Preparing for Advent 2018: Five Suggestions

This year Advent is very short. It begins on the evening of Saturday, 1 December, and lasts barely three weeks, so we must make the most of it. Here in the monastery, Advent is eagerly anticipated. We relish the simplicities of the season — the silence, the haunting chants we sing in choir, the wonderful prophecies we read, even the extra plainness of the food we eat. Sadly, we are unable to begin with our usual three days of complete silence because I am scheduled to have chemotherapy on Thursday and the side-effects affect everyone for a week or so. I will have to accept that as humbly as I can, knowing that others are being very patient and kind. It does mean, however, that we need to keep our focus if Advent is to do its work in us.

Benedict does not mention Advent in the Rule, which is not surprising as Western Christians were only just beginning to observe it as a liturgical season at the time of his birth. He does, however, have a great deal to say about the things that make for a blessed and fruitful Advent. He is keen on silence, prayer, the common life; he wants us to read the scriptures, act humbly, justly, and forgive readily. These may be easier in a monastery, where everyone is vowed to live according to the Rule, than in society at large, but I think there are some practical suggestions any Christian can make their own. May I suggest the following?

  1. Read every day the lessons appointed to be read at Mass (the Eucharist). In that way, even if you can’t go to Mass yourself, you will be joining with the whole Church throughout the world in this great act of preparation for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
  2. Try to find a few minutes for prayer each day. Don’t worry if circumstances aren’t ideal. It is what God thinks of our prayer that matters, not our assessment of it, and thankfully God seems much more easily satisfied than we are. Just try.
  3. Try to cultivate a few minutes of silence each day, too. Learning to let God love us can only happen if we make some space for him in our lives. Constant chatter, especially angry chatter, isn’t helpful. Yes, there may be times when we explode, but we can try to be quieter, more patient, more open to God.
  4. Keep it simple; keep it kind. Many want to celebrate Christmas before we have even begun Advent. No one wants to be the party-pooper who sprinkles the vinegar of disapproval over everyone else’s fun. A mince pie or two is not going to lead to eternal damnation! The jolliest man I ever knew drank nothing but water and ate sparingly. It was his joie de vivre and kindly nature that made him such a delight. Most of us, alas, are not so obviously attractive, so it is better to nibble away at the festive goodies with a warm smile than refuse with a self-righteous sniff.
  5. Try not to worry about the commercialism of it all, or your inability to meet some of the demands made on you. God did not come into the world to make us sad or unhappy. He knows our weaknesses; he knows our strengths, too.  As we get older, we begin to appreciate that giving is a surer way of finding happiness than amassing things for ourselves. We may think we have nothing to give, but a kind word, a few minutes of our time, even a smile can be a precious gift to share with another.

That is more than enough, I’m sure. Do, please, share your own ideas in the comment section below. A quick search in the sidebar will provide anyone interested with a selection of earlier posts on this subject. The section on Advent in our main website also contains information about the history of the season, the O antiphons and some Advent traditions. You can read it here. Flash is needed to play the music files.

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34 thoughts on “Preparing for Advent 2018: Five Suggestions”

  1. First, I totally understand sister. Advent is a sad time for many, due to the lost of loved ones in the lead up to Christmas. I for one, horour You! Thank-you for the above suggestions! In God’s grace Ruth

  2. Thank you dear Sister for your helpful advice, here are my thoughts on the subject. While St Benedict doesn’t mention Advent in his Rule, as this article says, it is worth bearing in mind that for Orthodox Christians Advent is considered as a Little Lent. In Western Churches the fact that vestments are purple for most of Advent are something of an echo of this too. It is worth bearing in mind that St Benedict does speak of Lent observances and so in that respect, he also speaks of Advent observances. If we can manage to keep a spirit of this in our hearts, apart from the commercialised nonsense that we have to put up with, (although if you like me are irritated by it, you can use this as a kind of penitence as well). when Christmas comes, the contrast can make it that much more of a celebration.

