general way for Jesus’ coming at the end of time (which may or may not happen in our lifetime)?
No. Advent is about even more. At the heart of what it means to participate in a “new Advent” is conversion—a conversion in our expectations surrounding Jesus’ coming. Yes, we must never forget the long-awaited hopes that Jesus fulfilled in his first coming. Yes, we must never forget that Jesus will come in glory and that time as we know it will cease. However, we must not be so stuck in the past or so focused on the future that we miss the coming of Jesus in the here and now, to each one of us, in our lives and in our hearts.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock” –Revelation 3:20
Something fascinating happens when John the Baptist begins his prophetic ministry. Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, speaking of how the prophets helped people overcome the barriers of their expectations about the coming of the Lord, expresses it this way:
“Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were helping people to overcome the barrier of time. John the Baptist, on the other hand, helps people to overcome the even more difficult barrier… of the banality and lowliness in which the appointed hour is manifested. It is easy to believe in something grandiose and divine when it is projected into an indefinite future: ‘in the coming days,’ ‘in the last days’… It is more difficult when the time comes to say ‘Look! There he is!’—and to say it about a man whom people know everything about… When John the Baptist says, ‘among you stands one whom you do not know’ (John 1:26), he inaugurates the new kind of prophecy, prophecy for the Church age, which does not consist in proclaiming a distant and future salvation but in revealing the hidden presence of Christ in the world.” –Sober Intoxication of the Spirit Part Two, 95-96.
To participate in and experience a “new Advent” means to be radically attuned to the present moment, which is the moment the “hidden presence of Christ” is revealed to me. This is where Our Lady teaches us by her example, this is how we can call Mary “Our Lady of the New Advent.”
Our Lady of the New Advent
Mary had a radical orientation to the presence of Jesus in the present moment. This orientation to the present moment led her to be open to welcome the coming of the Messiah at the Annunciation. Her beautiful fiat, “let it be done unto me according to your will” (Luke 1:46), puts words to her spiritual disposition. Mary had an active longing for the coming of God in the present moment: his will, his kingdom, his presence, etc.
This Advent, ask yourself these questions:
Am I oriented to the present moment, or more focused on the past or future? Have I given enough time and energy to my spiritual/interior life, so that I don’t miss Jesus knocking in this present moment? How can I help others to be open to the newness of this Advent season, and the coming of Jesus to them personally at this moment in time?
Mary, pray for us, that we might be transformed by the renewal of our minds this Advent season, that we might be radically oriented to the present moment, and that we might welcome the coming of Jesus to us personally this day and help others welcome him in the same way. Our Lady of the New Advent, pray for us!