“Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope…”
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Seek That Which Is Above, 1986
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s words invite us to remember that from life’s beginning, God lives with us in an intimate way. This realization is the basis for Christian hope, the hallmark of Advent. Advent is primarily about the present time, where we work out our salvation. But to appreciate Advent, we remember the past. This includes the long history of God’s communications with civilizations that preceded the divine revelation to the Jewish people and the revelations that came in the person of Jesus. Advent also anticipates the future and the final realization of our lifelong encounter with God at life’s end and at Jesus’ second coming.
Keeping these notions in mind, we reflect on memories of Advent that help us approach this season with hope.
What are our memories of Advent?
Mine began as a small child, when it didn’t mean much to me. Advent was the time after Thanksgiving, when family members worked especially hard in our small dry goods store to prepare for Christmas. The season was laced with secular work activities. As I got older and worked in the store, I kept in mind that it was Advent. Our Catholic faith taught us that our store was a place where we could live our faith. This attitude of linking faith and hard work permeated the personal relationships and moral activities that were part of our lives.
As time went on, such childhood experiences and memories strongly influenced me. Attitudes assimilated early in life included:
1. the need to root life in deep-seated values, like the ones learned in my family, at the store, and in the parish.
2. the importance of blending church attendance, reception of the sacraments, faith, and secular activities. In a sense, these came together as we went to church, lived at home, and worked hard in the store during Advent to prepare for Christmas.
3. the need to develop personal goals directed toward living a happy life here and eternal salvation later.
As a child, I learned that I am made in God’s image, created to praise God, serve my neighbors, do good, avoid evil, live with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit forever in heaven, and be a faithful Catholic here on earth. To do this, I needed to keep my Christian goals before me, so that what I strive to do every day is based on Christian values.
As I reflect back on my life, my memories bring me hope. I realize that we are never alone. God is always with us. Because Jesus saved us, we receive God’s help to live a good life. The Holy Spirit offers us the grace to do good and avoid evil. Often, this is not easy in our materialistic, relativistic, and amoral world, just as it was not easy for our family to keep a balance of secular and spiritual values during Advent, when we worked hard in our store to prepare for Christmas.
In retrospect, Advent mirrored our everyday life, lived with God, family, friends, and parish. These memories are the basis of my Christian hope. What Jesus taught us about hope in the Scriptures, I learned through the "living life bible," acted out in my family’s home, parish, and small dry goods store.
The following Advent reflections may help us think more deeply of our values, goals, and activities as we search for life’s meaning.
Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like a man who found a valuable pearl. (Matthew 13:45) After he found it, he sold what he had and bought it. In Advent language, the pearl of great price can be regarded as the basic insight about ourselves and our activities that we strive to discover during this season. We ask ourselves, “What is this pearl for me?” What can help me find unity and purpose in my daily activities?
1. We begin our search by calling upon the Holy Spirit in prayer to help us find unity and purpose in life. As we do so, we reflect on core insights of the Christian faith, such as: God so loved us that He gave his only begotten Son, so that if we believe in him and live by his words, we will be saved. (John 3:16)
2. It’s easy to say that our basic values are Christian. Advent is the time to challenge ourselves and ask, “Is my eternal salvation a more important value than anything else?” Are my overall values Christian, or are they so imbued with secular values that Christian values take a second place? What values do I communicate to my children, grandchildren, colleagues, and neighbors? If I refuse to forgive or be reconciled with a family member or neighbor, can I say that I live by Christian values? Have my values strayed from the childhood values once important to me? What values do I need to ask the Holy Spirit to renew within me?
Regular attendance at Mass and the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation help us keep our values in better balance.
3. Advent reflections continue with our goals. We ask, “What are the most important goals in my life?” Is my number one goal the salvation of my soul and the souls of my loved ones? What Christian goals are strong and which are weak? Is there a unifying goal in my activities? If so, what is it; if not, what are the goals around which I center my activities? Are they balanced and healthy? What is more important, having my child excel in soccer or another sporting activity, or seeing that my child prays and goes to Mass each Sunday? Are my faith or secular goals more important? What goals do I have to take more seriously during Advent and the rest of the year? Which goals do I need to strengthen and which need changing?
To keep our Christian goals before us daily, Advent is a good time to begin regularly to say the Morning Offering, giving all our daily thoughts, words, and actions to God.
4. Finally, Advent offers us the opportunity to reflect on whether our daily activities are unified or scattered. We ask, “Do I live a consistent life or go from activity to activity with little overall purpose and meaning?” When do my activities reflect my faith? To what degree do my values and goals form the basis for a unified Christian life? When do my daily activities reflect Christian values and goals, and when do they not?
We end in the same way we began, by remembering the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. His words tell us that Advent invites us to come to a deeper awareness of our memories that center on the God who became a child. This healing memory brings hope and the promise of new life.