Today is the First Sunday of Advent. For most, this marks the beginning of the shopping season. The department stores, like the great cathedrals of Mammon they are, will be adorned for the high holy days of the financial year, sparkling with lights, bursting with goods, bustling with buyers. But I don’t intend this to be another lament over the secularization of Christmas. Such jeremiads and rebukes come with the season, and they have not , to date, had much influence on the conduct of affairs. It is all very well to remind our neighbours to keep Christ in Christmas, but it is hardly practical advice to one who has not kept Christ in any other season. It is not as though He can be found in the attic among the holiday ornaments, dusted off and put on display for a month or so.

Even those of us who realize that Advent is a penitential season, albeit not on a par with the gravity of Lent, continue to live much as usual – and though we might be loath to admit it, we are very much swept up in the commercial culture. We might set up our Advent candles and refrain from decorating too early, but we will also be making vigorous use of our credit cards, and our closets will be stuffed with presents and wrapping paper. And so the cycle of the season will wind on and wind down, until in February the advertisements will shift our attention to diamond jewelry and flowers and candy and romantic getaways in celebration of St. Valentine’s Day. And so the liturgical year and the commercial year will keep pace side by side, like two horses yoked to the coach in which we ride through life in a familiar cycle.

Perhaps this is the problem: that we think of life as a cycle, as a thing that goes round, always returning to its starting point. And perhaps this is why we seldom change.

Will this Christmas find us much the same as last Christmas? Ideally, it should not, for we are told that in the spiritual life one either ascends or descends – there is no standing still. But there is a kind of negligible motion, a slight bobbing up and down that is much like standing still. And most of us, I suspect, remain in this more or less stationary position.

With the arrival of Advent, we have a golden opportunity to renew the spiritual combat, to fight for our genuine reformation. To do this, however, it is necessary that we stop thinking of life as a cycle, and realize it as a spiral: not as a thing that goes round and round, but as a thing that can go upward in ever ascending circles of light, and brighter light. Our great mystics lived in this spiral of the spirit, and some have left us moving accounts of their ascent. Among such literature, however, nothing appears to me as more practically helpful than the writings of the desert fathers, those early monks and hermits who saw everything under the aspect of eternity. For them, each day was a renewed adventure in the struggle of the spirit to reach its Creator and achieve what they called the Sabbath rest. Their writings are much like military manuals: descriptions of the lines of attack the enemy employs and the appropriate means of repulsing these attacks, along with methods of meditation that can eventually place one in an impregnable position.

May we all keep Our Lord with us, every minute of every day, during this Advent season as never before – always tomorrow more than today. Let us approach the silent and holy night of Christmas rightly absorbed by the image of a child in a manger and His Mother, never forgetting that the Child was born to exchange the wood of the manger for the wood of the Cross – as atonement for a fallen world. The Mother, kneeling at the manger and wrapping her child in swaddling clothes was destined to kneel at the foot of the Cross after her child had been cruelly stripped of His garments – the price of atonement for the Coredemptrix.

May we all, this Advent, heed ‘the voice of one crying in the desert: prepare the way for the Lord, make straight his paths’ (Isaiah 40:3).


27 Responses to “Advent!”

  1. 1 Brian November 29, 2009 at 12:54

    Dear Gabriella !

    I pray that you and yours, have a very Happy Advent Sunday! Last night I attended Holy Mass at my parish. During Communion, our cantor was singing Come, Lord Jesus. Jesus, the Hope of the world. Oh how true are those words. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. There is no other way. I thank the Lord for His kindness and goodness, his mercy. I pray that I am ready…

    I leave now for the Missionary of Charity mission here in New Jersey. Our Mass will be celebrated by Fr. Albert Holtz, OSB. Father will light the first Advent candle, surrounded by all the children.

    As we enter this very special season, you will certainly be in my prayers.

    Come Lord Jesus, Come…..

  2. 2 Louis November 29, 2009 at 13:09


    As always you make excellent points, it is true that in the modern day people often lose sight of the meaning of Advent or the length of eternity. It seems that too often things are viewed in the light of the temporal, instead of the eternal.

    Thank you for your enlightening view on Advent, especially for reminding us what it truly represents.

    Pax tecum.


