O Key of David

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

If Christ’s coming were merely an event in history, even with the ramifications it has on our collective salvation, we would celebrate it with relatively little fanfare. It might get an octave,1 but it wouldn’t merit an entire season of preparation and then a season of celebration.

Now, it was an event in history–God was made man out of love for us. This is no myth. But our celebration of the Nativity is so much more than a celebration of a historical event. It’s also a celebration of Christ’s advent into the life of each believer. When we pray for the walls of death to be broken down, it’s not some fanciful reflection on something that happened 2000 years ago, it’s a real and serious plea for freedom for you and me and everyone right now.

Hence Advent, a season of darkness that reminds us that we dwell in the shadow of death. We traipse through Ordinary Time blithely unaware of our sin, but this season that places before us a filthy stable awaiting the immaculate king makes us pause. “For me,” we think. “That I might have life.”

The Prisoner, by Mykola Yaroshen
The Prisoner, by Mykola Yaroshen

Because we’ve forgotten that we’re dead. We’ve painted the walls of our prison cell and turned up our music and gorged ourselves on the good food provided to placate our rebellious desire for virtue and we’ve forgotten that we were made for sunshine and joy and freedom and so much more than the prison we’ve made for ourselves by our sin. “I’m a good person,” I tell myself and ignore my temper or my laziness or my refusal to give God even ten minutes a day in prayer. And we might be good people by the world’s standards but Christ says, “Be perfect.”

It starts with a feeling. Unchecked, the feeling becomes an attitude. The attitude becomes an action and the action becomes a habit and the habit becomes a way of life and that innocuous little feeling has suddenly become a wall of vice and I didn’t even notice it! It might not be mortal sin but even venial sin, washed away by communion or contrition or even holy water, leaves a residue that only confession can remove. That residue builds and builds until we don’t recognize who we’ve become. And we who were freed from the prison of Original Sin by the blood of the spotless Lamb have built a new one of envy and lust and sloth.

via flickr
via flickr

So here we are, this fallen world bound by sin and walled in to a prison we entered freely. But Christ has come. He has taken on our flesh that he might bear our punishment and has won our freedom. He stands now and knocks at the door of your prison cell, keys in hand, longing to enter and break down those walls. He comes to wake you up to the misery of your captivity to sin and to lead you into the freedom of life in him.

God is a gentleman, though, and will not enter, will not save and heal and sanctify without permission. He stands and knocks and waits for you to invite him in, waits for you simply to speak the word so that he can set you free. This is his advent in your life right now: the restoration of a broken heart to a state of grace. The key to heaven rests in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God’s gift to the fallen.

In this Sacrament, terrible sinners are justified, yes. But we who try so hard and generally do so well–we too are given grace to persevere. We too are bound by sin and freed by his mercy. We too are transformed and drawn from darkness into light. Don’t think that because you’re a “good person” you aren’t imprisoned. The Key of David has come to set you free. You have only to ask.

If you haven’t been to confession yet this Advent season,2 do it. Whether it’s been a month or 30 years, the time is now. Prepare your heart for the pure infant Jesus and receive the gift of new life.

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

  1. It certainly would have in the old calendar. []
  2. Not to beat a dead horse, but this is really important. []

O Flower of Jesse’s Stem

O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

In this prayer, we begin with the right words, the words of adoration that seem to fit the occasion. We speak lovely, fitting, shallow, empty words when we approach the Lord. “Heavenly Father,” we say to a God who is our dictator or our servant, but never our Father. “Thank you, Lord,” we say, however bitter we may be at what the Lord has withheld. We’ve become so accustomed to lying to God–“Thy will be done”? Who really means that?

But then we stumble. It’s as though we are praying as we “ought” when our desperation breaks through with something real. We catch our breaths and repeat in earnest, “let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”

There’s a longing in that stutter that expresses so perfectly what Advent is intended to be. We are overwhelmed by God’s majesty and goodness at condescending to be with us. We know all the right words about his glory and all that–but, oh! We just want him–we need him!

