Advent Series Introduction- A Mother's Advent
Catholic mothers today are faced with many challenges. We are called upon to raise large families. Many of us homeschool as well. (Life is exciting and full. We are never bored!)
The time of Advent is especially busy. As mothers, our minds are preoccupied with how to make Christmas special for our families and friends. Often, we have limited resources to do this, and so we feel stressed.
Yet, Advent is first and foremost a time to prepare our souls for the coming of Jesus
Hopefully, then, Advent is a time of more than just rushing around to buy presents, bake cookies and decorate the house!
It is a shame, though, that the very time when we should be uncluttering our hearts from the things of this world, we feel the pressure to buy, buy, buy.
“What will so and so say if I don’t get them an expensive gift?”
“How can I buy everyone nice gifts and still be able to pay the bills?
“When will I find time to get all this shopping and wrapping done, not to mention the baking and decorating…?”
When I was in the convent, Advent was a very special time of year. We lived and breathed the spirit of the Church and we had nothing to distract us from it. As a result we felt rich; full to bursting at Christmastime. It is something I have not experienced before or since.
Each November, the postulants would become a little sad to think they would be away from their families. Perhaps it was their first time they would be away from home for Christmas. They seemed a little skeptical when told that this would be their best Christmas yet. They would say, “Oh yes, it would be the best spiritually of course, and yet….”
The novices and professed knew better, of course, and so we would just grin and tell them, “Wait and see!”
Daily Mass prepared our souls as nothing else can. Conferences were given to help us in our meditations. Catechism classes during Advent were devoted to the study of Old Testament history; those 4 thousand years before the coming of Our Lord.
During recreation, professed, novices and postulants would be assigned to groups in order to prepare something special for everyone at Christmas; the sacristans would work on the Nativity scene for the chapel, another group would prepare a play, another some songs and decorations for the refectory. Each group kept their projects secret from the others, which added to the fun.
When Christmas came, we were overflowing with the blessings of the Church. There was Midnight Mass and Lauds, as well as the Day Mass. There were treats and even a few presents, but they were nothing extravagant; a notebook, a few pens, new stockings, or soap.
Sometimes, there were fun presents such as a dishcloth with the end of an old plug sewed on to the corner; the kitchen sister’s automatic dishwasher!
However, none of these activities distracted us from the spirit of the liturgy. We lived the season of Advent and Christmas, and our joy was full.
And every year, with huge smiles, the postulants heartily agreed that, “YES, this had been their BEST Christmas EVER!!!”
Since becoming a mother, I often wish I could give my own family that experience. Much of what we did could be done at home and yet, the shopping and other material concerns seem to drown everything else out.
In order to bring in the spirit of the Church, though, one must clear out the world, clear up some time and clear out the worry and stress! (at least...as much as possible!)
(ahem...when I first wrote this, I had some suggestions, but really... it sounded preachy. I'm sure everyone can think of ways to reduce the superfluous!)
Holy Mother Church tells us that Advent is a time for prayer and penance. However, if there is one thing I've learned in raising children, it is to take NOTHING for granted!
With that in mind, then, it would be a good idea to make it clear to our children, then, WHY we make sacrifices during Advent. Something to the effect of:
“Jesus was born in a stable in order to show us that we must detach ourselves from the things of this world.
Think about it; Our Lord has promised us an eternal reward in return for what we give up here on earth.
A wise man once said,
“It is no fool who gives up the things which he cannot hold on to…
For the sake of those things which he will never lose”
And so Baby Jesus is our treasure.
We can compare our life to a journey, and our souls are like a suitcase. Everyone knows that you can only fit so much into a suitcase. No matter how much you sit or jump on it, there’s only so much that will go in.
It’s the same with our souls. If our soul is crammed full with the love for the things of this world; movies, clothes, treats in all forms…then there will be no room for the love of God to grow.
The purpose for the time of prayer and penance during Advent then, is to clean out our souls for Jesus when He comes to us on His birthday.
Little children know all about birthdays (in a traditional Catholic family there are usually many birthdays!) But Jesus’ birthday is different. Our sacrifices are our birthday presents to Him, but Jesus gives us presents as well. Jesus gives us very special graces, but He can only give them to us if there is room in our souls for them.”
It is one thing to tell these things to the children, but how do we get our children to want to pray and make sacrifices?
The key here, I’ve found, is to involve them in the planning. Once they see the reason for it, children can come up with the most amazing ideas for penances and because it’s their idea, they will be more determined to keep their resolutions.
However, we also know that nature abhors a vacuum (as well as certain members of our family!), so we won’t change if we just get rid of things…. we must also increase our attachment to God. It is so important that our children find the true joy of living our faith. We cannot teach them the detachment from the things of this world if we do not replace those things with good, wholesome fun.
The straws-in-a-manger for sacrifices done is a good idea for little ones as they see their sacrifices turn into a warm bed for the Baby Jesus.
Children also love secrets and if their good deeds are done, “by a secret friend”, then penance has just become a game!
Before the First Sunday of Advent, the family can paint a large Jesse tree on a poster and hang it on the wall. (Personally, I like to picture the Jesse tree as an evergreen, like a Christmas tree.)
Each day of Advent, the family can sit down for, “Story Time” when a part of the History of the Old Testament is read
The children can take turns “decorating” the tree with a picture they draw symbolizing the story;
Adam and Eve can be an apple
Noah can be the ark or a rainbow
Moses could be the Ten Commandments or the burning bush
King David could be a slingshot or a harp
If the children are old enough, they can come up with their own ideas…often very original and creative!
Our children never need to feel deprived from the things of this world. They have been richly blessed with the true faith! Sit down together as a family and decide what you will do this Advent season to prepare for Jesus. Choose a few things and slow down. Make the time you spend together special.
Remember that Advent is a time to unclutter our hearts to make room for the Christ Child, so lets get rid of those time and energy wasters, which keep us from doing what is really important.
…We may find that we never miss them again!