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Celebrating the most Advent-like Advent ever

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Advent is a time when the Church invites us to slow down, savor the anticipation of Christmas and prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord. And while we know this to be true, our busy calendars or numerous social engagements almost always succeed in derailing us from our season of prayerful preparation.

Advent 2020, though, will be different — or at least it should be. As the coronavirus pandemic surges around the country, this year’s Advent, as this Editorial Board anticipated a few months ago, is beginning to look a lot like this year’s Lent. In order to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19, we are necessarily paring down our usual seasonal festivities. Get-togethers are being canceled or moved online, and we are left with real feelings of loss. It is painful to have to skip or alter the traditions, celebrations and togetherness that help us celebrate what matters most, and we are mourning right along with you.

But despite these changes and challenges, this Advent can be a time of great opportunity, if we let it. Since the Church is calling us to slow down, and the pandemic is forcing us to slow down, maybe this is the year we allow Advent truly to take root in our hearts. Can our loss socially be our gain spiritually?

A loss of in-person holiday shopping can offer us the gift of time and detachment from material goods. A loss of social engagements can offer us the gift of focus. Consider taking advantage of more time with your immediate family to grow in love, understanding and appreciation of the season together. Consider donating to charity the money you would have spent on a party dress (or an ugly Christmas sweater). If we allow it to be, this Advent and Christmas season might more closely resemble the first in Bethlehem, with all of its uncertainty, simplicity, surrender and total centeredness on the birth of Jesus.

This Advent can also be a sharpened opportunity for us to ponder deeply the real meaning of the season: that we are preparing our hearts not just in memory of the Lord’s birth but in anticipation of his coming again. In this time of uncertainty, illness and death, is there a more fitting opportunity to contemplate our own mortality?

The Advent season is one of hope. Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh, and we look forward to his coming in glory. He made his dwelling among us in order to save us, and we have every reason to rejoice in the hope of one day meeting him face to face when he comes to judge the living and the dead. This year, when so much is unknown, let us cling to that hope ever more fervently.

As Pope Francis reminded us in Advent 2016 — pre-pandemic, yet entirely relevant to today — “We have such need, in these times which appear dark, in which we sometimes feel disoriented at the evil and violence which surrounds us, at the distress of so many of our brothers and sisters. We need hope! We feel disoriented and even rather discouraged, because we are powerless and it seems this darkness will never end. We must not let hope abandon us, because God, with his love, walks with us.”

“Life is often a desert, it is difficult to walk in life, but if we trust in God it can become beautiful and wide as a highway,” he added. “Just never lose hope, just continue to believe, always, in spite of everything.”

Even during our current time of darkness, we find reasons for hope. Stories abound of the good work of our health care workers and our clergy. Truly remarkable scientific advances seem to be bringing about a COVID-19 vaccine in record time. The people of God are generous and are helping one another in concrete and meaningful ways. And, of course, Jesus Christ dwells among us. What better source of hope could we want?

So while this Advent is going to look and feel different, it doesn’t follow that this change must be negative. If we make a point to center our hearts on the coming of Christ, and remain filled with his hope, this season will be not only salvaged but enriched. And we may find ourselves celebrating the most Advent-like Advent ever.

Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young

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