The season of Advent begins this week, a time when the Church starts a new calendar or liturgical year. The word is derived from the Latin “advenire,” which means “to come to.” This holy season consists of the four Sundays or weeks leading up to the celebration of Christmas. This year, it begins on Sunday, Dec. 2 and continues through Monday, Dec. 24. It has a two-fold character: a time of preparation to celebrate Christmas in commemoration of the birthday of Christ thousands of years ago, and the joyful anticipation of Christ’s second coming on earth at the end of time.
We celebrate the three comings of Christ according to the Church tradition: when He first came, taking human flesh, having been born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem; second, when He comes now in the heart of every believer as they open their heart and live out their faith according to God’s will; third, Christ’s final coming at the end of time as He returns in glory in the final judgment to make all things new.
The liturgical color for Advent is purple, expressing the penitential dimension of the season. It stresses the call to purify ourselves through prayer and penance in order to prepare the way of the Lord in our life and the world. This necessitates our special focus on Christ in the midst of the worldly or material distractions around us, and demands our complete attention. It requires quieting down so we can examine our mind and collect our heart in order to rediscover our personal relationship with God, our identity as followers of Christ and our special calling to holiness in life.
The quality of our interpersonal relationship with God unfortunately suffers neglect during this busy season of shopping, parties and other personal and social preoccupations. Others who embark on a spiritual exercise to make themselves holier shoot for success as their goal instead of faithfulness as Christian believers.
The Advent season is a wonderful occasion to set our hearts and our life right. We have to be on guard so as not to forget our identity as disciples of Christ and proclaimers of the Gospel. Providentially, God has provided us a wonderful way to help us remain focused. Our diocese recently launched the new Pastoral Plan that defines our Church’s vision and mission of evangelization for the coming years so that we all can become a more vibrant, missionary and evangelizing Church. Let us utilize this season to be able to reignite and renew the faith of every Catholic in our local Church so we all can be salt and light for the world.
Our Catholic faith teaches us that the Lord “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his Kingdom will have no end.” Therefore, set your heart on the future with joyful hope in God’s promise to strengthen and revive our failing spirit. Stay awake and be ready for our personal encounter with God in the various circumstances and moments of our everyday life.
Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” stated this invitation: “I invite all to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ. … I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step to Jesus, we come to realize that He is already there, waiting for us with open arms.”
I pray that Advent may be a grace-filled time for you, your families and the people of God. Christ, our Savior and the Prince of Peace, is coming to be with us. Let us open wide our heart and welcome Christ to be reborn in our life. The message is loud and clear: Maranatha! Be vigilant, stay awake and prepare the way of the Lord!
The Most Rev. Oscar A. Solis
Bishop of Salt Lake City