Much Beloved Friends,
During my brief stay in Costa Rica this week I spotted my first fully decorated Christmas tree of the year! As well, not long ago the secular world began to “sell” the holidays.
Rather than allowing time along with the world to mercilessly thrust us into this season, how can we better prepare for Advent this year? How can we deepen our union with God and avoid allowing the world to stir up anxiety and distraction when we should be increasing our devotion to God?
Advent should be a time of entering into the themes of anticipation, joy and hope and allowing them to permeate our days leading up to the birth of our Savior and then lingering with Him into the New Year.
Here is a five step framework that can help us better assess our current spiritual trajectory and how we might adjust in a way in keeping with the wisdom of the Church.
The first step is to look back: How was your Advent last year? Did it catch you by surprise? Were you ready? If not and you can remember well enough, take a minute and write down the reasons why you feel Advent was far less fruitful than it should have been last year. Take a moment to ask the Lord to reveal the circumstances, the decisions you made, and maybe a glimpse into a better way.
The second step is to consider where we are now: Is drawing near to God this Advent on the top of your priority list? Is it really? What evidence is there besides your good desire? Have you already determined your path to a more complete “yes” to God in this season? If so, specifically how? What penitential practices will you pursue? What needs to be cleansed in your soul to properly prepare for the coming King? What patterns of sin or selfishness need to be broken? What commitments have you made regarding liturgical or sacramental participation? How can and will you love God and others more completely this year? What spiritual reading have you purchased and set aside? Are you, are we, really ready?
The third step is to consider how our participation in Apostoli Viae might help us in our desire to draw near to God: Many of you have a very high interest in the AV path. One helpful approach might be to review this post and maybe adopt an element that you have yet to incorporate into your life: What is Required to Associate with Apostoli Viae Beyond the Sojourner Phase?
Whatever you decide to do, one secret of spiritual progress is that of taking baby steps. After you have asked all of these questions of yourself you might begin to feel badly about your present spiritual progress or past decisions and over-react by taking on too much. This is not His will. Instead we should simply observe the less than optimal reality from a detached state and prayerfully discern what makes sense moving forward. If you discover something you need to take to confession, do so without self-condemnation. Participation in the sacrament of penance this way will give you strength to avoid the same mistakes this year.
The fourth step is to write down exactly what you want to change and how you will change it (by God’s grace): As many of you have read or are reading “Into the Deep” you might use the AV approach to a solemn commitment in a similar way regarding Advent. You can take this plan before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and make a solemn commitment to the approach He is revealing to you.
If I may suggest a priority of elements to consider, here is my own approach based upon the simple priorities provided by the endless depths of our beautiful tradition:
1. Sacramental participation – how will I draw near to Him in a unique way this year?
2. Prayer – how will I adjust my daily prayer to better orient my heart to Him this year?
3. Ascesis – how will I better clean and prepare my heart through ascetical practices which may include specific acts of prayer, reflection through spiritual reading and sacramental participation that might be challenging but very beneficial? How can I better serve others in this time?
It is God’s desire to pour out His graces upon you during this holy season. Open up your heart to Him and further embrace the narrow way. You will find Him there and He will lead you ever deeper into His Advent in time and eternity.
Don’t forget… baby steps.
The fifth step is to be prepared for opposition and to remember Rules #5 and #6 of St. Ignatius first rules for discernment: Never make a change to your resolutions when in desolation and redouble your commitments tempted to abandon or reduce them.
Finally, if you have already made specific plans or have any good ideas, please share them with the group!
Be assured of my prayers.
Unum est Necessarium