  3. 3 Mihailov November 29, 2009 at 14:10

    Thank you for this wonderful post, I really needed words of encouragement and I propose to change for the better this advent season.
    Yes, as we all begin this time of advent, this journey through advent to celebrate the birth of Jesus, to celebrate the mysteries of our faith, we can once more invite the Lord who has been born for us to dwell in our hearts and in our world. May our hearts cry out with faith: Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven!

    Come Lord Jesus, come!

  4. 4 sivan November 29, 2009 at 15:48

    Conosco poco l’inglese ma… buon Avvento!

  5. 5 Karin November 29, 2009 at 16:24

    Thanks! I needed this. I vowed this Advent would be better than my last and have put some active and practical things in motion. I really want to make the most of this holy season so I will be ready for Christ’s final coming.
    Have a blessed Advent!

  6. 6 ginny November 29, 2009 at 16:26

    Very well said, Gabriella. It does my heart good to hear or see another person who expresses the same sentiments as I about this holiday season. The same goes for Lent and Easter. How the holiness of the seasons took second place to the secularization in the world is mind boggling. People who think like you are few and far between. But the good news is, that there are people who revere the holiness of these holidays, and are not afraid to speak out.

  7. 7 anne bender November 29, 2009 at 16:36

    I love the part about keeping Jesus in the attic and then dusting Him off for the season. I’m afraid that I have been very guilty of that too often in my life. He needs to be kept free of dust and front and center in my life, always. Thanks for this great post!

  8. 8 Andrea November 29, 2009 at 17:22

    L’avvento. Parola di una grandezza inaudita.
    Eppure anche io faccio fatica a considerare l’avvento per quel che è veramente. Ogni volta che sento questa parola,vedo nella mente mia tutte quele cose che caratterizzano il natale. Regali,consumismo,cucina,ricette ecc… ecc…

    Questa mattina dicevo,l’avvento!..che bello! che bello!
    Qualche ora dopo,ascoltando la tv,sentivo una conduttrice televisiva di un canale pubblico,che tutto fa tranne che trasmettere valori,che diceva “che bello il natale …”

    A questo punto però,sorge una domanda spontanea e dalla risposta scontata.
    Cosa fanno loro a Natale,cosa è pe loro il Natale??? Le risposte le sappiamo!!!

    E così,ho pensato ce forse i giorni di festa concessi dallo Stato sono “forse” una dsgrazia. Certo,è bello….non andare a scula,non andare a lavoro,farsi una vacanza,le cene ecc… ecc… “Ma” …c’è sempre quel “ma”….

    Così sono arrivato ad una conclusione. Se lo Stato non concedesse giorni di riposo, fare il Natale sarebbero soltanto quelli che veramente ci credono e lo celebrano per ciò che veramente è. E così il Natale riacquisterebbe la dignità che le spetta,come ai primi secoli del cristianesimo. Non siete d’accordo? Forse non mangeremmo come sicuramente faremo…e tante altre cose.

    Non voglio rovinarvi la “festa”. E scusate se in questi giorni sono un pò duro! Una discoteca a Natale,un veglione a Natale che c’entra? Se si continuasse a lavorare o ad andare a scuola in quei giorni…
    Noi non abbiamo ancora conosciuto Gesù. E se lo avessimo conosciuto per quel che è,forse Gesù ci direbbe: “Forse volete andarvene anche voi?”

    Un saluto a tutti e buon vero avvento.

  9. 9 Andrea November 29, 2009 at 17:25

    scusate per qualche errore ortografico,ma è colpa della tastiera del portatile. I pulsanti li schiaccio ma non li prende o a volte ne prende due…hehehe

  10. 10 Evelina November 29, 2009 at 17:37

    Silvio – io traduco i post inglesi di Gabriella con il traduttore automatico di google – ne vale la pena! 😉

    Infatti, caro Andrea, hai proprio ragione ma forse non è questione di togliere la festa ‘concessa dallo Stato’ perchè comunque chi ha Cristo nel cuore festeggia il Suo compleanno e vive l’avvento nel modo giusto e non pensando a vacanze bianche, discoteche, mangiate e bevute esagerate, veglioni, ecc. e relegando Gesù solo, forse, ad un piccolo presepio in casa perchè ora fa moda! 😦

  11. 11 Torkel November 29, 2009 at 20:52

    Thanks Gabriella – you’re right, Advent is called a “little Lent,” because, like Lent, it is a time of repentance – I wonder how many Novus Ordo Catholics know this?
    While fasting during Advent used to be universal, most Western Christians today treat Advent as an early part of the Christmas season, a time to make merry and prepare for fun. Only Traditional Catholics, Eastern Rite Catholics (and the Eastern Orthodox), during Advent prepare themselves for the coming of Our Lord by fasting and abstaining from meat on Wednesdays as well as the normal Fridays.

