Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 22, 2004
With Advent, hope springs anew
Use the season to prepare your heart and soul for Jesus
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Chocolates hidden in cardboard pockets have little to do with the liturgical season, but an Advent calendar is useful when children understand its meaning.
While some people consider Advent a season of toil with Christmas shopping and baking or visiting friends and family, Father Mike Mireau, recently appointed pastor of St. Michael Parish in Leduc, believes families should do these activities in a spiritual sense.
They should spend time together discussing the many symbols and messages relating to Advent, such as the wreath, candles and the calendar.
"Advent is about getting ready because Jesus is coming. We have to prepare and get everything ready to go. And that includes our hearts and souls," Mireau said.
Mireau enjoys lighting Advent candles because they symbolize light at the darkest time of the year. He also likes the calendars not so much for the treats, but because it excites kids during Advent, preparing them for Christmas.
"They are excited in the moment, and about the future," he said. "They are about to experience Christ's Mass."
This will be his first Christmas at St. Michael's. He expects the focus of his preaching will be on learning to recognize Jesus.
"Within Scripture, we basically have a story of a guy with a young, pregnant wife who show up and nobody knows who they are. Nobody gives them a place to stay so they have to stay out in the barn. Nobody knew that God comes to us in the small, the meek and the poor," he said.
"Advent is about learning to recognize the infinite transcendent God who comes down to earth and makes himself present in the smallest and most insignificant of places, like the stable, just as we welcome Jesus into ourselves.
"Let's face it, we're not much to write home about. We aren't palaces, we're stables."
Advent is an ancient mystery, beginning the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew (Nov. 30) and lasting four weeks. It is a time to celebrate the Incarnation - the coming of Christ in the flesh.
The wreath is a circle to show that God's love has no end, while the three purple and one rose (pink) candles are a way of marking the time before Christ arrives, when a white candle is lit to signify his birth.
Sister Gertrude Mulholland, catechetics director for the archdiocese, says it is important children understand the meaning of Advent. Although she will leave her position Dec. 1, Mulholland still has a busy schedule travelling to parishes and communities, talking with volunteer catechists who in turn teach the children about God and the meaning of Christ's birth.
"Advent is about anticipation," she said. "We celebrate three comings in our midst - his coming 2,000 years ago, his coming today, and at the end of time."
Mulholland will go to work at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sherwood Park to lead sacramental preparation and serve as liaison with the Catholic schools.
"Because Jesus is the light, families can light a candle at supper time, say a little prayer or maybe sing a song to recognize how they are getting ready for the special feast."
Mulholland teaches families about the Jesse Tree, named in Isaiah to connect the Advent season with the faithfulness of God, as a way of bringing the meaning of the season into their homes. Old Testament symbols like stone tablets, scrolls, the ark or a rainbow are hung on the tree every week during Advent.
The tree itself might only be a small twig placed in a jar filled with sand. Mulholland says celebrating the message is what counts.
"Children can make the symbols and hang them on the tree as a way of preparing. A family can take a different symbol and read the Scripture passage together."
Mulholland says she has met families where 11-year-olds have no idea what Christmas means, other than getting presents. The wreath, a manger or a Christmas tree can be meaningless unless a family discusses and celebrates Advent together.
"There is a sense of commercialism connected with an Advent calendar. But if the family connects the days with the spiritual dimension of preparing for the birth of Christ and celebrating the feast, then it is good."
Some families put up their manger at the beginning of Advent, with Mary and Joseph placed at another spot in the house. Each day, Mary and Joseph are moved closer to the manger. It tells the children there was a long journey.
"Some parishes celebrate Advent with a cookie exchange, where families each bring perhaps three-dozen cookies and take them to nursing homes," she said.
"Advent can be a very lonely time, so families can do something to reach out. Some families call their parish because they want to help a family in need. They ask for the ages of the children and, as a family, they go to purchase things."
They buy a Christmas dinner and a gift or two for each person. If the family is okay with the idea, they can deliver the dinner and gifts themselves. If not, perhaps someone from the parish will bring the items and say an anonymous donor has given this.
"It tells the children not to just think about themselves," Mulholland said. "They learn that Advent means 'to come.' It is a season of joyful expectation."
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