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How Should I Prepare for Advent?

November 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Advent, Fr. Bartunek

Dear Father John, Advent is coming! Even from a distance I feel my shoulders tightening up from the stress of all the noise of the season that has nothing to do with Christ. Do you have any recommendations for how I might better prepare this year? Are you aware of any good books for post on how should i prepare for Adventthat I can use for spiritual reading through this season to help me to keep my eyes on Christ?

Thank you for asking this question BEFORE Advent arrives! I am sure you are not the only one with the tightening-shoulder-syndrome. I am also sure that the tightening of your shoulders does not come from the Holy Spirit. So, what to do? You may want to read over some of our Advent posts from the past. But in the meantime, I would like to offer five suggestions.

First, decide what you are going to say “no” to. The Advent and Christmas Seasons get filled up with a lot of stuff. We end up rushing around so much – parties, visits with relatives and friends, family reunions, kids back from college, shopping, school concerts, vacation, service projects, parish activities… To stay spiritually grounded during these weeks of intense activity requires planning ahead. It didn’t used to require as much as it does now, by the way. In past ages, local customs defined how families and communities spent their time. Nowadays, however, we have so many options that we end up over-committing ourselves and going 100 mph. It’s hard to pray in that scenario. It’s hard to reflect and enjoy God’s gifts. It’s hard to avoid becoming self-absorbed and superficial.

The remedy? Well, as mundane as it may sound, we have to apply basic time/energy management techniques. Sit down with your spouse (maybe with the whole family) sometime this month, before Thanksgiving, and look at the calendar. Go through it. Identify the commitments that you must fulfill and the ones that you really want to commit to. Consciously, intentionally decide to make those truly meaningful. (In going over your calendar, think about including some of the items mentioned below.) Then consciously, intentionally decide to say “no” to other things that come up on the spur of the moment – well, at least don’t say “yes” to them right away; wait until you can talk it over with your spouse. This will give you a measure of interior peace right from the start – you won’t be at the mercy of the apparently urgent tugs that are sure to come. And you won’t end up at the last minute trying to squeeze all the important things into three or four days of hectic activity. You will have planned ahead. Remember, peace is the tranquility that comes from order (that’s St. Augustine).

Second, change your meditation material. I am assuming that you have a daily God-time in which you engage in personal prayer, in Christian meditation. If you don’t – start! If you do, think about changing the source you are using for your meditation. If you have been meditating on the daily liturgy, for example, think about switching to a devotional book of some sort (for example, you could simply meditate on the Gospel of St. Luke, start to finish, using the commentaries in The Better Part, one unit per day). If you have been using a favorite devotional, switch to the liturgy, or to another devotional (like Alban Goodier’s classic The Prince of Peace — if you can find a copy). The liturgical seasons are given to us precisely because we need to change things up. We are creatures with one foot in time and another in eternity. This means we need rhythms in our lives, and rhythm means some things stay the same (Advent comes every year), but some things change (Advent doesn’t last all year). This needs to be reflected in our spiritual disciplines. I would like to invite ALL our readers to share ideas for this by commenting on Advent/Christmas books and devotionals that have helped them in the past!

Third, plug into your parish. Every parish has Advent and Christmas liturgies (like the daily Mass liturgies and the Advent penitential services), and they also have other seasonal activities (like Christian service projects). Engaging in them as a family (if possible) will help you keep Christ in the center, and it will also help you help others to keep Christ in the center. Building up your parish by participating in these liturgies and activities is a specific, nitty-gritty way to build up the Kingdom of Christ on earth. Personally, I would love to see as many parishioners going to daily Mass during Advent as we see during Lent.

