At no time of the year is Christian faith more under siege by the secular, anti-Christian and consumerist world than in the Advent season. This is the time of year which is make-or-break for the purveyors of want rather than need. The pressure to entice us to its false values is at its highest.

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the will always seeks the good. Even when we make a mistake in judgment, we seek what we think at the moment is good. The devil knows this, and the merchants of want rather than need know it, as well.

Thus, our world is filled with deceitful euphemisms: We no longer buy used cars, but “pre-owned” ones. We no longer spend money to buy things; we buy things to “save” money. We buy one item to get one free, or any other ruse that might entice us to think we are pursuing the good.

One of the tools of mercantile deceit is to inspire competition rather than cooperation. We have to get out there early to buy the best Christmas tree before someone else gets their hands on it. We have to rush to buy our gifts before the stores run out (or so they would have you believe).

If we see our neighbor with something, then we have to have one, too — preferably a better one, to demonstrate our superiority. We tickle our egos with the smug presumption that we are organized and prepared well in advance.

Do we ask, “For what purpose?” The best the milieu around us can offer is the repeated-ad-nauseam fatuous phrase “the magic of the season.” It never gets any deeper than that.

In the meantime, everything is rush, rush, rush, to prevent us from asking, “What is it all for?”

If we are sensitive to the spirit of the liturgy, we might notice that the atmosphere is one of longing, waiting for the arrival of something wonderful.

We believe that we are not just waiting to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus. We recognize that, without God’s help, all we humans have been able to accomplish is to multiply misery. We have become captives to our own self-seeking, our own delusions as to what constitutes true joy and happiness.

God, however, freely chose not to leave us to our delusions: not to remain at a distance, but to establish a human relationship with us by becoming human like us. He chose to be Emmanuel, God with us.

The problem with human relations, however, is that if they are to bring us true joy and happiness, they must be a two-way street. There must be give as well as take. We can choose to ignore Emmanuel’s offer — perhaps not explicitly, but implicitly, by being too busy, too preoccupied with other things, not having the time for Emmanuel.

That’s why we have the season of Advent: to regain and renew focus on what is really important in life, at the very time when the world around us would have us do the opposite!

Think what it might be like if someone we loved dearly had been on the other side of the world for some time, and finally came back home to us. Would we ignore him? Would we tell him we haven’t the time or are too busy to pay attention to him? I don’t think so.

He would have priority. We would willingly make time for him. We would make ourselves available to reciprocate his offer of a loving relationship, rather than allowing ourselves to be captivated by other pressures.

In the book of Genesis, it is related that Jacob — the grandson of Abraham, our father in faith — spent a night wrestling with the divine. As a result, God changed his name from Jacob to Israel, which in Hebrew means, “one who wrestles with or struggles with God.”

If we are serious, the Advent season is a time of struggle for us against the pressures of the pagan world around us. May our response, constantly and perseveringly, be: “O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”

(Mr. Martin attends Sacred Heart parish in Troy.)