The Season of Advent helps us to prepare for Christmas where we recall in faith Christ’s coming among us. It is also a time in which we look at our present lives and reflect on the second coming of Christ in our own lives and at the end of the ages.
It is definitely a season of joyous expectation in light of the Feast of Christmas. However it is also a time of preparation in which we are invited to renew our Christian faith. We can become more attentive to the gift of our faith and to explore the implications of what it means to believe in the person of Christ and above all to become more grateful for the presence of God’s love which is fully manifest in the person of Christ.
On the very First Sunday of Advent these very themes we addressed in the Opening Prayer at Mass:
Father in Heaven, our hearts desire the warmth of your love and our minds are searching for the light of your Word. Increase our longing for Christ our Savior and give us the strength to grow in love, that the dawn of his coming may find us rejoicing in His presence and welcome the Light of his Truth.
Notice that in this prayer we acknowledge Advent as a time in which our hearts are to become more aware of the warmth of God’s love.
It is also a time for our minds to receive in new ways the Word of God through the Scriptures and thus to welcome the light of his Truth.
Finally it is a time to grow in the strength of Christ’s love, so that as we prepare to celebrate the dawn of his coming at Christmas he may find us rejoicing in His presence more fully each day.
In the Office of Readings St. Charles Borromeo also echoes the importance of this Advent season:
Each year the Church recalls this mystery and she urges us to renew the memory of the great love God has shown us.
He also goes on to state:
This holy season of Advent teaches us that Christ’s coming was not only for the benefit of his contemporaries (in history) but that the power of his coming has to be communicated to us all ( most especially in our present day) …
As Christians we are called to share in this power of His coming through faith.
The Church proclaims this faith in Christ’s coming through the prayers we express, the Scriptures we read, the songs and hymns we sing, in the very rituals and Sacraments we celebrate during this time of preparation.
One important gift of faith which we can receive in Advent and Christmas is a profound sense of gratitude for his presence and thus the need to prepare our hearts for the power of such an event in our lives today. This Christian attitude and disposition to gratitude is most vividly reflected in the role of Mary- the Mother of our Lord.
In the early Church we know that there was a progressive discovery through faith to see the fullness of Mary’s role in God’s plan of salvation history.
Scripture records her role in God’s plan of salvation from the outset as the Mother of our Lord.
In the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel he records the infancy of Christ but what is most interesting is that Mary is only named and speaks no words. The birth of our Lord is recorded almost exclusively from the viewpoint and experience of Joseph.
In contrast, Luke’s gospel portrays Mary in a much more prominent role.
And thus it is through this inspired narrative that we see the outline of her vocation from God, the Annunciation – the greeting and the message from the angel Gabriel. The stirrings of Mary’s heart and her initial response in faith is that of a question "How can this be?" … then "Let it be done unto me according to your Word."
The progress of her belief in God’s promises and her confidence to say “ Let it be done according to your Word” is truly inspiring for each Christian who has struggled to answer their vocation call.
Then through prayer and the reflection upon God’s grace at work in her life we see the ultimate response of gratitude: “Mary treasured all of these things and pondered them in her heart.”
In a homily given by John Paul II on the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God he made the following statement: “Mary was the memory of the Church.”
From the beginning she was fixed on the mystery of this newborn child, that she was attentive to this experience as the mystery of God’s salvation, and that her “fiat,” her yes, progressively unfolded in her life and that thus her memory played an important role in the faith of the Church.
In the Advent season the Church’s memory becomes reflected through the memory of Mary.
To identify with Mary in faith during this season of Advent is to be open to receive what she received.
The first gift was that of a profound sense of gratitude for the warmth of God’s love given to her in Christ. His birth, his coming into this world was to reveal the fullness of God’s love and Mary was the first to believe in this love and to experience it in her life.
In my years of experience as a priest I have always been inspired and humbled by the stories that people have shared with me concerning their lives of faith, which I have encountered countless time through ministry. This sense of profound gratitude for how they have come to experience Christ has been a gift to me. Each story is unique but it is inspiring to see how they have come to the faith through family, parents and grandparents, through teachers at school, in the pastoral care of a parish community, the meeting with a priest or the impact and witness of individuals who live their life with joy because of faith. This gratitude is very evident in those men and women who are moved to inquire about the faith and enter the process of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) through our parishes. If you have ever been involved in this process of inquiry and catechesis in the faith you will see this expression of gratitude. The RCIA program is a process of birth in the Church; it is a symbol and sign of the Incarnation; it is a “Christ event,” a birth of faith.
The second gift that Mary received was the grace of being ready and attentive, of being open to God and the power of this event in her life. This coming of Christ would disrupt her plans, it would challenge her life, the relationships of family and friends, yet through her yes she would begin to see how God had chosen to reveal the Incarnate vision of His Son through her life. This is the grace that each of us receives to respond in truth and freedom to our vocation and calling in life. We are called to model our response of Mary in accepting and choosing our life’s vocation.
I witnessed this vocational gift in my ministry of seminary formation, in the accompaniment of those discerning their call to the priesthood. In a spiritual and communal way it was very evident when the men came together to pray the Rosary at night in the chapel. It was an expression of their devotion to our Blessed Mother but it was a daily time in which they entered into the mystery and the memory of Mary. I could not help but think in my prayer with them that Mary’s model and disposition of accepting her own vocation was being received as grace in such moments.
As Advent unfolds it is my hope that the gifts Mary received may be part of our own preparation and reflection of the coming of Christ in our lives: a gratitude for our faith and an openness to live our vocations in Christ with greater fidelity.
Most Rev. William McGrattan
Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto
Photo top: CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic -- An angel is depicted in a mosaic created by artist Hildreth Meiere at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, New York. Photo bottom: CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec -- Mary and the Christ Child are depicted in this painting of Our Lady of Brezje at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.