Fourth, do an Advent retreat. This could be a weekend retreat, a retreat organized in your diocese or offered by a local retreat center, or just a simple personal retreat that you do during a full day or half day in a quiet place away from the ordinary hustle and bustle (like a convent or a monastery). We need silence and reflection in our lives – this has been a constant motif in the Holy Father’s series of catecheses on prayer. Even a daily God-time, lived with devotion and dedication, needs to be bolstered once in a while with extended periods of silence and prayer. Bring some good spiritual reading on your retreat, and maybe work in some extra time for more-than-usual spiritual reading throughout Advent. A worthy spiritual reading project would be to download from the Vatican website the Midnight Mass homilies of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and those of Blessed John Paul II (he gave 26 of them!). Make a booklet out of them and work through them little by little…

Fifth, choose your entertainment strategically. We all benefit from the inspiration and relaxation that entertainment affords us. We actually need to make healthy recreation a part of our lives – we are not robots, after all. But too often we aren’t strategic about this; we just kind of do whatever everyone else does, or whatever we have always done. Take some time to reflect, individually and as a family, on what entertainment activities you will enjoy during Advent and Christmas. Maybe you will want to fast from a particular activity during Advent (it is a penitential season, after all). Maybe you will want to schedule some sledding adventures (with lots of hot cocoa when you come home!). Or maybe you will simply want to watch your four favorite Christmas movies, together as a family (maybe even inviting friends over), on the Saturdays before each of the four Sundays of Advent. With a lot of fresh popcorn. It’s a Wonderful Life, for example, is a powerful film that can provide necessary relaxation and also spiritual inspiration. I would invite our readers to share their favorite Christmas movies to get some ideas flowing (I just mentioned mine)!

These are suggested actions you can take to make sure you don’t miss Advent (although the first item, I would say, is a little bit more than a suggestion – I think it is a necessity!). But it’s important to remember that the primary agent in making for a spiritually fruitful Advent is God. We can make adjustments and do our best to have our activities reflect our true priorities, but in the end, God is the one most interested in using this liturgical season to draw us closer to himself, to fill us with more of his wisdom, and to give us new tastes of supernatural joy. We need to follow his lead. He will draw us and guide us and inspire us – if we let him.

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Art for this post on how to prepare for Advent: Adventkranz (liturgisch) [Advent wreath (liturgical)], Andrea Schaufler, 2 December 2006 own work, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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  • Wonderful suggestions! I am excited for Christmas this year!
    One tradition my family tries to follow is to attend a novena night Mass during the nine days leading up to Christmas. The Masses are very festive with some of the best choirs in the area giving free concerts before the Mass, trees strung with Christmas lights outside the Church and stalls selling comfort food and churros with hot chocolate! 😀

    • Alexandra Campbell

      oh how I wish I lived somewhere where these types of activities were available! someday I will move and it will have to be to a city with tons of gorgeous churches, probably NYC!

      • judeen

        you are needed where you are.. I was told once that if there is a dead church that does nothing and a spiritual chuch full of the Holy Spirit , where must you go… everyone flocks to the 2 church to get fed.. but if you are full of God then you must stay at the 1st church and get things started , bring in talks. help others grow in faith .. that is why you are there.. and you can do it… talk to the preist, to the organizations to get it going… God will put the people in your path to do it.. do it all in prayer… and let God work through you… put it the bullitin… dont let the same people in charge of it for it will just go nowhere… and stay the same… find new people who want the church to be full of God.. have monk, nuns pray for your parish… just call or send a email… God has put this on your heart…. for a reason .. listen to the HOlySpirit

  • jack g.

    Since my conversion 2 yrs ago, and even prior to
    that, I try to give something up, just like for lenten season. To me it is about
    giving and so I give what I can extra to God. The challenge used to be with
    doing it joyfully. Last year I gave most of my smoking and on Christmas eve
    Mass at midnight I gave it up. It was a long journey and I have tried to give up
    smoking for many years, many times. Never worked. This time I had cut down on it
    for a few months and prayed for help every day for few months.

    I am Polish and a mass was at a Divine Mission in
    Lombard, Ill http://www.milosierdzie.us where there
    is a huge painting of Jesus and a Polish Black Madonna from Czestochowa.

