By Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Commentary | Published December 19, 2018 | En Español
Lent is only about two weeks longer in duration than Advent, but it does occasionally seem so much longer! Lent is the church’s primary season of penitential practices—extra prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Advent is also a penitential time, but one that is punctuated and overshadowed by a spirit of hope and expectancy. Lent is associated with self-denial and Advent with anticipation. Lent is a time of deprivation while Advent a season of optimism and expectation. Advent invites us to recall Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and to prepare us to wait for His second coming in time. Two penitential seasons with different focuses make one of them seem much longer.
As we enter this final week of Advent, we are all so ready for Christmas—especially our little ones. We continue to wear the purple penitential color that reminds us that we should be engaged in works of prayer and the healing of our hearts as proper preparation for the coming of the Christ. Most of our parishes have scheduled or already celebrated penance services or offered extended hours for confession during Advent. This shorter liturgical season is also a time for taking stock of our lives and asking for the Father’s forgiveness for our sinful failures.
This might be an opportune moment for parents to bring their kids to the sacrament of reconciliation since they too need to ask for forgiveness for faults they ought to confess. A family coming to the sacrament of reconciliation together in preparation for Christmas might set the perfect tone for the celebration of the birth of the infant who comes to bring peace to the earth—and to the homes and hearts of people everywhere.
Christmas is a time when most families find great happiness in just being together over a festive meal, unwrapping presents, telling stories and laughing uncontrollably at the goodness and joy of belonging to one another. Christmas can also be a melancholy time for those living too far away to be with loved ones, our military personnel defending our freedom in faraway places, our first responders whose jobs do not permit a holiday pause and the sick or elderly who are not able to be with their families. These people should remain in our prayers even as we enjoy the happiness of this season.
Families blessed with little ones enjoy the special grace of seeing their eyes light up with happiness at the gifts they receive and the warmth of parental and grandparental generosity. Our children are signs of the goodness of God and the wonder of the Father’s love in sharing with us His only begotten Son as our Savior.
My prayer for all of the people of our Archdiocese is that this season of Christmas will be a time that strengthens the bonds that unite us and helps us to grow ever more loving and generous toward those who do not have the many blessings that we sometimes take for granted. May each home in this local church be filled with laughter and happiness on Christmas Day and on every day in the new year of 2019. A blessed and joyful Christmas to all of you!