There are so many ways to prepare for Advent, including saying a blessing over the Advent wreath in your home. CNS photo/Tom McCarthy Jr.

Season of waiting can live in our homes

  • November 28, 2020

A great story will certainly emerge from this Advent; a year like no other. An Advent to remember for sure and the stories we tell about this time will be noteworthy.

We are forever changed by this pandemic experience and it has inevitably made us dig deep and think about what matters and who matters. It can be difficult to be hopeful in our current situation, this is true. Many families are struggling with finances, health, well-being and focus. These are most certainly, for many, desert times, but we cannot despair. We are not the first to endure difficult times and we are never alone, called into community to share and love and hope. In the most recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, the Holy Father affirms: “Despite these dark clouds, which may not be ignored, I would like in the following pages to take up and discuss many new paths of hope. For God continues to sow abundant seeds of goodness in our human family” (FT, 54).

The hope so commonly associated with this season should dictate how we prepare the way. Hope in Christ is part of the fabric of our faith story and Domestic Church and this does not change even in a pandemic.

Let us march slowly, quietly, deliberately towards Christmas as a Domestic Church despite the influences of the pandemic on our lives: “Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travellers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same Earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all” (FT, 8).

Let that be where we start this year. May we collectively create little homes that teach about the unity of humanity, the responsibility we have to one another and the promise to acknowledge the inherit dignity in all persons.

So how do we prepare for Advent in our own Domestic Church?  Here are a few suggestions from our book, One Home at a Time: Realizing and Living out Our Domestic Church. Select one, maybe two items on the list to transform how you prepare for Christmas.

• Create a sacred space that you can keep up all year long. Follow the year with the liturgical colours of the season. For this time, drape a purple ribbon onto your space. You can also do this outside on a balcony, a tree or a shrub.

• Create a St. Stephen’s box on the first day of Advent and each day place something for a family in need. Before Christmas find a local charity to give the box to or call your parish to find a family in your neighbourhood who would appreciate the gift.

• Add a bowl of hope to your sacred space. Place your hopes for the season on slips of paper and gather them in the bowl. You can read them to one another during Christmas time.

• Say a blessing over your Advent wreath. Put the wreath in a place that is prominent. Here’s a sample blessing from A Book of Blessings from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops: “Father, we praise you for sending your Son, to save us from our sins and to be light in our darkness. Bless us as we gather in His name, and bless this wreath as a sign of His light among us. We ask this blessing through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

• Before putting up your Christmas tree, bless your tree before adorning it. An example: “All glory and praise to you, heavenly Father: we thank you for sending us your son Jesus to be our brother. Bless us as we gather here and bless our Christmas tree. Let its lights remind us of Jesus who came to be the light of the world and save us from Sin. Father, we love you and praise you though Christ our Lord. Amen” (A Book of Blessings).

• Read the daily readings with your family as you light the Advent candles.

• Pope Francis has reminded us of the importance of the symbol of the crèche of the Holy Family in poverty and homelessness. So, bring out your crèche at the beginning of Advent. Over the next four weeks move the characters, each day, closer to the stable, and have discussions about the Holy Family in their own difficult time as refugees in a foreign land. The crèche stands as a reminder of the poverty and homelessness in our world and community today.

• Each week, create a simple Advent service for your family. You might want to invite other friends and family virtually. Think especially about those who are alone or isolated. Resources for Advent can be found in Living with Christ or online.

• Allow Advent to grow in your home. Instead of putting up all of the decorations, take one or two items out every week. Let your home grow in anticipation.

• Invite the saints to join you on your Advent journey and perhaps this year, in light of Fratelli Tutti we look at some less common saints and also racialized saints such as: Bl. Anwarite Nangapeta Dec. 1, St. Barbara Dec. 4, St. Nicolas Dec. 6, Immaculate Conception Dec. 8, St. Juan Diego Dec. 9, Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12, St. Lucy Dec. 13, St. Andrew Dung Lac Dec. 21, St. Lucian Dec. 24, St. John the Apostle Dec. 27.

Celebrate these feast days in unique ways. An example would be St. Lucy, who is the patron saint of those with sight problems. The theme of St. Lucy’s life is banishing darkness, so as a tribute you might wish to light a candle or gather around a fire and let the flame be a reminder of Christ’s light in the world.

• Schools and parishes might consider celebrating virtual Advent services to bring the community together. Bringing the community together is a hallmark of Catholic schools and extends the mission of evangelization beyond the school walls.

• Schools might ask local retirement homes, nursing homes, long-term care facilities or hospitals who would benefit from letters during this season. Write letters of hope and prayer and blessings to the elderly and the sick in your community.

• Donate or rather share your money with those that need it. Find people in your community who are struggling to make ends meet and give.

• Spend some time looking, reflecting and praying about an Advent image. Some famous images might include: Nativity Scene, Giotto di Bondone, c. 1300; The Nativity, El Greco, c. 1600; Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco, Caravaggio, c. 1600. Perhaps use a children’s book to discuss the story. The Nativity, illustrated by Julie Vivas, is a beautifully depicted children’s book.

• Reserve an evening to sing Christmas carols. The gift of song has been limited in these times so sing with your family.

• If you can, bake with friends virtually. Decide on a common recipe such as short bread cookies, a gingerbread house, maybe even a fruit cake.

• Make a cake for Jesus’ birthday. This reminds us that it is the birth of Jesus that we celebrate.

• New Year’s Day is a holy day of obligation. Since many of us cannot attend Mass, you can watch a televised, online celebration and then say this blessing for your family and for all families in the hope of a healthy year: “Every good gift comes from the Father of light. May He grant you His grace and every blessing and keep us safe through the coming year. May He grant us unwavering faith, constant hope and love that endures to the end. May He order your days and work in His peace, hear your every prayer and lead you to everlasting joy. May almighty God bless us, the Father, Son and Holy Spirt. Amen.”

Pope Francis tells us that “hope is bold” (FT, 55). How bold will the hope be in your Domestic Church this Advent? Imagine Mary and Joseph, in those difficult times, carrying the hope and light. We invite you not to let the Advent season slip by because of the challenges but to live with intentionality by preparing to make Advent a bold and courageous journey towards Christ and Christmas. We will journey with you in thought and prayer.

(Patricia Dal Ben and John B. Kostoff are the authors of the award-winning book, One Home at a Time: Realizing and Living Out Our Domestic Church, published by Novalis.)

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