As Christmas draws near, the Church invites us to ache for Christ. She reminds us of the darkness of life before the Savior came near and asks us to allow all our brokenness and emptiness and need to well up in our hearts and to cry out, “Come, Lord. Oh, please, please come!”

Not a tame lion

I’m not sure I can make sense of the longing and tenderness and desperation and awe and sorrow that I feel except to say that it’s quite the same way I feel about Aslan. When I read the Chronicles of Narnia,1 I need him. And when he comes I’m thrilled and I want to run to him and bury my hands in his mane but I know I have to hold back, because while he is entrancing, he’s also terrifying. And his voice thrills and comforts and challenges. I’m afraid to look into his eyes because I know I’ll see myself as I truly am, not as I pretend to be; but I know that while I’ll see myself I’ll also see how deeply he loves me and I’ll be able to bear it. Truly, I love Jesus so much the more because I loved Aslan first.

When I think of the coming Christ this way, I begin to believe that, like Hwin, I’d suffer anything for him.1 Like Eustace, I’d submit to any pain at his hands. Like Reepicheep, I’d go to the ends of the earth for the glory of his name. It’s just that–when I’m in Narnia–oh, I ache for him!

By another name

This is what Advent is supposed to do–just exactly what Lewis does when he tells us “Aslan’s on the move.” When you read that line–if you love these books as I do–you almost feel for your sword before you remember that you haven’t got one and you wouldn’t know what to do with it if you did. You’re thrilled and terrified and ready and the only thing that matters is his coming.

I suppose it comes down to this–I would give everything to be breathed on by Aslan, to have him whisper in my ear and call me “Dear heart” as he does Lucy. Do I give everything to come near to Christ? When I let myself long for Aslan and then direct that longing to Christ, suddenly it’s all so real. Suddenly I’m past the nonsense of fancy ideas and just filled with a longing to be his. Suddenly I cry out, “Come–let nothing keep you from coming to my aid!”

You know what? Never mind. Just go read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and try to feel about Jesus the way you feel about Aslan. That’s why Lewis wrote them, after all.

Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

  1. “Please,” she said, “you’re so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.” []

O Sacred Lord of Ancient Israel

O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

Sébastien Bourdon, Burning Bush
Sébastien Bourdon, Burning Bush

These last days before Christmas, I’m just ready to hold sweet baby Jesus in my arms. I’ve longed and ached for him all of Advent and I want to hold his tiny baby body and kiss his soft baby head. And just as the baby-lover in me threatens to take over, leaving me with images of snuggling a baby that have little to do with the majesty of the Incarnation, this antiphon drops by to remind me that he is so much more than just a sweet baby, that this is so much more than just a birth.

There is in Christmas the somber promise of Good Friday. There is in the joy of the Nativity the suffering foretold by the myrrh of the Magi, the anguish of the Innocents slaughtered as the Christ child is spirited away. The wood of the manger is the wood of the Cross, and this child raised by a carpenter will hear daily the echo of the nails that will bind him to his death. The freedom we are promised by the Lord of Israel is given us by the blood of the Lamb.

There’s a reason Christ was born in the dead of night, a reason we celebrate his birth in a time of barren coldness.1 Certainly, we see that his coming brings us into greater light. But I think we also need his coming to be surrounded by quiet and darkness and just a little bit of fear. It would feel wrong to celebrate in July, remembering with cookouts and fireworks our king born to die. In winter, our joy is tempered by the chill. We sing “Joy to the World,” indeed, but also weep for the day, coming too soon, when the world will mourn. The best Christmas carols remind us of the purpose of the Christ child:

Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!

Today’s appeal to the God of Exodus carries the weight of wonder, the awe and fear that surrounded any encounter with this Lord of plagues and sacrifices and walls of water. It is this Christ whom we worship, sweet and silent in his mother’s arms. The God made man to save us is the God before whom Moses cowered in fear. The freedom he wins for us is bought at a terrible price.

