Advent and Advents
by Robert Saley
We often think of Advent as the liturgical season of waiting. But it's worth taking some time to ask "Just what exactly are we waiting for?"
We often think of Advent as the liturgical season of waiting.
But it’s worth taking some time to ask “Just what exactly are we waiting for?” Any honest answer to this question must confront a basic difficulty. We know the Lord Jesus has already come and that he, in fact, remains with us. So what is there to wait for?
One catechetical resource that can stimulate reflection on this question is a famous Advent homily by one of the Church’s most eloquent preachers, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153). In his homily, St. Bernard suggests that we think not of the advent of the Lord, but the advents. Specifically, he proposes, we can consider three advents: the past advent when “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14), the future advent when “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6), and the advent right now in the present when Jesus comes to dwell in our hearts. (For a selection from St. Bernard’s homily, see the Office of Readings for Wednesday of the First Week of Advent.) Even though we’re no longer waiting for the past advent of Christ, we’re still in suspense about his future advent—and perhaps his present one.
There are many ways catechists can help students make sense of these “three advents” for their lives today.
Christ’s Past and Future Advents
* The practice of lectio divina, prayerful reading of the Scriptures, can help students focus on Christ’s past advent in order to open their hearts to his coming today. Download and read the article about lectio divina from the Catechetical Sunday 2009 webpage, usccb.org/catecheticalsunday/lectio-divina.shtml. Following the guidelines in the article have students pray with lectio divina, using the Gospel reading from one of the Sundays of Advent.
* Divide students into groups. Have one member of each group read aloud one of the Advent “O Antiphons” (the texts can be found in Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers). Ask each group to discuss the symbolism of these ancient texts and how it relates both to what we will be celebrating on Christmas morning and to what we hope for in Christ’s future advent.
Christ’s Present Advent
Christ’s presence comes into human hearts as a gratuitous gift, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t prepare ourselves to receive him. Catechists can help students “prepare the way of the Lord” (Luke 3:4) in many ways.
* Encourage students to receive the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation during Advent. Use the questions in chapter 18 of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults as a springboard to a discussion about how this sacrament helps prepare us for Christ’s present advent.
* Christ’s present advent is related to our keeping his word, as Jesus says in John’s Gospel: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (14:23). Teach students about one important way we can keep Christ’s word, by practicing the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. Discuss concrete examples of how we can perform these works of mercy.
The Eucharist and the Three Advents
Perhaps the best resource for teaching about the three advents of Christ is the Eucharist, which is at the same time a memorial of Christ’s past coming into and departure from the world, a promise of his future return, and the way he comes to us today. Read St. Bernard’s prayer Jesu Dulcedo Cordium (see the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, chapter 17), then ask students to meditate silently on the Eucharist and the three advents. Afterwards, have students discuss their insights.
St. Bernard’s idea of the three advents, whether it’s presented through the activities described here or others you create, can help students more deeply understand the season of Advent—both what we’re waiting for and what we’re not.
Robert Saley is a proofreader for USCCB Publishing and a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at the Catholic University of America. All titles mentioned are available from USCCB Publishing, usccbpublishing.org.
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