Advent resounds happy New Year to Catholics, and heralds the coming of Christmas – all reasons to be joyful. But the purple color of Advent reminds us that this is a season for penance. It’s how we prepare for Jesus’ coming. We need to be able to kneel in adoration before the baby Jesus in the manger with a pure heart. More urgently, we need to be ready for His Second Coming, and be sure He finds us in a state of Grace.
These messages of penance stand in contrast to the festive spirit taking over every store and radio station. Naturally, if given the choice of joy versus penance, most of us will jump right for the joy. But Christmas’ joy runs deeper than the pre-emptive festivities. Don’t miss the fuller joy to be experienced this Advent.
Where is the joy in penance?
When’s the last time you went to Confession? And what images do you associate with Confession. Is it a painful drudgery to endure? An embarrassing encounter you have to gulp through? Or, do you welcome the chance to really “get it” about what you’ve done wrong or failed to do as a Child of God? To make a good Confession requires an open heart and a willing spirit for humility. Most of all, it takes a spirit of obedience to the teachings and practice of the faith.
Penance first requires a thorough examination of conscience. Reflect on the 10 Commandments. Read this short section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to understand the full meaning of the 10 Commandments for Catholics. Use a detailed Examination of Conscience to guide you as you prepare for Confession. Give yourself time to really get it about your sins. Pray to the Holy Spirit to show you your failings in love. It may feel overwhelming, and you may find yourself running back to Confession as your awareness grows. That’s all good.
And it’s hard. It’s hard to break through all the excuses we make to minimize our sins. It’s hard to see our own fault in the mirror of our complaints about others’ offenses. It’s hard to forgive others, and to let go of the hurts and disappointments we often nurture in our woundedness.
It’s hard to live the radical call to love as Christ loves – to give up our very lives for others. To pray without ceasing and to serve without wearying. I don’t know about you, but I get darned tired. Tired of the tasks of serving the needs of my family in so many ways. I often feel worn down by it all. Sometimes I feel like I’m breaking under the strain.
Yet Jesus reminds me every day: For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:30). It’s only heavy if I try to carry it all without His strength. When I drop it all at the foot of the Cross, and remember He carries me as well as all the others, does the load lighten. And my spirit becomes enlightened. I see my sin, and Jesus’ light shines through it.
That enlightened awareness can only happen with the help of Confession. It’s where we dump that load we carry through our days and nights, the burden of our sins, the nurtured hurts, the regrets, the embarrassments, the missed opportunities.
What joy we experience in that en-lightening process.
The Church guides in this Advent journey
The Church leads us through all of Salvation History through Bible passages and special devotions during Advent. We see the Christ of the Trinity in the Creation and through the Covenants accepted, undermined and renewed throughout the history of The Chosen People, our siblings through adoption.
We journey with our spiritual ancestors into the Promised Land, and we see the cycle of covenant — sin — repentance which repeats throughout the Bible stories, and which repeats throughout our lives. But, if we persevere and let God do the work in us He seeks, we’re not stuck on a treadmill of recycled sin; instead, we are raised up to a greater love. Jesus promises He wants to save us from our sins. It is for us to join our promise to His, and to carry our crosses and follow Him.
Through daily and Sunday Scripture readings, plus Advent Wreath prayers and Jesse Tree and O Antiphon prayers, we bear witness to the prophets, who herald the coming of the Messiah. And we trace the work of God through Mary’s yes to the birth of the Son, who comes to save us from our sins. Immanuel, God with us, who was born to show us the face of God in divinely-created humanity.
And He came to die that we might live abundantly, in full communion with the Godhead. His Sacrifice opens the gates of paradise, which we experience in part every time we walk into Church and partake of the heavenly banquet – His life offered to us so that we might live forever, and be strengthened in His love for this earthly journey.
That’s the joy of Advent: Remembering the whole story, re-membering ourselves to Our Lord and to His Body, the Church. And re-invigorating the spirit of love so that His Kingdom come, His Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.
When you see the purple, and you adorn your house with purple, remember The King who is coming, whose arms are open to receive you and strengthen you, so you can do His labors of love in your life.
So save the red, green and gold for a few weeks. Embrace the purple of Advent. In our house, we use Gaudette (Joy) Sunday – the pink candle week – to mark the transition to gift-buying and full-out decorating. Until then, we’re trying to hold onto the purple, and hope to get the most out of the real joy of Christmas.
No amount of tinsel can mask a tarnished soul. It’s Saturday, time for Confession!