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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.