Ahhh, Advent! It's about time... Advent is my favorite season--anticipation, lighting candles, the dream of cooler weather, the sparkle of Christmas just around the corner, meditating on the end of the world and Jesus' 2nd Coming. Casual. For an impatient person, this is about as much waiting as I can handle. And as much joy as I can associate with waiting.
As this is our first AAK Advent, we'll be celebrating by posting EVERY DAY of 22 days of Advent. As usual we'll have a little bit of everything for you: Weekly Challenges, drink recipes, a bible study series on Jesus' Family Tree (because the holidays mean dealing with relatives, amiright?), Aunt Katie Claus' gift-giving guides, fast fasts, finishable novenas, WorkIt Wednesdays on the Corporal Works of Mercy, and more!
We're so excited to have you join us... Holiday Social Media gets overwhelming with the "It's still Black Friday even though it's Tuesday" Sales, so we encourage you to bookmark AskAuntKatie.com to get your daily dose of darling this Advent season.
Now on to this week's challenge!
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Advent marks the beginning of our Liturgical Calendar and therefore a New Year in the Church! People often have questions about this--How can we start a New Year on December 3rd?? It's not even a Monday! This goes against all rules of New Year/New You dieting and workout plans! Quite simply, everything in the Church begins with Jesus--and while the Son always has and always will be, his incarnation begins when He enters into time and 6lb 12oz Baby Jesus is born! Something so holy can't just kick off the year without a time of preparation... enter Advent! This mild version of Lent gives us time to get our minds and hearts right... to lay some fresh hay in that manger so Baby Jesus can be born. This season also provides some much needed discipline to prepare ourselves for when He comes back!
My favorite practices for Advent are my favorite practices for a January New Year... goal setting, vision-casting, life dreaming--whatever it is you want to call it. Really clearing out the cobwebs of 2017 to get my heart ready for 2018--and with Advent, to get my heart ready for Jesus. We're talking some deep spiritual closet cleaning... the kind where you rediscover you actually have carpet, and potentially a hoarding problem.
One of these practices that I have grown to love over Advents past is to come up with a Word for the Year. Or phrase or theme, etc. This word is something that acts as an anchor, a root, a homebase for the next year. We get inundated with life, busyness, the mundane, wild twists and turns, and often forget ourselves during the course of the year... not only do we forget to take care of ourselves, or forget what we wanted out of life, but we actually forget who we are. We forget our dignity, our worth, our heritage--we are sons and daughters of God!? Oh right, I forgot.
I can't tell you what your word should be... but I can tell you a little bit about my own process for choosing one. The best conversation I've heard about this is from the Abiding Together Podcast. Abiding Together is a weekly podcast hosted by Michelle Benzinger, Sr. Miriam James Heidland, and Heather Khym. [P.S. If you haven't checked out this podcast before, it's a delight! Special Thanks to Bunny for the recommendation.] Here is the particular episode about the Word of the Year:
WEEKLY CHALLENGE: Discern your Word of the Year.
My word of the year for 2017 was YES or CHOOSE ALL. And I'm so glad I did!! I went on a particular journey with St. Therese this year because of that... and go figure, this year's word is very Theresian as well.
STEP ONE: Actually be quiet enough to hear the things the Lord is whispering (or more likely yelling over the noise and those pesky fingers we have in our ears.) This is the most difficult step. It means stepping away from our noise. Stepping away from avoidance. Stepping into that spiritual hoarder closet to begin unpacking...
STEP TWO: You probably already know the answer... We all tend to have something on our heart, whether it is that particular thorn in our side, that elusive personality trait we desire like "kindness" or "joyful resting face", or something as basic as trust, surrender, or patience.
STEP THREE: Make no decisions in a vacuum. Is this something you desire or something the Lord desires for you? Because I desire more wine (because my heart is so attuned to the Blessed Mother), but the Lord desires other things for me. What has been coming up in prayer? What little inklings from the Holy Spirit have confirmed this... do certain books, saints, particular prayers keep presenting themselves?
STEP FOUR: Commit to this Word. Find ways to make it part of the practice of your daily life. Are there Scriptures about this topic? Can you read more about it in the Catechism? Are there particular songs that will help draw this desire out of you? Who in your life exhibits this particular trait or virtue?
STEP FIVE: Be gentle with yourself and recommit/recalculate as necessary. Often when we have our word [be it Patience, Humility, etc.] by day two we find ourselves screaming in traffic or talking about ourselves too much and we decide FORGET THIS! It's too hard!! It's a 365 day work in progress... take your time, breathe, and start over. Life does come at us fast... so if your Word of the Year needs to change by March... that's okay too. Maybe March 2018-February 2019 you need a new Word of the Year. Just make sure you check with the Holy Spirit... He usually knows what's best.
The word that kept coming up for me this year was LOVE. More love. Perhaps all of that Choosing All from St. Therese was making an impression. Then a dear friend recommended that I read I Believe in Love, A personal retreat based on the teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux by Father Jean C. J. D'Elbee. Now if you're like me... you have a stack of about 200 books you're planning on reading next but inevitably someone will mention something new and that stack takes a backseat immediately. This book has put everything else on hold.
While LOVE kept coming up it seemed too broad... too wispy... (too difficult)... too hippie... too simple... (too difficult)... too intangible. This book introduced the phrase that brought "more love" to life for me: EMPTY HANDS. Here's a little excerpt to explain:
In the hour of our agony, in that hour of truth, when, at the moment of our appearance before God, we perhaps review in our memory our whole life, with so many miseries and weaknesses, so many failings and falls, I hope that with contrite hearts but immense confidence we shall say to Jesus, "All this, all this I give You. Did You not come to earth to seek out my sins and take them upon Yourself? In exchange, give me the price of Your Blood, the treasures of Your Redemption, all Your merits, they are mine."
It is in this spirit that little St. Therese said, "In the evening of this life I shall appear before You with empty hands."
"It is just this--to find myself at my death with empty hands--that gives me joy, for, having nothing, I shall receive everything from God." What depth, what logic, what refinement of love there is in these words!
whoa. EMPTY HANDS. These two words. This is how I will learn to love. Let LOVE do the Loving for me.
You are the Word.
You, the creator of language, sound, syllable, font, and scribble.
Communicate your love to me. Communicate your love through me.
Help me find the words that will guide me home to heaven.
Give me the words to guide others.
Thy word, is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.