As you begin to read this post, you probably have two burning questions:
Q. WHERE THE HECK HAVE YOU BEEN, VICKY? IT’S BEEN OVER A MONTH!
A. I firmly believe that November is the most jam-packed month of the year. Yes, even busier than December. It’s like the world needs to cram all the non-holiday-related obligations into November to make room for all the bustle of the Christmas season. So yeah, between teaching, lesson planning, and a little traveling, I’ve been busy. I’m sorry. 😦 But I’m hoping that this Advent will give me more time to write, which brings me to …
Q. Why is the title of this post in French, and what does it mean?
A. This past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent, and as usual, I went to the messe des jeunes — youth evening mass — in town. A seminarian there was wearing a bright green rubber bracelet that said “En Avant Pour L’Avent,” which roughly translates to “All ready for Advent!” It’s catchier in French, in my humble opinion.
I thought it would be a great title for my Advent series on this blog. The season of Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of the infant Jesus at Christmas … so what does that mean? Around this time, people start, or have already made, their Christmas game plans: when the parties are, what decorations need to be put up, and “Gosh, I need to remember to get a gift for my boss’ secretary’s assistant’s kid.” It’s easy to go into Advent without a spiritual game plan and try to squeeze in time for Mass between shopping sprees.
This year, I really wanted to use Advent to grow closer to Jesus, to more deeply understand His love for me, and ultimately, to make Him my best friend.
In many chastity talks for women I’ve seen, the speaker talks about making Jesus the love of your life, the man who satisfies you before anyone else. This is something I’ve been trying to do for a long time now, and I’d get frustrated when I would examine my conscience and think, “Nope, I still want a husband more than I want Jesus.” I didn’t know how to fix this, and I knew I couldn’t force myself to love Jesus in that way, even though He already had that love times infinity for me.
I got a hint two weeks ago at the messe de jeunes. I absolutely LOVE this Mass! The musicians and the lectors are all high school and college students, the priests are generally younger and more energetic, and it reminds me so much of Mass at my American college. I felt right at home after my first youth Mass, and I started going to Wednesday evenings at the aumônerie, or religious education center, where I met a ton of welcoming and fun French Catholic students. Whenever I went to Sunday Mass or to a Wednesday meeting, I was sure of seeing a lot of people I knew who would come up to me and say “Salut!” and kiss me on both cheeks (faire la bise).
Two weeks ago, I walked into the church, and knew nobody. I don’t know what was going on that week, but all my new acquaintances at the aumônerie, and even a Catholic teacher I was becoming good friends with, weren’t there.
Those of you who know me personally know that I like people. I can have my introverted moments, but for the most part, I find God most often in other people. At this moment, I had no people, so there was no faith, no community, no joy. I turned bitter. I was uncivil to the people who did look my way and say “Bonsoir.” I was sorely disappointed; I had needed a Catholic community and there was none to be seen.
At some point, a voice spoke in my heart, “There is still Jesus.” There, right in front of me, on the altar, was my Savior, who had given up His life — His guiltless, blameless life — for me, a sinner. John 15:13 says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” We often see Jesus as a Lord, or a Master, not a friend. But He desires to be our friend! No one knew this better than Saint Teresa of Avila, who wrote, “For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.”
This Advent season, I am working to build that friendship with Jesus. In seeking to make Jesus the love of my life, I had forgotten that the greatest and longest-lasting love stories begin when a beautiful friendship blossoms into something more. Jesus did not give His life on the Cross without spending time with His disciples and the people He ministered to, teaching them, breaking bread with them, and healing them. A relationship with God doesn’t just happen; we need to cultivate it.
So here is my Advent Game Plan. I hope it will inspire you to write your own:
1. Read the Bible chapter mentioned in the daily verse on my Advent calendar.
2. Do the daily reflection in my “Five Minutes with the Word” booklet. (Thanks, Catholic community care package!)
3. Confession at least once and Mass as often as possible.
4. Journaling, with the intention of filling up my five-year-old journal before Christmas.
5. Bringing my problems to prayer before sharing them with anyone else.
Stay tuned for more Advent updates! This weekend, I will be going on a retreat at a very special location. It’s going to be awesome. Know that I am praying for you this Advent season.
What’s your Advent Game Plan? Tell me in the comments!