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12/8/2016 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
Four steps to finding the treasure of Advent
DEACON JIM BOWER LOOKS ON as Renee Court lights the second Advent candle last weekend at Holy Family parish in Little Falls.
DEACON JIM BOWER LOOKS ON as Renee Court lights the second Advent candle last weekend at Holy Family parish in Little Falls.
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


Finding the treasure of Advent is the key to getting into the Christmas spirit. Even with Advent almost half over -- or perhaps especially because of that -- claiming the time to accept its graces will deepen both the joy and peace Christmas promises.

St. John the Baptist, a paramount Advent figure, spent most of his ministry in the wilderness, a place far from the hustle and bustle of city life, "the voice crying in the wilderness: make straight the way of the Lord." For 40 days and 40 nights before he began his public ministry, Jesus Himself went into remote areas and would return there many times.

1. Withdraw from the crowd. This is the opposite of what we are being rushed into, but it is the wisdom of world's Savior. Just when the Gospel is urging us to be still -- to retreat from the noise and to get rid of clutter -- practically everyone and everything around us it piling it on: Eat more, buy more, drive more, hurry more.

The pattern is almost a calculated setup to keep us from getting in touch with ourselves and with the voice of God within our hearts, the invitation to the true Christmas that we did not and cannot make, in which God actually comes to us.

To accept the invitation to get into the true spirit of Advent, which is one of reflection, waiting, listening and letting go, is increasingly countercultural. If you even dare to attempt it, you may be plagued by voices from within and around, "guilting" you for not doing more when there is so much to be done.

2. Don't just do something; stand there. Advent is the permission needed to "take five" minutes (or maybe 10 or 20 minutes) from the noise. The world will still turn.

A very active and renowned clergyman related how he had the pleasure of sharing a plane ride with Mother Teresa, who asked him all about his important work. Delighted in her deep and sincere interest, he told her about all his projects, his writings and his talks, which took up a considerable amount of time.

She sighed and just stopped cold for five minutes that seemed to the priest like an eternity. Finally, she said, "And, Father, when do you pray?" Surprised, the priest realized he could give only one honest answer: He was so busy that he found it hard to find time. She responded, "Then you are too busy!"

One can hardly imagine a more active, busy person than St. Teresa of Kolkata. Yet, as a follower the Rule of St. Benedict, she devoted at least one-third of each day to prayer. Being too busy to pray is to be living in the delusion that one can accomplish anything without taking the time to pray. Maybe it is not living at all.

Another saint, famous for his very action-oriented spirituality, insisted that one ought to prayer quietly at least a half-hour a day -- except if one were busy. Then one should pray an hour a day! That was St. Vincent de Paul. His life is best known for his tireless dedication to the works of mercy, especially serving the poor. Yet, like Mother Teresa, his works were firmly rooted in a life of prayer.

The experience of those who pray is that what invariably happens is that the prayer puts all the business into a more manageable perspective. What seems so important and indispensable finds a way -- almost miraculously at times -- to fall into place. Energy levels actually increase, along with the ability to deal with what might otherwise be stressful and overwhelming. It is only when we empty ourselves of our illusions of being in control and at the center of a universe around us that we begin to be able to relax in the peace of Christ's kingship in our lives.

3. Time "lost" in prayer is time gained. Take advantage of it. In the spirit of Advent, this is also an excellent time to heed the call of the Lord to empty ourselves of anything that stands between us and Jesus, whether that is excessive worry, lack of trust in God's fidelity, resentment for past grievances and other grudges, pride, undeserved feelings of entitlement, judging other people's motives (which we really cannot know), self-righteousness or even old-fashioned greediness.

Jesus always asks His disciples to unburden themselves of their possessions; so, it is a time to be charitable. But the real reason for giving generously of our time, talent and treasure is not so much that "the Church" needs it, but that we need it for our spiritual growth. There is really no contradiction between the two, because, as we have often heard, "We are the Church."

Jesus often reminds His disciples that the more we let go and empty ourselves, the more room He has to come into our lives.

4. Even if everyone else is rushing, we can double down on patience, presence and kindness to everyone we meet. The needs of people often "interrupted" Jesus at prayer. He never minded. The paradox of Christian life is that we receive by giving.

Surprisingly, the more generous we become, the richer we grow in happiness and peace. This is Advent's buried treasure. It is not found in the crowd, but in the still attentiveness of prayer and generous self-giving. Nothing clears the path of the Lord to our hearts better.

(This column previously appeared in The Tablet, the newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y. Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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