As the beginning of the new liturgical year, Advent is a wonderful time to make particular resolutions and ask God to aid our efforts with his grace. This season is a solemn time of penance and preparation, as represented by the use of purple as the dominant liturgical color. For millennia God prepared Israel for the coming of the Messiah, and in the four weeks of Advent we prepare both to celebrate Christ’s coming in history with our observance of Christmas and to receive him in his second coming at the end of time. Since we are descended from the fallen lineage of Adam & Eve, these acts of preparation should include more than cleaning house and putting up a tree and some lights. Our Holy Mother Church offers the season of Advent as a time for us to more seriously consider our sinfulness in order to overcome it with God’s grace. This prepares us for the celebration of the Incarnation of the Son of God as well as his second coming, when He will return “to judge the living and the dead” (as we say each Sunday in the Nicene Creed). Thus, Advent prepares us for Christmas but also for the day when Jesus will return in glory.
There are many ways of celebrating Advent. Various cultures have different ways in which they prepare for the coming of the Savior, all of which have some significant meaning with regard to our consideration that the Savior of the world became a little baby. Each of these challenge us to consider how should we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Word Incarnate on December 25th.
One wonderful tradition is to return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation during this time. This allows us to receive the forgiveness of God through the words of his priest, calling down upon us the salvation Jesus won for us by becoming man and dying for our sins. Not only does God give us a fresh start in this sacrament, but he also offers us particular graces so that we can both enter more deeply into a relationship with Him and be strengthened to overcome the sin with which we struggle.
In addition to confessing our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the focus on penance and preparation during the season of Advent reminds us to offer some reparation to God for our sins. The Catechism explains this need for reparation or satisfaction as repairing the harm done by sin even after the guilt is forgiven: “Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin” (CCC 1459). In addition to the specific penance we receive from the priest in the sacrament, we can take on additional practices of prayer, fasting, and good works in order to draw closer to God during this season. One way to do this is to focus on works of mercy which alleviate the suffering of others.
The Church traditionally enumerates these ways of meeting the spiritual and bodily needs of others as the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. The Spiritual Works of Mercy are to:
- Admonish the Sinner
- Instruct the ignorant
- Counsel the doubtful
- Comfort the sorrowful
- Bear wrongs against you patiently
- Forgive all injuries
- Pray for the living and the dead
The Corporal Works of Mercy are to:
- Feed the hungry
- Give drink to the thirsty
- Shelter the homeless
- Visit the sick and lonely
- Clothe those who have no clothes
- Visit and minister to the imprisoned
- Bury the dead
While we do not need to have a checklist of these different good works that we need to accomplish, they provide a good guideline for how to take care of the beloved people whom God has created.
Advent is a wonderful time to consider the many great things God has accomplished in us and also the many times we have failed to respond to God’s love. We do this neither to be conceited nor to beat ourselves up, but to be more honest with both God and ourselves about the gifts we have received and the struggles we still experience. In doing so we prepare our hearts and our world to receive the Savior again this Christmas. May we each have a fruitful Advent season. Happy New Year!