Jesus manger lambs

Do we greet this child with smiles and stockings and move on, pleased to have celebrated family and love? Or do we fall on our knees before the God born to die? Advent calls us not only to prepare for the joy of the incarnation but to repent, to recognize the gravity, the horror of a God who offers himself as a sacrifice in our stead.

In his infancy, he was given myrrh to anoint his beaten body when at last his life came to fruition. Offer him, friends, the myrrh of repentance. Anoint his tiny body, formed so perfectly to suffer so terribly, with the balm of your prayers, your acts of charity, but most especially your sins offered at the foot of his cradle, the foot of his cross. If you haven’t yet been to confession this Advent, humble yourself before the God of Israel who merits all honor yet stoops to kiss your feet. Give him the gift of your wretched, sinful heart and let him return it to you whole and new.

Oh, come, oh, come, great Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

  1. Unless you’re south of the equator, in which case, hi!! []

O Wisdom

From December 17-23, Christians are in a time of eager anticipation. The intentional expectancy becomes intense as we enter the octave before the birth of our Lord. We throw aside the normal prayers for particular prayers that show our hope, our trust, our longing for the Christ child. Each evening, the antiphon preceding the Magnificat in Evening Prayer proclaims one of the ancient titles of the Messiah, giving us the text of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and excellent fodder for meditation. This week I’ll be sharing a meditation on each day’s antiphon to help us all enter more deeply into this last week of Advent.

O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.

The God who is coming into our midst is the God of all creation, the wisdom of the Father by whom and through whom and for whom all things were made. And yet, with all his power, he chooses weakness for love of us. The God who could announce his presence with thunder and trumpets and booming words from heaven speaks instead in shepherds’ voices. This God who could force us to love him invites instead. He speaks tenderly to our hearts, beckoning, begging, but never compelling.

IMG_20121216_164113

This is wisdom: the God of power and might becomes an infant. Because he couldn’t forbid suffering without impairing our freedom, he chose to suffer with us. St. Augustine reminds us, “God had one son on earth without sin but never one without suffering.” Too strong to be defeated by death, he was yet tender enough to die. Too strong to abandon us in our sin, he was yet tender enough to allow us to reject him. God in his wisdom is everything we need–just enough and never too much. He woos us as far as we will come and then mourns as we choose ourselves over him. In his wisdom he leaves us free, though we might prefer to be enslaved but happy rather than free in the misery of sin.

And when he shows us the way to salvation, he doesn’t call from afar or point the way through peril and misery. He walks with us, shoring us up by his strength and tenderly wiping away our weary tears. He asks of us nothing that he hasn’t himself done or suffered or been subjected to. When we are hurt, we find his pierced hands lifting us up. When we are rejected, his pierced brow speaks of his betrayal. When we are lonely, we hear the echo of “My God, my God.”

This is the wisdom of the incarnation: the foolishness of the Cross. This is what we long for in Advent: not merely the coming of the Christ child in the liturgy but the coming into our hearts of him who breaks down the walls we’ve built and gently smooths our rough edges.

What tender strength. What wisdom. Come, Lord Jesus.

O, come, O Wisdom from on high,
Who orders all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Advent Boot Camp 2017

I put out an Advent Boot Camp three years ago and the response was great, so it’s become an annual thing. Just a little tweaking since Christmas isn’t always the same day of the week. Read the intro here or just dive right in and prepare for the Spirit to pump you up.1

This “Advent Boot Camp” is a guideline, not a foolproof plan. Feel free to substitute anything. What’s essential is that you’re spending time in silent prayer–not just prayer but silent prayer–and that you’re easing into it.

Each day’s prayer starts with a 5 minute warmup. It’s hard just to snap from all the noise of the world into prayer, so take some time to slow down, talk to the Lord about what’s weighing on you, and get quiet. Then see what God has to say to you through his Word, his Saints, and the prayers of his Church. Finally, spend some good time in silence, either processing what you’ve read, talking to God, or trying to be still in his presence. If your prayer life has consisted solely of grace before meals and Mass on Sunday, this might be tough. But it will get easier. And what better time to seek silence than in the mad bustle leading up to Christmas?

