Sunday, December 9, 2012

3 Ways to Enter into the Desert of Advent

How is your Advent?  

Have you experienced some of the silene, quiet, and mystery of the Season?  

Are you at peace?  

If not this homily will help...

There are really 3 Advents.  The first Advent was 2,000 years ago when Jesus came into the world as a tiny child.  Prophets and faithful had longed for thousands of years for the coming of Christ.  The Second Advent is happening right now... This is the longing and waiting for Christ to be born into your heart.  The third Advent is the Second Coming.  We long and wait for Christ to come again and bring us all with him to the Joys of everlasting life.

It is this Second Advent that I would like to focus on today.  How can we prepare to receive Christ into our hearts here and now?  

We heard in the Gospel of Luke today that Christ did not come to the important Tetrarchs and powerful Kings like Herod the Great... He came to a man named John whom no one had ever heard of.  He came to John in a certain place.  It was in the Desert that the Word of God "Advented" in John.  

The same is true for us.  We don't have to be important, powerful, or influential.  In fact the Word will come to us, as it did to John, in a very secret, quiet, and hidden way.  It will come to us in the Desert.  Advent is ultimately a time to go to the Desert and wait patiently for the Word to be born in us.  

So how do we "Go to the desert?"  

I would like to suggest three practical ways to enter into the desert and therefore enter more deeply into the Season of Advent.  

1) Take a "Desert Day."  What's a "Desert Day?" you may ask.  Well, traditionally the Desert Mystics spent months in the Desert, but since we don't all have that opportunity the saints, monks and mystics have developed a way to do this in the midst of a busy life.  It literally means taking an entire day "off" and spending it in some type of desert.  What this means is getting away.  Going somewhere where you can be alone with God, unplugged, out of reach, in nature, in silence and with God.  Try to think of a place that you can escape to.  Trust me it's worth it.  Your family will thank you for it, your children will thank you for the patient mother or father that you come back as, your spouse will thank you for the peace and gentleness that will return to you, and above all you will be glad that you did because it will really put you in the "Spirit" of Advent and therefore much more prepared to receive Christ this Christmas.  

A desert place can be any place that you can escape to, preferably somewhere in nature.  Maybe you have a cabin, or know someone with a cottage, or even a barn, some property in nature that you can escape to.  Maybe it's a favorite place that you have in the Metroparks, or it's a relative's farm.  If you don't have a place that comes to mind I highly suggest making a desert day at one of our Diocesan Retreat Houses.  In my hometown, only a half away is the Jesuit Retreat House in Parma.  Call ahead and just tell them your priest suggested you come and make a Desert Day.  They will be delighted to have you (I suggest making some donation to them just to give them support).  There is also Loyola of the Lakes in Akron which is run by the Benedictines.  You could spend the day there and walk their beautiful paths.  Abbot Clement is retired there and would surely see you if you would like.  Or maybe make a pilgrimage to one of the Shrines that we have in Ohio.  You can find all of these under the "Retreat House" Section on my Blog.  

2)  The Second way of entering into the Desert is through Music.  We hear in today's responsorial Psalm: "God has done great things for us, filled us with laughter and music."  I find that music can be a wonderful way to foster silence.  I'm talking good uninterrupted music.  I don't suggest turning on the radio for this because naturally at this time you will hear "Christmas Music" as well as tons of Advertising.  As Christians Advent really is a time of "Waiting" for Christmas.  So try and hold off on that until Christmas.  Although Christmas music may even help you prepare to receive Christ.  I went to a Christmas Concert on Friday.  My oldest niece had convinced her two grandmothers to be in the choir with her.  It was a wonderful experience just to sit and listen to music, singing, and praise for two hours.  I have to say I left there with a lifted heart, a joyful spirit and a profound sense of peace.

I know there isn't a lot of "Advent" Music, but I can tell you that there is a beautiful CD I came across that has made this a very sacred Advent for me.  It is called "Advent at Ephesus" and is a CD of beautiful music, chant, and singing from the Nuns at Ephesus.  I HIGHLY recommend ordering this CD.  You can download it directly through my site, from Amazon, or go to their website and order the CD directly from the Nuns.  

3)  The third way, and the simplest way is to "Light a Candle."  Advent really is a Season of allowing ourselves to be in the Darkness and look for the light.  I can think of nothing more profound, sacred, or enchanting than simply lighting a candle at night time and spending time in the darkness gazing at the light.  You could even build a fire in your fireplace and just spend 10 minutes gazing at the light in the darkness and this simple practice will profoundly enhance your Advent Season.  There is something very powerful about being in the darkness and gazing at the light.  I used to love decorating the Christmas Tree late at night in the Dark and wrapping the lights around it.  I'd set the manger up and place some white lights in there and then just sit and gaze at the wonder and beauty of light in the darkness.  You can do this too.  Light a Candle or better yet light two on an Advent Wreath and enjoy some “Desert Time” gazing at the Light coming into your life.  

It was in the Desert that the Word of God came to John and it is in the Desert that the word will come to us.  Go ahead take a "Desert Day", listen to some good Advent Music, and gaze at a Candle in the Darkness... If you do, Christ will come to you in the Darkness during this wonderful Season of Advent.  


Advent is also a time for "Major Renovation".  John the Baptist uses the images of Construction!

"Prepare the way of the Lord,   make straight his paths.   Every valley shall be filled   and every mountain and hill shall be made low.   The winding roads shall be made straight,   and the rough ways made smooth,

Do you need to do any major construction in your life? Is there any road that has gotten off course and needs to be made straight?  

You may notice all of the Construction Barrels are coming down for the winter... after months and months of Construction projects are coming towards their completion.  God hasn't given up "Constructing" you... He works with us throughout our entire lives.  

One of the Traditions of the Church in Advent is Confession.  As a matter of fact one of the Precepts of the Church is "To confess your sins at least once a year."  So, if it's been over a year, you're due!  

Trust me, this above all, will be a major way to prepare your heart for Christmas.  John cries out in the Desert... "REPENT".  There's no better way than to do this in confession.  It really is a wonderful Sacrament.  

Maybe you are not comfortable with it, or maybe you feel anxious or unsure.  I encourage you to read the steps in my blog along with my witness on confession and just maybe you will come to see it not as a burden, but a beautiful sacrament and a wonderful way to encounter Jesus this Advent Season.  You can also download the “Confession App”

If it has been more than a year, two years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years... go... go... go... trust me you will love it.  Even if you don't know what you are doing or how to do it.  Just go into the confessional and say "Father, it's been 20 years, I have no idea what I'm doing can you help me out here?"  Trust me you will make that priest's day and even more so God will be absolutely delighted.  

"I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance." LUKE 15:7

Many parishes are doing communal penance over these next weeks, extending their regular confession times and if need be you can even make an appointment with your favorite priest: call them, email them, or "Friend" them on facebook.  

To find a church near you go to, type in your city/zip code and see their confession times.  

Blessed Advent,
Fr. Michael

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