Making a retreat in Advent is the perfect way to prepare for Christmas, says Paul Northam.
Advent is approaching, and once again the Church, through liturgy, presents us with themes that touch on waiting, hiddenness and preparation.
However, Advent is a relatively short period, and we can sometimes miss the season in the rush to be ready for Christmas -a mistake every Christian should avoid!
I hope to offer some ideas which can help you make the most of your Advent.
Making the Most of Advent
Lent has been called our annual retreat.
However, I see no reason why Advent can’t embody some of that same character, stripping away those things which obscure the face and love of God in our lives by renewing our commitment to prayer, rejecting what is evil and doing good (Psalm 34:14).
Therefore, would you consider making this Advent your second ‘annual retreat’?
Depending on your daily commitments and duties, your retreat might involve one or more of the following elements:
· Taking up of a spiritual or corporal discipline.
· Abstaining from some food or activity.
· Holy reading and time alone for personal/prayerful reflection.
· Spending time with family/loved ones for purposeful and holy recreation.
· Spiritual direction with a priest or religious.
Whichever discipline or devotion you take up in Advent, the renewal of faith comes particularly from a deepening of our relationship with God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – through prayer. That involves personal as well as corporate prayers, such as attending Mass.
‘Prayer does not help your relationship with God,’ so the saying goes. ‘Prayer is your relationship with God’. So why do so many of us, even those who have been Christians for a long time, find prayer an alien, or even hostile, environment?
The reasons can be varied: we may, for example, be plagued with doubts about the depth of our relationship with God. Or perhaps we have become discouraged at our own lack of holiness.
A retreat is the perfect time to face those difficulties and go into the ‘desert’ with Christ to do battle, using the armour and weapons God has given us. This involves the spiritual armour St Paul mentions in Ephesians 6:10-18, but also includes the virtues the Church encourages us to practice.
In his rule, St Benedict speaks about what he considers to be the primary virtue:
To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,.. taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.
Obedience To Prayer
Obedience is the hallmark of a disciple, and therefore our obedience to Christ will be made manifest in our obedience to prayer.
However, you do not need to do this alone. Could you also embark on this journey with another person, holding each other accountable to what you have decided to do on your Advent retreat?
A mistake to avoid is to do too much. Choose just one thing, or a manageable amount, and then do it with all the love of a disciple in service of the true King.
The take home message this December, then, is to go deeper- especially in prayer! Our retreat will be the poorer if we don’t.
However, do not worry if you feel you are just going through the motions. Tony Campolo put it well when he said these words: ‘When we get into the habit of prayer, we won’t just pray when we want to, we’ll pray when we don’t want to – which is when we need it the most’. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you on your journey.
Have a blessed and prayerful Advent retreat!