By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published November 12, 2021
ATLANTA—Before the Thanksgiving leftovers are put away, retail stores, commercials and advertisements hurry us into the Christmas season. To do lists, Christmas music on the radio and holiday-themed parties proclaim Dec. 25 long before it arrives.
However, “Advent is a time of expected waiting,” says Brother Mark Dohle, retreat house leader and Trappist monk at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. It is a time of preparation, to rid yourself of anything that keeps you away from loving God and others, he said.
The season of Advent includes the four Sundays and weekdays leading up to Christmas. It marks a new liturgical year and is symbolized by the color purple. This year, Advent begins on Sunday, Nov. 28.
While Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, “Advent reminds us that Christ came to us in human form to share our experience as humans,” said Deacon Brad Young of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw.
“God, in order to somehow reveal himself to us, he sent Jesus to reveal who the Father is,” said Brother Dohle. “The love of God is so personal, so deep, that he would send his son into the world to suffer and die for all of us.”
That’s a revelation the Incarnation presents, said Brother Dohle.
‘Savor the season’
Advent is the first important season of the liturgical year, said Pope Francis during the First Sunday of Advent Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in 2020.
“Confidently waiting for the Lord allows us to find comfort and courage in the dark moments of our lives,” said the pope.
“Advent is a continuous call to hope,” said the Holy Father. “It reminds us that God is present in history to lead it to its ultimate goal and to its fullness, which is the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As the season of Advent approaches, Sarah Otto prepares for an annual personal retreat.
“I always anticipate the season because I know a retreat is coming for myself,” she said. “It’s time for me to slow down and savor the season.”
Otto is the retreat and program director for Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center in Atlanta. Advent is her favorite liturgical season because of its text and Scripture readings.
The Old Testament prophets are dreaming about what the world can be like, said Otto. This is such a special time to step back at the beginning of the liturgical year and think about hopes and dreams, she said.
“To have a season dedicated for quiet, for preparation, for daydreaming, really is such a beautiful invitation,” said Otto.
“I especially love the quiet, the silence, and the waiting that are all a part of the Advent season,” said Helen Young, spiritual director and adult faith formation teacher. “I’m not a patient waiter, but for this season I enter into the waiting.”
Young leads Lent and Advent retreats with her husband, Deacon Young. Their ministry focuses on marriage and married couples. Both are parishioners at St. Catherine of Siena Church and will lead an Advent retreat at Purification Heritage Center this year.
“Slowing down, spiritually and physically—it’s the opposite of secular busyness,” said Helen.
Our society is very busy this time of year with Christmas shopping, planning for family gatherings and buying gifts, said Otto. Advent invites all to remember simplicity and to slow down to hear the voice of God in our lives, she said.
Traditions inspire time with God, family
Meiling Familo, coordinator of family faith formation for kindergarten through fifth grade at St. Matthew Church in Tyrone, is planning Advent activities for parish families.
This year, parents and children will decide which corporal and spiritual works of mercy to do together during the season.
There is a purpose during Advent, said Familo. Instead of concentrating on the commercial part of it, focus on the spiritual, she said.
“Instead of just teaching the kids, we’re sharing our faith with the family,” said Familo. We hope it will bring the domestic church to their home, she said.
The season of Advent includes various traditions that encourage Catholics to spend more time with God. The most iconic being the lighting of the Advent wreath. Each Sunday of Advent, a pink or purple candle is lit on the wreath symbolizing the coming of Jesus. Some include a white candle in the center for Christmas Day.
Additional traditions include following an Advent calendar, going to confession and participating in a retreat or day of reflection.
Stripping away the extras and returning to the basics of the sacraments, prayer and self-denial creates a space for God, which is a good way to start a new year, said Helen.
Deacon Young invited Catholics to reflect on something they can do to grow spiritually closer to Christ during the season. It could be a daily prayer to start the day or a service commitment.
“Whatever it is, it should be an offering of thanksgiving to our God who loves us so much,” he said.
Otto encourages Catholics to reflect on the daily readings in the Lectionary during the Advent season. And instead of playing Christmas music, try listening to Advent music. Playlists are available on various streaming services.
“Faith is something you have to work on,” said Brother Dohle. “It’s not something you can take for granted. It’s a relationship with God. So like any relationship, you have to work—work with it and work through it.”