Advent boot campWeek 1: Begin each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make one chapel visit

  • Day 1: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 40; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 2: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 9:1-6; one decade of the rosary, 5 minutes silence
  • Day 3: 5 minute warmup; Luke 1:26-38; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 4: 5 minute warmup; Catechism 522-526; one decade of the rosary; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 5: 15 minutes of prayer: your choice
  • Day 6: 5 minute warmup; the Office of Readings2; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 7:5 minute warmup; “In the Bleak Midwinter”; 1 John 4; 5 minutes silence

Week 2: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend one extra Mass

  • Day 8: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 11; two decades of the rosary; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 9: 5 minute warmup; Luke 2:1-21; one decade of the rosary; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 10: 20 minutes of prayer: your choice
  • Day 11:5 minute warmup; reading from St. Bernard of Clairvaux; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 12: 5 minute warmup; 15 minutes journaling on why you need the incarnation; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 13: 5 minute warmup; Stations of the Cross
  • Day 14: 5 minute warmup; make a good examination of conscience, asking God to cast light into all the areas of sin in your life and to make you truly repentant and grateful for his love and mercy; go to confession; 15 minutes silence

Week 3: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend two extra Masses

  • Day 15: 5 minute warmup; John 1:1-18; reading from St. Gregory Nazianzen; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 16: 25 minutes of prayer: your choice
  • Day 17: 5 minute warmup; “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 18: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 61-62; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 19: 5 minute warmup; full rosary (joyful mysteries); 5 minutes silence
  • Day 20: 5 minute warmup; memorize Isaiah 9:5 (“A child is born to us…”); 10 minutes silence
  • Day 21: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 35; reading from St. Augustine; 20 minutes silence

Week 4: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer

I’ve compiled the non-Biblical readings here if you want to print them in advance: Advent Boot Camp readings

This is going to max you out at 30-35 minutes of prayer at one time. If you feel like you can do more than that, go for it. If you’re a beginner when it comes to non-liturgical prayer, though, this might be a good way to get started. Whether you’re interested in this approach or not, do spend some time praying about how you’re going to try to grow closer to the Lord this Advent. But don’t stress about it–it’s supposed to be a time of preparation and peace, not frantic anxiety, despite what the mall might do to you this time of year. You might consider starting to read the Bible through in a year using this schedule. Or read Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God. Just be sure you do something more than bake and shop to prepare for Christmas this year. The Christ Child is coming, after all. Offer him your heart.

  1. Ten points if you read that in your Hans and Franz voice. []
  2. Click “Office of Readings” on the left side of the page []

An Advent Devotional You Need to Check Out

A few weeks ago, my sister sent me a Facebook message asking me if I wanted to take a look at a new Advent devotional that some of her friends had put together. Now, I’m not usually one for women’s devotionals (or devotionals of any sort, for that matter). But my sister knows this, so when she suggested Rooted in Hope, I thought it was worth a look.

Ladies, this Scripture study is an actual Scripture study! It trains the reader in lectio divina, an ancient practice of prayerfully reading Scripture, then leads you through that practice with different Scripture passages each day of Advent. But more than that, it gives you background and context for each Scriptural passage, followed by a reflection on each passage. The reflections deal with all different kinds of life experiences, with different women reflecting on the different ways they’ve learned to love God.

But the heart of the devotional is God’s Word–both excerpts in the book and additional passages that the authors point you to. It’s impossible to use this devotional well without having your Bible open alongside it, which is exactly how devotionals ought to work. Reading through Rooted in Hope, I found myself flipping to different passages, wanting to chew through the Word of God and enter more deeply into it. And on days when you might not want to take time to ruminate on the Scriptures, the text holds you accountable by inviting you to take notes on your lectio each day. It’s a gentle invitation (the editor explicitly tells you to be gentle with yourself, not to make this yet another task to accomplish, another reason to become discouraged when we fail), but one that beckons, if for no other reason than that it’s supremely unsatisfying to leave these pages blank.