    O Magnum Mysterium!

    O magnum mysterium
    et admirabile sacramentum,
    ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
    jacentem in præsepio.

    Beata virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt
    portare Dominum Christum, Alleluia!


    O great mystery
    and wondrous sacrament,
    that animals should see the newborn Lord
    lying in their manger.

    Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy
    to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!

  12. 12 Victor S E Moubarak November 29, 2009 at 21:58

    I wonder … as I often do … I wonder … if all Christians prayed a whole Rosary for every present or luxury they bought at Christmas … would they buy less … or pray more?

    God bless you all and may you have a peaceful Christmas season.

  13. 13 Morinne November 29, 2009 at 22:02

    I wonder, Victor, I wonder! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Gabriella, you really touched my soul .. more than did the priest at the noisy Mass this morning. Kudos.

  14. 14 Rachel M November 30, 2009 at 01:35

    I’ve noticed that the closer I’ve drawn to Christ the less the materialism of the Christmas season effects me. I find I am less drawn in by the hype of shopping, decorating and so on. This is not to say that I don’t feel a sense of excitement. Just the opposite actually. I start the season of Lent with deep introspection and a desire to acknowledge and confess the root of sins that still have a hold on my life. There is a more intense need and desire for a more holy life. Luckily this isn’t a feeling that passes as the season changes but one that plants the seeds of a deeper relationship with Christ as the year progresses. All the tinsel and glitter pale in comparison to an ever deepening relationship my Jesus and the holiness of the Lenten season.

  15. 15 Mary Nicewarner November 30, 2009 at 03:05

    I wonder, too!

    Again, you are so on target. I am not fond of shopping. In my family the adults do not exchange presents, but we do give to the little ones. Michaela has always wondered why children get gifts on Jesus’ Birthday and I tell her that we can give Him gifts, too, by loving and helping others. These are the gifts that make Him happy. I want this Advent to be really special and I am really trying to make it so, with the help of His grace of course. Your post was inspiring, thank you, Gabriella 🙂

  16. 16 Vicki November 30, 2009 at 05:02

    I was raised protestant, so Advent wasn’t really a part of our tradition. But I certainly share your dismay at the way Christmas has become little more than “shopping season”. I enjoy it less every year, and long for a simpler, more spiritual celebration.

  17. 17 churchmouse November 30, 2009 at 11:55

    Agree with those who say that prayer lessens the effect of the materialism associated with the season. This year, for the first time in many years, all I can think of is the arrival of the Christ Child. Better and deeper prayer can make all the difference.

    Happily, mainline Protestants are also discovering the value of spiritual preparation during Advent, which is great. So, it’s not just the Catholic and Orthodox traditions anymore. (I’ll post on this later in the week on my blog.)

  18. 18 anne bender November 30, 2009 at 15:27

    Victor, I love what you said about praying a rosary for each gift received. I grew up in a family of nine children and you know we always looked to see who had the most presents each Christmas. My brother Joe always ended up with lots of presents left to open after the rest of us were long done. We asked him how he had so many presents, and his answer was “I don’t have any more presents than anyone else, but I always stop to pray a Hail Mary before each present that I open.” Wow!

  19. 19 Victor S E Moubarak November 30, 2009 at 17:00

    Well done Joe! How old was he at the time?

    This is something we can teach our little ones to do this Christmas.

  20. 20 sivan November 30, 2009 at 17:59

    Grazie del consiglio Evelina.

  21. 21 Laura November 30, 2009 at 19:05

    Buon onomastico, Andrea 🙂
    Oggi è Sant’Andrea Apostolo!

    Che Dio ti benedica.

  22. 22 Andrea November 30, 2009 at 22:18

    Graaazieee Laura,
    grazie tantissime per questo carissimo pensiero! 🙂
    Che Dio benedica anche te!

