Third Week of Advent Reflection by: Fr. Ryan Connors, Director of Sacred Liturgy
A few years ago, I began Advent celebrating Mass for the Missionaries of Charity. These religious sisters, founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta and known for their distinctive white habit and blue-rimmed sari, reveal an important lesson about Christmas preparation.
We could think that Advent is designed for us, busy, 21st century Christians. We could think the Church created Advent for us to slow down and pause before Christmas. We could think Advent is a modern thing, needed in our busy world to prepare for Christ’s coming. We could think all that—but we would be wrong. Advent with the Missionaries of Charity reveals the truth.
These religious sisters’ vow of poverty means there is no money to buy gifts. They’re not distracted with shopping. Their vow of consecrated chastity means they are free to love everybody—no kids to take to Santa. Their vow of whole-hearted and free service to the poorest of the poor means there are no expensive parties for which to prepare. So, you might ask, why do they have Advent? Why do these religious sisters even need Advent at all?
December with the Missionaries of Charity reveals the real purpose of the season. In these weeks before Christmas the Church wants to increase our longing for a Savior. The Church wants us to desire Jesus more. This week especially the Church wants to increase our joy at His coming. Gaudete, the Church says. Rejoice the Savior is near.
We all need Advent to enter the millennia-long expectation for a Savior. The whole of the Old Testament is about the expectation of the coming of Christ—the Exodus, the foundation of Israel, the prophets. It is all pointing us to the coming of the Lord.
In these weeks of Advent, we insert ourselves in their longing. We ask God to increase our desire for His coming. We recognize that in man’s millennia long search for God, it turns out, it is God who has taken the longer part of the journey. On our own we could never reach Him, so He has come down to us. As Benedict XVI would say: He has made Himself small.
In today’s Gospel (Third Sunday of Advent), we encounter the figure of John the Baptist—the patron of Advent. John the Baptist teaches us how to prepare for Christ’s coming. He teaches us how to desire God’s coming more. The way we do that is to heed his words: Repent and believe in the Gospel. We need to repent of our sins to receive Christ as our Savior.
For that reason, the Catholic priest remains indispensable and irreplaceable for any celebration of Advent. The confessional, after all, is the waiting room for Christmas. It is here that we admit our sins and recognize anew our need for a Savior. No substitute exists for this Christmas preparation. Nowhere else in the world does God give this grace to prepare for His coming.
Without the Catholic priest, Christmas is lost to history. Because of the priest, according to the plan of the divine wisdom, the altar becomes the stable. God comes down from Heaven. Thanks to the priest’s sacramental mediations, to meet God, you don’t need to go to Bethlehem. You just need to draw near to the altar.
As the Missionaries of Charity remind us, Advent isn’t really about slowing down. It’s about speeding up our desire for the Lord. Advent is for everybody to make us desire God’s coming more. The way we do that is to repent of our sins and acknowledge again our need for His coming.
Very soon, He will come in simple, veiled, almost jarringly humble clothes. In these days we get ready to welcome Him, to love Him, and to embrace the grace He ushers in.
Small wonder, then, the Church says: Rejoice, He is near.