The Catholic world (according to my social media accounts) is filled right now with a determination to make this Advent a meaningful season. The faithful are rediscovering that Advent was originally a penitential season second only to Lent. They are renewing the traditions of Ember Days and fasting during this season as they seek to make themselves ready for the arrival of the Christ Child. The “Spirit of Vatican II” generation is seeking to regain what has been lost in the last 40 years in terms of focus and tradition, and they are eagerly embracing self-denial and somberness as a contrast for the celebration of Christmas which is coming.
It is a shame that we do not embrace the feast days with the same fervor.
The modern faithful are good at self-denial. We excel at penitence. We eagerly embrace the hardships of Lent, and now Advent, and use these times to draw ourselves ever closer to God, but we forget the rest of it. We forget the joy. We pass too quickly over the reward.
Our lives are enriched by Advent wreaths, Jesse trees, and praying the O Antiphons; but when was the last time we celebrated the Presentation in the Temple, or threw a party to celebrate Epiphany? Do we celebrate them, or have then just faded into being a part of January?
Christmas was once a celebration stretching from December 25th to the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th, and then on to the Baptism of Our Lord in February. We modern Catholics seem to have forgotten that, and can barely bring ourselves to spend more than a day in the Christmas season before the tree is down, the decorations are boxed up, and exhausted parents everywhere declare that we are “glad that that is over.”
Christmas Day itself expends its energy in an orgy of present unwrapping long before lunchtime. This holy day then becomes all about work, travel and trying to cram in seeing as many people as possible before the 2 year old melts down into a fit at Grandma’s house. Come Monday morning, we will either be back in the stores hunting for bargains or back in the office at work, and Ordinary Time will have descended upon us once more.
No wonder we are exhausted. We have created our faith lives to mirror the way we live. It is all rush and busyness without a moment set aside to just bask in the overflowing joy of Christmas.
Our liturgical calendar is broken up into feast days, penitential seasons, and ordinary time. Why is it that we so eagerly ignore one third of the calendar? Why are we so fervent in the things which discipline our spirits and deny ourselves, and yet we are so dispassionate about the days which God has given us for our souls to soar?
Why are we afraid of merriment and revelry? They, too, are part of God’s plan.
This year, why not change things? Embrace the trials of Advent. Push yourself as far as prayer and self-denial can take you, but when it is over, be sure to treasure the Christmas season as well. Find the joy. Lift your voice in song and praise. Remember that this time of year is a gift and treat it that way, and don’t allow yourself to slip back into the everyday drudge of ordinary time before you actually get there.
photo credit: By Bubamara (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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