  23. 23 Antonella December 1, 2009 at 08:19

    Well Torkel…..I attend the Novus Order Mass and we have been told to prepare ourselves spiritually and mentally for Christmas. St Peter also speaks of spiritual preparation: (1 Pt 2 : 1-2)

    To prepare spiritually for Christmas through prayer and sacrifice ; these two activities build on one another in several ways. First, sacrifice amplifies the power of prayer many times over. Second actions speak louder than words (a specific action of making a special sacrifice for Advent, which will demonstrate our love for God in a concrete manner. Third, sacrifice will help us to develop a healthy self discipline, so that we will not jump at every stray impulse that comes our way. And last, the spiritual merit of any act of self denial will last for eternity.

    The spiritual preparation for Christmas will clearly help in our growth towards holiness. This is a special time when we can sort out virtues from vices, as Peter says “strip away everything deceitful, pretences, jealousies and disparaging remarks of any kind”

    To the extent we have prepared ourselves spiritually, Christmas will be meaningful.

  24. 24 Asmarina December 1, 2009 at 08:28

    Many of us are aware of the hollowness of a materialistic attitude during the Christmas season, of how it can smother the spiritual message of Christ’s birth. These days, variations of materialism are rampant everywhere even among Catholics !
    We are called, then, not just to avoid materialism in our own lives, but to serve as an example to others of simplicity of lifestyle and the priority of spiritual values over the material.

  25. 25 Torkel December 1, 2009 at 10:05

    Antonella/Asmarina: I don’t think you got the point.

    How many NOs know that Church tradition holds that there are four comings of Christ? His first coming was when He came to us in the flesh. His Second Coming is when He will come at the end of world to judge the living and the dead. However, between these two are two more; Christ’s coming into our hearts, and Christ’s coming to us at our death. The Traditional Advent Liturgy notes all four. The whole purpose of Advent is one of preparedness for this fourfold coming.

    For the NOs the penitential dimension to Advent seems to have been largely forgotten. Penance and the word Advent seem to have become an oxymoron in today’s holiday rush. It has not always been so and this is really a relatively recent development (post conciliar). As almost anyone born early in the 20th century will tell you, Christmas decorations and parties were generally limited to just that, the Christmas season. The decorations did not come up until Christmas Eve and then stayed up for the entire Christmas season which lasts for 12 days, from Christmas to Epiphany. Parties started after Christmas, not before. The popular song, the Twelve Days of Christmas, echoes some of this traditional mode of celebration. Today it is not uncommon to see Christmas trees readied for trash pickup the next day and the only Christmas season party is the one held on New Year’s Eve, which is hardly a Christ-centered celebration.

    Fasting has been a part of Advent from very early times. It is regrettable that the point of fasting is often forgotten these days. NO priests just throw out: that any act of penance may be performed in place – that’s all very well BUT statistics show that NO churchgoers have listened and understood only to the part that fast and abstinence is no longer to be taken literally! Find me one NO churchgoer that performs some other serious act of penance in place of the biblical fast and abstinence?

    How many NOs know that Fast and Abstinence in Advent, especially during the Ember Days are still mandatory?

    In very simple words: most Traditional Catholics follow the Church in all these centuries old directions, keeping to the instructions found on their traditional wall calendars, and end up having a holy advent – most NOs on the other hand have been told that fast and abstinence are not to be taken literally but they can go on and do their own thing so … naturally, most people feel lost, don’t know what to do … and end up going to Christmas parties during advent!!!

    During Advent we are still called to prepare ourselves for Christ’s birth through prayer, penance, fasting and alms giving. So the old discipline is still worth remembering and practicing as a means of preparation. To paraphrase Scripture, what profit is it to have completed one’s shopping list if one has lost the sense of the season?

  26. 26 Gemma Gennari December 1, 2009 at 11:02

    Leggendo questo post oggi sul sito Messa in Latino: mi è subito saltata in mente la bellissima O Magnum Mysterium del video qui sopra (commento di Torkel).

  27. 27 Daily Grace December 3, 2009 at 14:44

    The idea of life being lived as a spiral rather than a cycle is quite thoght provoking,and each day a renewed adventure in the struggle of the spirit to reach its Creator and achieve what they called the Sabbath rest has such a hopeful sound.

    Gabriella, your insight is always so amazing! God Bless

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