As I walked from the campus library to my dorm with my roommate, we discussed our plans for the weekend. It was a temperate December day in Southwest Florida at Ave Maria University. “Don’t forget!” My roommate reminded, “Advent begins this weekend. Let’s go to the 8:30 am Mass on Sunday.” I agreed but was caught off-guard. How could it already be that time of the year?
I admit – while living in a tropical environment, it can be confusing when trying to decipher the seasons. Almost every month of the year consists mainly of eighty-degree days, ninety percent humidity, and the bright, shining sun. With no blanket of white, fluffy snow covering the ground, or Christmas music everywhere, the holiday season can seem to come out of nowhere.
Since attending college, I have also discovered for myself the busy university life that I had been warned about. Especially during the time leading up to the holidays, our busy schedules that include classes, finals, sports, social activities, work, can blur the focus of the Advent season. Advent is the spiritual preparation of ourselves for the arrival of Christ, and the anniversary of His birth. This year, the Advent season begins on Sunday, December 3rd. We must strive to direct our hearts towards Our Lord in this season, and we should not be distracted with anything else.
But how is it possible to focus more intently on spiritual preparation for Christmas during the Advent season? After all, it is one of the busiest times of the year for us college students. In my experience, there are a couple of ways that have helped me redirect my focus to what really matters during this season.
Frequent The Sacraments During Advent
It is very important to try to frequent the sacraments and make time for Christ. Maybe attend an extra Mass during the week or be intentional about making a good confession during this time. Maybe even stop by the chapel or Church for adoration whenever you get the chance (even for a five minutes). These are great ways to ground yourself in the presence of Jesus amid the stress of this time in school. Though these practices are not obligatory during the season Advent, they help make ready our souls for the arrival of Christ in Christmas. We must contemplate the true purpose of Advent and reflect on, not only the nativity of Christmas, but also the second coming of Christ. As it says in Matthew 24:42, “Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” The Advent season is a great time to remember that we must remain watchful and direct our hearts and minds to both Christ’s second coming at the end of time and the anniversary of Our Lord’s birth on Christmas. The Church calls us to conversion during this time, and while the time leading up to winter break can be a stressful one for students, prioritizing the time to reflect and prepare your soul for the Day of Judgment is essential. These are just some great methods to deepen your faith this Advent season, but the main objective of sanctifying ourselves for Christ should be the center of our conversion.
Participate in a Program of Prayer or Advent Devotional
Another method I have found to be helpful in preparation for Advent is taking part in a program of prayer or Advent devotional. This is a great way to invite others into preparation for Christmas with you. It creates a sense of community which is great for support and accountability, as it can be hard to be consistent in spiritual reflection at times. These programs of prayer also often include challenges that encourage you to step outside of yourself, such as giving to the poor, fasting, and denying yourself certain comforts. Some programs highlight daily, weekly, and occasional commitments that can help direct your focus towards the Lord and away from distraction. Some of these sacrifices could include no dessert or red meat, no beverages other than water and one simple caffeinated beverage, no eating between meals, and no negative words about others or complaining, and the like. Advent is a time of conversion as well, so this is a great way to live that out and place Christ at the center of our lives. In the practice of prayer, fasting, and reparation with a group, accountability is involved that can help guide your faith higher. Rather than struggling to uphold the importance of Advent on your own, you can be surrounded by people striving for the same thing and lifting each other up through community with them. This way, rather than simply getting through the Christmas season, we can become more engaged with the true reason for the season.
Fr. Rick Martignetti OFM, a Franciscan priest serving as Director of Campus Ministry at Ave Maria University, also encourages additional Gospel meditation and visualization during the Advent season, especially on the events surrounding the Nativity of the Lord. Reflecting on these passages is relevant to the preparation for Advent. This could be done in the chapel before a class, or exam, or studying. It is still possible to prepare ourselves well for Christmas in the midst of a college student’s busy season. Fr. Rick has written a book called Hidden Beauty which includes such Advent meditations, for further consideration.
Prepare and Remain Hopeful
An additional major theme of Advent is that it is a time of joyful hope. For us college students, we are already hopeful for final exams to be over and to be home with our families for Christmas break. This can be translated further into our spiritual lives as well, because joyful hope is another way in which the Church calls us to prepare for Christmas. There are a few ways students can live this out to be more hopeful in this time of waiting. One way is to decorate your spaces with reminders of what is to come. In the past, my roommates and I have put up a couple Christmas decorations to remind us of what we are preparing for. We had an Advent wreath, some festive lights, and even a miniature Christmas tree. I find that anything I can do to remind me that I am preparing for Christmas, points me toward how I must prepare in the present. Even securing travel arrangements, like buying your plane tickets home early, can get something else out of the way, and give you another thing to look forward to in this season. However, keep in mind that it can be easy to get caught up in the material spirit of the season, with traveling, buying Christmas gifts, etc., so be sure to remember that during the Advent season we should be directing our hearts and minds to the Lord.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes the meaning for Advent in paragraph 524, highlighting that, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the
Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’” This spiritual preparation of the Advent season is an import aspect of our Catholic faith. This is a time for growth, giving thanks, and making ourselves ready for Christ’s second coming at the end of time and to the anniversary of Our Lord’s birth on Christmas.
These methods are just some to consider practicing as we head into this year’s Advent season. However, ultimately, it comes down to what we choose to do. In college, we young people undergo many new experiences on our own as we transition into full, independent adulthood. Practicing our faith is one of the most important of these things. We are now responsible for holding our own selves accountable to live out our Catholic faith well. At this point in our lives, it all comes down to a choice. It is up to us to make the decision to give ourselves to Christ. As blessed as I am to attend a truly Catholic, faith-centered university, there are still trials that arise regarding faith and spirituality. It is imperative that, especially as young people in today’s society, we must be striving to be a light of Christ’s love in a world of darkness. A great way to do this is by living out the Advent season well by growing in virtue and in deeper relation with God. By doing this, we may remain watchful for Christ’s second coming and point others towards Him by the way we live out our faith.