Each week of the study has a different memory verse, urging us to make the Scripture a part of our daily lives. I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see Catholics being encouraged to memorize Scripture–as you know, this is something I find incredibly important. Each memory verse is written out in part in a beautiful font and the editor invites you to continue meditating on this verse throughout the week, even as you’re praying with different Scriptures each day.

I have to tell you, though, the thing that most struck me was how this devotional is written for every Catholic woman–not every married Catholic mom of little ones, as often seems the case, but every Catholic woman, whatever her vocation or stage of life. Different days focus on different issues, but the authors are so deliberate about including childless women that they even use the phrase “if there is a child in your life” rather than assuming that their readers all have children. The first time I read that, I gasped–it was such a gentle affirmation of my existence, something that often seems missing in ministries directed to Catholic women. But Take Up & Read (the ministry behind this devotional) seems particularly aware of the many ways women are told they aren’t enough, and the gentle tone that pervades this devotional is so encouraging that I would expect nothing less.

For the many Catholic women who do have children, there’s also a children’s study to go along with the adult study. There are questions for children to ponder, children’s lectio sheets, reflections to help them prepare for Mass, and even puzzles to keep them interested. And all that for free!

The study starts November 30 to help you prepare for Advent, then kicks into gear on the first Sunday of Advent. It’s got monthly and weekly planning calendars to help you plan around the liturgical celebrations. Honestly, it’s just a lovely book that I think will really help you enter into Advent and prepare for the coming of Christ–and with how short Advent is this year, we need all the help we can get!

I’m so convinced that this devotional will be a blessing to you that I’m going to give away a copy–it’s my first ever giveaway!1 So comment and share and all that and one lucky winner will get a free copy of this beautiful devotional. Enter by midnight Eastern this Sunday night and see if you win! For those who don’t, you can buy your copy here. Good luck!

Enter here to win!

(I got a free copy of the book to review, but believe me, the opinions are all mine.)

  1. Wish me luck–I don’t at all know how these things work. []

Advent Boot Camp 2016

I put out an Advent Boot Camp three years ago and the response was great, so it’s become an annual thing. Just a little tweaking since Christmas isn’t always the same day of the week. Read the intro here or just dive right in and prepare for the Spirit to pump you up.1

This “Advent Boot Camp” is a guideline, not a foolproof plan. Feel free to substitute anything. What’s essential is that you’re spending time in silent prayer–not just prayer but silent prayer–and that you’re easing into it.

Each day’s prayer starts with a 5 minute warmup. It’s hard just to snap from all the noise of the world into prayer, so take some time to slow down, talk to the Lord about what’s weighing on you, and get quiet. Then see what God has to say to you through his Word, his Saints, and the prayers of his Church. Finally, spend some good time in silence, either processing what you’ve read, talking to God, or trying to be still in his presence. If your prayer life has consisted solely of grace before meals and Mass on Sunday, this might be tough. But it will get easier. And what better time to seek silence than in the mad bustle leading up to Christmas?

Advent boot campWeek 1: Begin each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make one chapel visit

  • Day 1: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 40; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 2: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 9:1-6; one decade of the rosary, 5 minutes silence
  • Day 3: 5 minute warmup;Luke 1:26-38; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 4: 5 minute warmup; Catechism 522-526; one decade of the rosary; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 5: 5 minute warmup; Chaplet of Divine Mercy; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 6: 15 minutes of prayer: your choice
  • Day 7:5 minute warmup; the Office of Readings ((Click “Office of Readings” on the left side of the page)); 5 minutes silence

Week 2: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend one extra Mass

Week 3: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend two extra Masses

  • Day 15: 5 minute warmup; John 1:1-18; reading from St. Gregory Nazianzen; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 16: 25 minutes of prayer: your choice
  • Day 17: 5 minute warmup; “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 18: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 61-62; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 19: 5 minute warmup; full rosary (joyful mysteries); 5 minutes silence
  • Day 20: 5 minute warmup; memorize Isaiah 9:5 (“A child is born to us…”); 10 minutes silence
  • Day 21: 5 minute warmup; make a good examination of conscience, asking God to cast light into all the areas of sin in your life and to make you truly repentant and grateful for his love and mercy; go to confession; 15 minutes silence