    I begged my Lady for help and asked for intercession of not yet blessed
    then, Pope John Paul II. When I left the mass at 2 am, it was it. It has been
    almost a year and I haven’t have had a craving yet. When I wanted to smoke I
    just prayed a Hail Mary and that was it. No real cravings, it was a miracle for
    me.

    Anyway this year is sweets and as far as spiritual reading I recommend
    “The City of God”, by Mary of Agreda. It was written in 1650’s and her body is
    still incorrupt.

    It is available at Amazon.com or http://www.themostholyrosary.com/mystical-city.htm in
    four volumes and in an abbreviated version at http://www.tanbooks.com . It all about Mary, City of
    God and was recommended by a few Popes in the past, too. A lot of theology and a
    lot Scripture.

  • Avila Power

    Dear Father, Thank you for all those suggestions, indeed very helpful. I live on my own so I will set aside extra hours in the days to be spent in quite prayer and meditation. So necessary for ones soul. To ponder on the great and glorious event that is to take place. How blessed we are to have Spiritual Direction to help and guide us , so we can develop an even deeper relationship with Our Lord. Thank you Fr. I do have your book ‘The Better Part’ which I purchased from Lauren Hawkesworth. She is a consecrated Regnum Christi member who came out to SA a few years ago with her sisters Angela and Carolyn. I have known the family for 33 years. Beautiful family.
    I have since emigrated to Australia, but I do keep in touch with them.

  • Angelafontenot

    One of our favorite family activities during advent is to watch The Birth of Christ Christmas Cantata by Andrew T. Miller. It is beautiful and inspiring!
    I also recommend the book or audio CD, Dawn of the Messiah, by Edward Sri, as advent reading material. His insight into Mary and the scriptures is remarkable.

  • Cathid

    Our parish has an event where families can come and make an Advent Wreath together. I just refuse to buy into starting the Christmas Season before Halloween as some would like us to do. I love the Bumper Sticker that says Keep Christ in Christmas. I’d like one that says Keep Christmas in December.

  • judeen

    years ago.. when I was small.. mom always made us clean the whole house from top to bottom… “when need to get ready for christmas the house needs to be clean and ready like our souls need to be clean and ready for the coming of Jesus Christ.. we are going to celebrate His birth cookies to make so much to do .. but yet we could not eat them.. for it was a fast… reading our soul for Jesus like lent… mom also said mary and josheph suffered ,, they went through alot to get there… it was hard.. so too we can fast and remember what they went through for Jesus.. and us..

  • rosemarie kury

    I also try to give something up during Advent, sometimes just an extra cup of coffee, sometimes by being extra nice to my husband and friends.  Even trying to be cheerful on days you might feel down is a real sacrifice.

    But then by Christmas I feel I’ve done something.  I always try and keep in mind that this is  religious holiday.  So, I don’t do any Christmas decorating at all until the week before and mostly Christmas Eve.  Thats when I put my outdoor Nativity set out (barring bad weather and the high winds we sometimes have).  

  • Susan Bailey

    I used to truly hate the Advent/Christmas season. I sought help from the priest in my parish and he recommended immersing myself in the scriptures from Advent. The readings in particular from Isaiah are so full of hopeful expectation and they are so poetic.

    I find that following Mary’s journey and meditating about her helps a lot.

    I put off decorating my house for Christmas until the last minute in an effort to get every last inch out of Advent. I only put up an Advent wreath and in the morning before I go to work, I light the appropriate candle(s), sit at the table with my breakfast, read the day’s readings, read a short Advent meditation and sing a quick Advent song like O Come O Come Emmanuel.

    Quiet music that is NOT Christmas-oriented is really nice too. Forgive the plug but but I am a musician and have put together a meditative collection of Advent-into-Christmas songs that you can find on Amazon called Wait with Me: Advent of the Promised Son. They grew, in part, out of the advice my parish priest gave me years ago.