  3. Balance, always balance, trying to discern when we’re simply fudging it. Because of my husband’s planned operation – now cancelled – our son-in-law got the Christmas decorations out of the loft for us. They’ve been sitting now, black plastic bags and boxes, taking up space in the living room (tiny cottage), gathering dust and I’m fed up of the mess. This Sunday, the 1st in Advent, the tree’s going up decorated with baubles and lights; but the lights won’t get switched on till Gaudete Sunday. A beautiful tree still but waiting for the glorious light. A reasonable compromise?

  4. Thank you again. So very wise and helpful- especially the advice to go on trying – and to have a smile always lurking at the ready.

  5. Thank you so much for these very helpful and manageable suggestions. Every year I promise myself that “this year will be different, all my presents bought and cards written by 1st December so I can spend more time in quiet reflection during Advent”. Of course it never happens and this year due to family members’ health problems I seem to be more behind than usual. At least I can try to read the scriptures and pray. I do find it sad that people start to celebrate so early now – I have seen trees up already – and then they are fed up with it by Christmas night!
    I do hope and pray that your chemo isn’t too taxing this time and wish you a blessed Advent.

  6. I am so grateful to wake up each morning with your post being the first one to read. Thank you for sharing this list of suggestions to help prepare for Advent. And Sister. I will keep you in my prayers especially Thursday when you have the Chemo. I will pray that the following days will be easier on you. Peace and All Good. Pam.

  7. Thank you for your suggestions Sr Catherine. You mentioned plainer food in Advent, was there originally fasting during Advent?

    • We fast on Fridays during Advent, but there is a longer and fuller tradition — too complicated for me to describe here. If you google ‘St Martin’s Lent’ or have a look at Wikipedia here, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nativity_Fast, you should find some leads.Today, in the Latin Rite Catholic Church, Advent fasting is no longer de riguer; the Eastern Catholic Church has a different discipline. Milan still observes an Advent of sic weeks like the Orthodox.

  8. May I suggest being aware and open to the movement of God’s love through us directed towards others when opportunity presents itself? In line at the grocery store, for example, contributing to the shopper struggling to pay for groceries. Cauliflower Cheese (thank you, Sister Catherine for your recipe) never tasted so good as when we gifted the woman ahead of us with her chosen cauliflower and other items she would have left behind otherwise. Plenty of opportunities if we keep our hearts and eyes open rather than on the commercialization of the season.

    Will keep you and your community in our prayers as you make your way through another chemo session.

  9. After having several weeks abroad for work since August, and a particularly intense period of long hours trying to catch up since I got back, I’m currently trying to catch up on my housework! I’d like the place looking respectable by Christmas, even if I won’t be here. I always seem to do lots of cleaning before the decorations go up.

    The other thing I always do during December, is catch up with friends and family I don’t see very often, whether in person or with cards: Giving a little more time and energy away, you could say!

    Not sure that either fit in with Advent-proper; but that’s the lovely thing about your blog. It helps act as a reminder to find time and space for faith – and balancing it all out.

  10. One of the challenges for those in work is that the period up to Christmas can be incredibly busy. The secular world (and the employer who pays me – gor, bless you guvnor) has masses of deadlines to meet before Christmas (and the same happens re Lent/Easter). Advent can just disappear in a work blur (plus some alcohol blur :).

    I think the challenge is to find a quiet space in such a busy time. And even more so for those who are wondering how to provide for their loved ones or children. I am aware that the Samaritans find this their busiest time for calls.

    I pray that we can find periods of peace in this holy, but very hectic time. And thank you to Sister Catherine for her ministry here.

    • I sympathize. Sometimes, however, members of the Church can be just as insensitive. I remember once being handed on Christmas Eve a diocesan booklet to edit and print, with a deadline just after Christmas!

  11. Thank you Sister and praying the chemo does not hit too hard. Already do the reading not an not good on the silence!!
    Having our own Advent – waiting for the delayed arrival of first grandchild and praying/trusting desperately that all will be well.

  12. You speak of “reading the scriptures”: my daughter (a Welsh Independent minister) and her congregation are reading a chapter a day of St Luke’s Gospel starting this Saturday, and I think the idea of ‘Little Lent’ is still alive in these parts.

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