Week 4: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make two chapel visits

  • Day 22: 5 minute warmup;the Office of Readings; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 23: 5 minute warmup; Jeremiah 31; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 24: 5 minute warmup; 15 minutes journaling on why you need the incarnation; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 25: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 35; reading from St. Augustine; 20 minutes silence
  • Day 26: 5 minute warmup; Matthew 1:18-2:23; G.K.Chesterton “The House of Christmas”; 20 minutes silence
  • Day 27: 5 minute warmup; full rosary (joyful mysteries); 10 minutes silence
  • Day 28: Half an hour of prayer: your choice

I’ve compiled the non-Biblical readings here if you want to print them in advance: Advent Boot Camp readings

This is going to max you out at 30-35 minutes of prayer at one time. If you feel like you can do more than that, go for it. If you’re a beginner when it comes to non-liturgical prayer, though, this might be a good way to get started. Whether you’re interested in this approach or not, do spend some time praying about how you’re going to try to grow closer to the Lord this Advent. But don’t stress about it–it’s supposed to be a time of preparation and peace, not frantic anxiety, despite what the mall might do to you this time of year. You might consider starting to read the Bible through in a year using this schedule. Or read Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God. Just be sure you do something more than bake and shop to prepare for Christmas this year. The Christ Child is coming, after all. Offer him your heart.

  1. Ten points if you read that in your Hans and Franz voice. []

Advent Stillness: 7 Ways to Slow Down During the Busiest Time of the Year

Ah, Advent. Candlelit evenings curled up with a good book. Long vigils in darkened chapels. Darkness and silence and sweet anticipation as you prepare for the Lord’s coming.

Right?

Not this century. Here it’s shopping and wrapping and baking and driving and endless Christmas programs and parties and no time for anticipation because there are too many Pinterest projects to perfect! These days we jump into Christmas before we’ve finished our Halloween candy and nobody’s got a second to prepare for anything but a frenzy of expensive presents we don’t need. And maybe you’re praying more this Advent or reading some great book, but do you feel like it’s Advent? Not without silence and stillness and really slowing down. And that doesn’t happen unless you fight for it.

Advent stillness

1. Delete (or hide) social media apps from your phone.

I’ve been doing this for 3 days and I’m loving it! All I did was remove the icons from my home screen and decide that I’m only going to open Facebook and the like when I’ve got 20 minutes to devote to it. This means that I don’t scroll through my news feed when waiting in line. Or while playing with kids. Or the second I get into my car. Or whatever. Yesterday was a fairly empty day and I went 12 hours without checking Facebook–which left me with a lot of time just to be. It’s amazing how different life is when you’re not using every spare second to distract yourself.

2. Don’t give Christmas presents.

Well, that’s not exactly what I mean. Obviously I’m in favor of Christmas presents. But what if you gave them for Epiphany instead? What if instead of spending Advent dashing desperately through the mall before settling on junk that nobody needs, you spent Advent preparing for Jesus and went shopping after Christmas, when you’ve got time off work and everything’s on sale?

3. Turn off the radio.

I’ve got nothing against Christmas music in Advent,1 but silence is a much better preparation for the coming of the King than Jingle Bell Rock. Turn off the radio this month–all the time or for some specified period daily–and just be.

4. Check out an audio book.

Instead of watching TV, try listening to a book when you’re sitting around in the evenings–or baking/crocheting/wrapping. It’s a slower pace and much less stimulating, so you’ll find yourself more relaxed. It’s also easier to step away from, which might increase the amount of sleep you get. Plus, you can try to find something worthwhile, which is hard to do on Netflix. Check out LibriVox for free books in the public domain. The Other Wise Man or The Gift of the Magi would be good seasonal selections from the classics, and they’ve also got collections of short Christmas-themed stories. Or swing by your library (physically or electronically) for a newer selection.