    • Susan – great ideas. For anyone interested in Susan’s music collection you can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Wait-Me-Advent-Promised-Son/dp/B001EDTP3K/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1321386235&sr=8-2

    • Becky Ward

      The songs of Advent are what move me!!

      Console my people the ones dear to me
      Speak to the heart of Jerusalem
      The time of your mourning has ended now
      The Lord of Life has come.

      A voice cries out in the wilderness…prepare the way of the Lord…
      A voice cries out in the wilderness….make straight a pathway for God.

      I will check out your CD Susan. Advent music is hard to find.

    • Becky Ward

      Listening now……with goosebumps and tears……..you have a beautiful voice Susan. What a gift.

      Thanks for ‘the plug’

  • Joan M

    I like the Little Blue Book on Advent & Christmas seasons put out by the Diocese of Saginaw,MI They also have a Little Black Book for Lent. They are new each year & have been very helpful. I’ve been getting them for quite a few years. Joan M.

  • ThirstforTruth

    Thank you Father for the wonderful suggestions for a more meaningful and holy Advent. I tried going to read your past Advent postings ( Advent Anxiety)
    but the post was no longer available, Could you possibly repost this? Thanks in advance…also my spiritual reading for this season includes the wonderfully inspirational writings of Caryll Houselander, especially her Child in Winter!

  • Susan

    Thank you for all of the ‘thoughtful’ suggestions! It is so encouraging to realize how deeply others desire to enter the season of Advent ready to behold our King. I minister to women and I begin prompting them in October to prepare for Advent. That preparation includes all Christmas Cards addressed and stamped, gifts purchased and wrapped, and a thoughtful assessment of what activities will be placed within that Season. The thought behind this is that we usually participate in the secular anxiety of consumption and hurry from Thanksgiving to Christmas rather than the Liturgical ‘waiting’. The same effort required to spend 30 days buying and wrapping can be done in October or November. The difference is that you can withdraw from the commercial manipulation of constant Christmas music (Christmas hasn’t yet arrived!) and tension, and simply and quietly wait with Mary. She has a baby coming and so do we. Our Lord desires to be born again within us…and again and again and again. The Advent Music recommendation is one of my favorites. Thank you Susan for the gift of suggestion. As we all prepare our hearts to receive the Child Jesus, earnestly resist the non-liturgical force of celebrating now and in exhaustion removing all of the symbolisms and festivities the day after Christmas. You may miss the visitation of the Wise Men. You may miss your visitation. I wait with an expectant and joyful heart with all of you.

  • Rd2Emmaus

    I have benefited from “In Conversation with God” volume One on Advent and Christmastide by Francis Fernandez. This year I’m going to meditate with Fulton Sheen’s “Advent and Christmas”. The movies we watch each year are “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol with the Muppets” (no- you are not too old! Most of the humor in the movie is meant for the parents watching it. It’s a good reminder to live in the sacrament of the present moment that Jean-Pierre Caussade speaks of, despite it being a secular movie)

  • Rd2Emmaus

    It appears that “Prince of Peace” by Alban Goodier, which Father Bartunek recommended, is available to read free of charge on the online free library:  http://www.archive.org/stream/theprinceofpeace00gooduoft#page/n5/mode/2up

    • Rosemaid

      Thanks so much for the link to “Prince of Peace”. Blessings on all <

    • LizEst

      I second Rosemaid’s comment. Thank you for the link! It’s much appreciated. God bless you Rd2Emmaus!

    • Camila

      Rd2Emmaus,
      Thank you for the link.

  • A. Crawford

    The nuns from the House of Ephesus released an Advent CD last year; all of their work is truly lovely. Here is the link for purchasing it: http://www.amazon.com/Advent-Ephesus-Benedictines-Queen-Apostles/dp/B009UECNXO/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1385391648&sr=1-1-fkmr1&keywords=house+of+ephesus+advent+music

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