Take time to observe Advent, a season of ‘joyful expectation’

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A family lights an Advent wreath at their Maryland home. The rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath is lit the Third Week of Advent and symbolizes joy. CNS photo/Tom McCarthy Jr., Catholic Review

Advent, the season of joyful expectation before Christmas, is “a time to recognize the hole in our hearts that is made to be filled with God,” said Joan Watson, director of the Diocese of Nashville’s Office of Faith Formation. 

“Advent has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered; as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s second coming at the end of time,” said Father Benjamin Butler, pastor of St. Martha Church in Ashland City. “Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation.”

Unfortunately, Watson said, many people don’t take the time to slow down and appreciate the beauty of the season. In two upcoming public presentations, she will offer some inspiration and practical tips to help people embrace Advent, which begins this year on Sunday, Nov. 29. 

At Theology on Tap at the Cathedral of the Incarnation on Wednesday, Dec. 2 and at St. Joseph Church in Madison on Thursday, Dec. 3, she will be speaking on the topic, “When You’re Too Busy for Advent.” She will speak about the importance of spiritually preparing for Christmas in the midst of to-do lists, as well as give practical tips for making this Advent fruitful.

One of Watson’s tips is “choose a penance or sacrifice for this time. We usually think of Lent as a time to give something up, but Advent is a time of penance too,” she said. “If you make a sacrifice throughout the weeks of Advent, that will make the joy of Christmas even better.”

Also, “incorporate a new prayer practice into your daily life. Maybe it’s reading a bit of Scripture when you’re drinking your morning coffee or praying the Angelus at noon. It doesn’t have to be grandiose or a huge time commitment. Just something to make this season a little different,” she said.

Her final tip: “Be extra cheerful. Make an intentional, concentrated effort to smile and greet people,” even when you may not feel like it. 

Restrictions in place to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic will limit many people’s bustling holiday calendars this year and give them a new opportunity to observe Advent this year. 

One thing people can do from home is watch the upcoming “Reflect” video series, which will feature different priests from the diocese reflecting on the coming Sunday’s Gospel, with Bishop J. Mark Spalding offering the final reflection for Christmas. 

New videos will be released every Thursday of the Advent season and can be viewed on the Diocese of Nashville’s Facebook page and YouTube channels. 

Advent is a time of prayer and spiritual preparation, Father Butler told the diocese’s directors of religious education during a presentation at the Catholic Pastoral Center on Nov. 19. “Attend daily Mass,” he told them. “If you cannot, at least meditate on the Scripture readings assigned to the Mass that day. The Church draws from the book of the prophet Isaiah. Try to read a chapter a day of that prophetic book,” he said. 

Father Butler also recommended focusing on the key figures of the season: John the Baptist and his parents for the first half; the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph for the second half. 

“Look at the feast days of the Church,” he said. St. Nicolas on Dec. 6, The Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, and Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of the Americas, on Dec. 12. 

“Bring Advent into your home, which is the domestic church, by having an Advent wreath,” Father Butler said. “You can easily incorporate prayer with the Advent wreath. Pray the Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, sing hymns.”

Typically during Advent parishes hold Advent Penance Services, but most parishes will not be hosting them this year due to the pandemic. Some parishes have added reconciliation times to their weekly schedules to make up for that. Check with your parish for updates. 

• St. Philip Church in Franklin hosted the first Advent-related retreat in the diocese, before the season officially began. They hosted a bi-lingual parish retreat and concert, “A Season of Preparation” with Jaime Cortez, Nov. 21-23.

Born in New York and raised in El Salvador, composer and performer Cortez has dedicated a good portion of his ministry to promoting better Hispanic liturgies and bringing cultures together for worship.

• St. Ann Church will host “Advent by Candlelight,” sponsored by Regnum Christi Nashville on Dec. 5, 6:30-8:30 p.m. This is open to all women of the diocese, and will include confession, adoration and an Advent wreath blessing. For more information, contact Bridget Smith at bridgetsmith9519@gmail.com.

• St. Edward Church will host a parish mission Dec. 7-9 with limited in-person seating and livestream available. Sister Briege McKenna, O.S.C., an Irish nun who experienced a miraculous healing at a young age, and author of the books “Miracles Do Happen” and “The Power of the Sacraments,” will lead the mission. Complete information about the retreat is available at www.stedward.org

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