Black Friday 2022 was the biggest we’ve ever seen in America. According to the National Retail Federation, more than 196 million Americans shopped in stores or online from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday last year.
The tragedy is that our thirst for deals has cut into our day of festivity itself. Consumers spent $5.29 billion on Thanksgiving Day alone, largely from their smartphones. Instead of dedicating our time to family, football and gratitude, even on the holiday, Americans are scrolling and spending.
As we enter the season of Advent, God calls us to embrace a sacred time of anticipation and reflection. Advent, derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” is a time of special significance for Catholics. John Paul II describes the season by saying, “Advent is, so to speak, an intense training that directs us decisively toward him who already came, who will come and who comes continuously.” It marks the beginning of the liturgical year, inviting us to prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Today the secular celebration of Christmas often begins long before Advent commences. Amid sales and shopping sprees and even Christmas parties and concerts, it becomes increasingly crucial for us to rediscover the true essence of this sacred season. Advent serves as a spiritual oasis, a sanctuary of contemplation amid the clamor of consumerism and materialism.
The symbolic lighting of the Advent candles, one by one each week, leads us closer to the celebration of Christ’s birth and serves as a beacon of hope in a world that often feels dark and uncertain. The Advent wreath, adorned with evergreen branches, reminds us of the eternal life found in Christ, while the candles represent the increasing light that dispels the darkness — a tangible manifestation of our spiritual journey.
The Scriptures appointed for Advent guide us through the prophecies of old, echoing the longing and anticipation of the people of Israel for the promised Messiah. As we immerse ourselves in the readings, we are reminded of the historical anticipation of Christ’s first coming and our continual anticipation of his glorious return.
Moreover, Advent calls us to a profound examination of conscience and repentance. It is a time to acknowledge our shortcomings, seek reconciliation and make room in our hearts for the transformative power of Christ’s love. The Sacrament of Reconciliation becomes a pivotal aspect of our Advent journey, allowing us to approach the manger with hearts purified and ready to receive the Prince of Peace.
Family traditions, such as the Advent calendar or the Jesse Tree, provide opportunities for shared prayer and reflection. These traditions deepen our understanding of salvation history and foster a sense of unity and faith within our families. Advent becomes a time of building memories, forging bonds and passing down the richness of our Catholic heritage to the next generation.
In a world that often prioritizes the external trappings of the season, Advent challenges us to seek a different kind of preparation — one that transcends the material and touches the depths of our spiritual longing. It beckons us to slow down, to savor the beauty of waiting and to cultivate a sense of quiet joy that arises from the assurance of God’s promises fulfilled.
Prayer is the only recourse. Pope Francis explains that “Advent is thus a favorable time to pray with greater intensity, to reserve to the spiritual life the important place it deserves.” Time with God, intentionally responding to his invitation to share from the depths of our hearts, is the only thing strong enough to save us from the pre-Christmas chaos.
Dedicate yourself to prayer this Advent. Commit yourself to setting just 15 minutes apart each day for prayer. Pick up an Advent devotional, like “Oriens” (OSV, $20.95) or “My Daily Visitor” (OSV, $4.95) to inspire your prayer. Make a plan and don’t be swept up in the stresses and pressures of the holidays.
As we embark on this sacred journey of Advent, let us embrace the season with open hearts and receptive spirits. Let the traditions, prayers and reflections of this season be a source of inspiration, drawing us closer to the heart of the Incarnation. By observing Advent with intentionality and devotion, we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth and the ongoing transformation of our lives in his divine light.