Clearing a Space for Christ during Advent

What is on your list?  It is a familiar question at this time of year.  Parents ask it of children, spouses ask it of one another, colleagues bring it up over coffee at the office.  Some of us make lists of gifts we need to purchase, Christmas cards we want to send, groceries we need to buy for the meals we will share with family and friends.  At the beginning of this Advent season, why not make a spiritual “to-do” list?

Consider putting time for some prayer and the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation (Confession) at the top of the list.  The season of Advent invites us to examine our hearts and make room for Christ in those places currently crowded with other attachments.

Often, on our holiday preparations list is house cleaning.  Perhaps we are expecting company and the guest room needs to be cleaned out because it has been functioning more like a garage, having been filled over time with all the things that do not have a proper place in other rooms in the house, or the stuff we no longer need—maybe we really never needed it. Like that room in our house, our hearts need to be cleared of clutter and given a proper cleaning.  The Psalmist writes, “A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit” (Psalm 51).  The Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation and the practice of silence allow us to clean out our hearts—to take away the obstacles that keep Christ from filling our hearts and the distractions that keep us from spending time in prayer.

Just as the Advent Scriptures remind us that as Christians we watch for Jesus’ coming again to usher in the kingdom of God in its fullness, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation it is God who is watching.  Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, God waits, watches, and hopes for our return every time we walk away or sin because of our shortsightedness and selfishness.  Like the son in the parable, all we need to do this Advent to return to our Father is to recognize our wrong, our need, and God’s love. Jesus offers us reconciliation if we ask for it. Jesus’ saving, healing and restoring action takes place in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Receiving the sacrament renews once more our knowledge that Jesus is the perfect gift. Jesus is the true source of peace. Through the sacrament, by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent ‘pardon and peace’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1424).

The Sacrament of Reconciliation brings peace to our hearts.  And it is a peaceful heart that welcomes silence as an opportunity to spend some time with our Lord and God.  Silence is often God’s language for conversation.  In the spiritual life, silence is a tool for preparing the mind and heart for prayer and reflection.  It helps us be more attentive to God.  It opens our hearts to receive God’s grace, to hear his words of mercy, comfort, love and peace. Silence can also be a pathway to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Often, unconsciously or quite consciously, we fill our lives with activity and sound—the TV always on at home, the radio always on in the car, and plugged into our iPods while exercising because we don’t want to “be alone with our thoughts.”  We know on a certain level that we need to do some soul searching and spiritual house-cleaning.  During Advent, consider finding some time to sit silently and look into your heart through the eyes of our loving God and Father.  Consider what needs reconciling.

Give yourself the gift of silence to ponder the beauty of the Advent season and the mystery of God’s healing and merciful love.  As the weeks ahead become increasingly more frenetic and the to-do lists keep growing, give yourself quiet space.  Take a few minutes of silence at the Advent wreath, in a short visit to one of our churches, before the rest of the house wakes up—even in the car with the radio turned off during your commute and offer the Lord more room in your heart.