5. Start your day differently.

If you’re anything like me, your default is to grab your phone and check notifications just as soon as you’ve turned off the alarm. That way you hit the ground running–and with nary a moment to be recollected. Try starting instead with some focused prayer or reflection:

  • Pray morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.
  • Pick one verse of Scripture to read first thing and come back to it throughout the day–at every meal, perhaps, or every time you get in the car. Then before bed, jot down what you learned from that Scripture.
  • Read the Gospel for the day.
  • Once December 17th hits, try reading my reflections on the O Antiphons from a few years ago.

2015-12-02 05.13.216. Pray the St. Andrew Novena.

This novena should have started on November 30th, but it’s also way longer than 9 days, so we’ll call it good if you want to start today. The idea is that you pray this prayer 15 times a day. It sounds like a lot, but it’s so short and I’ve found that if I space it out throughout the day, it makes a beautiful rhythm of sudden stillness throughout my day.

I’ve got this set as my only goal for my new app (Habit Bull) whose icon has replaced my Facebook icon on my phone’s home screen. Then when I have a second and automatically pull out my phone, I find myself once again at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. And it’s my lock screen, just in case I was tempted to forget that it’s Advent. Save this image and do the same!

St Andrew Christmas Novena

7. Swing by the chapel.

Adding something else to your schedule won’t actually make you less busy, of course. But stopping by each day for ten minutes of silence (or once a week for an hour if it’s too far out of your way to pull off daily) will slow down your racing mind and focus your heart back on him. And that is the whole purpose of Advent.

  1. For you, that is. I won’t touch the stuff. []

Advent Boot Camp 2015

I put out an Advent Boot Camp two years ago and the response was great, so I thought I’d do it again. Just a little tweaking since Christmas isn’t always the same day of the week. Read the intro here or just dive right in and prepare for the Spirit to pump you up.1

This “Advent Boot Camp” is a guideline, not a foolproof plan. Feel free to substitute anything. What’s essential is that you’re spending time in silent prayer–not just prayer but silent prayer–and that you’re easing into it.

Each day’s prayer starts with a 5 minute warmup. It’s hard just to snap from all the noise of the world into prayer, so take some time to slow down, talk to the Lord about what’s weighing on you, and get quiet. Then see what God has to say to you through his Word, his Saints, and the prayers of his Church. Finally, spend some good time in silence, either processing what you’ve read, talking to God, or trying to be still in his presence. If your prayer life has consisted solely of grace before meals and Mass on Sunday, this might be tough. But it will get easier. And what better time to seek silence than in the mad bustle leading up to Christmas?

Advent boot campWeek 1: Begin each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make one chapel visit

  • Day 1: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 40; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 2: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 9:1-6; one decade of the rosary, 5 minutes silence
  • Day 3: 5 minute warmup;Luke 1:26-38; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 4: 5 minute warmup; Catechism 522-526; one decade of the rosary; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 5: 5 minute warmup; the Office of Readings ((Click the Office of Readings tab)); 5 minutes silence
  • Day 6: 5 minute warmup; Chaplet of Divine Mercy; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 7: 15 minutes of prayer: your choice

Week 2: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend one extra Mass

Week 3: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend two extra Masses

  • Day 15: 5 minute warmup; John 1:1-18; reading from St. Gregory Nazianzen; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 16: 25 minutes of prayer: your choice
  • Day 17: 5 minute warmup; “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 18: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 61-62; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 19: 5 minute warmup; full rosary (joyful mysteries); 5 minutes silence
  • Day 20: 5 minute warmup;the Office of Readings; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 21: 5 minute warmup; make a good examination of conscience, asking God to cast light into all the areas of sin in your life and to make you truly repentant and grateful for his love and mercy; go to confession; 15 minutes silence

Week 4: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make two chapel visits

  • Day 22: 5 minute warmup; memorize Isaiah 9:5 (“A child is born to us…”); 10 minutes silence
  • Day 23: 5 minute warmup; Jeremiah 31; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 24: 5 minute warmup; 15 minutes journaling on why you need the incarnation; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 25: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 35; reading from St. Augustine; 20 minutes silence
  • Day 26: 5 minute warmup; Matthew 1:18-2:23; G.K.Chesterton “The House of Christmas”; 20 minutes silence
  • Day 27: Half an hour of prayer: your choice

I’ve compiled the non-Biblical readings here if you want to print them in advance: Advent Boot Camp readings

This is going to max you out at 30-35 minutes of prayer at one time. If you feel like you can do more than that, go for it. If you’re a beginner when it comes to non-liturgical prayer, though, this might be a good way to get started. Whether you’re interested in this approach or not, do spend some time praying about how you’re going to try to grow closer to the Lord this Advent. But don’t stress about it–it’s supposed to be a time of preparation and peace, not frantic anxiety, despite what the mall might do to you this time of year. You might consider starting to read the Bible through in a year using this schedule. Or read Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God. Just be sure you do something more than bake and shop to prepare for Christmas this year. The Christ Child is coming, after all. Offer him your heart.

  1. Ten points if you read that in your Hans and Franz voice. []

Advent Boot Camp 2014

I put out an Advent Boot Camp last year and the response was great, so I thought I’d do it again. Just a little tweaking since Christmas isn’t always the same day of the week. Read the intro here or just dive right in and prepare for the Spirit to pump you up.1

This “Advent Boot Camp” is a guideline, not a foolproof plan. Feel free to substitute anything. What’s essential is that you’re spending time in silent prayer–not just prayer but silent prayer–and that you’re easing into it.

Each day’s prayer starts with a 5 minute warmup. It’s hard just to snap from all the noise of the world into prayer, so take some time to slow down, talk to the Lord about what’s weighing on you, and get quiet. Then see what God has to say to you through his Word, his Saints, and the prayers of his Church. Finally, spend some good time in silence, either processing what you’ve read, talking to God, or trying to be still in his presence. If your prayer life has consisted solely of grace before meals and Mass on Sunday, this might be tough. But it will get easier. And what better time to seek silence than in the mad bustle leading up to Christmas?

Advent boot campWeek 1: Begin each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make one chapel visit

  • Day 1: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 40; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 2: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 9:1-6; one decade of the rosary, 5 minutes silence
  • Day 3: 5 minute warmup; the Office of Readings2; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 4: 5 minute warmup; Catechism 522-526; one decade of the rosary; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 5: 5 minute warmup; Luke 1:26-38; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 6: 5 minute warmup; Chaplet of Divine Mercy; 5 minutes silence
  • Day 7: 15 minutes of prayer: your choice

Week 2: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend one extra Mass

Week 3: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, attend two extra Masses

  • Day 15: 5 minute warmup; John 1:1-18; reading from St. Gregory Nazianzen; 10 minutes silence
  • Day 16: 25 minutes of prayer: your choice
  • Day 17: 5 minute warmup; “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 18: 5 minute warmup; the Office of Readings; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 19: 5 minute warmup; full rosary (joyful mysteries); 5 minutes silence
  • Day 20: 5 minute warmup; Isaiah 61-62; 15 minutes silence
  • Day 21: 5 minute warmup; make a good examination of conscience, asking God to cast light into all the areas of sin in your life and to make you truly repentant and grateful for his love and mercy; go to confession; 15 minutes silence

Week 4: Begin and end each day with 5 minutes of prayer, make two chapel visits

I’ve compiled the non-Biblical readings here if you want to print them in advance: Advent Boot Camp readings

This is going to max you out at 30-35 minutes of prayer at one time. If you feel like you can do more than that, go for it. But if you’re a beginner when it comes to non-liturgical prayer, this might be a good way to get started. Whether you’re interested in this approach or not, do spend some time praying about how you’re going to try to grow closer to the Lord this Advent. But don’t stress about it–it’s supposed to be a time of preparation and peace, not frantic anxiety, despite what the mall might do to you this time of year. You might consider starting to read the Bible through in a year using this schedule. Or read Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God. Just be sure you do something more than bake and shop to prepare for Christmas this year. The Christ Child is coming, after all. Offer him your heart.

  1. Ten points if you read that in your Hans and Franz voice. []