The quiet hope of Advent

This Sunday the Church will begin the celebration of Advent, the season in which we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas.

All of us know that Christmas is coming—we are bombarded with the signs and sounds of Christmas already. But knowing that Christmas is coming, and being prepared for it, are two different things. The Church’s Advent season is meant to be an opportunity to open our hearts to Jesus Christ—who comes small and quietly into our lives, but who can transform everything about us.

Our hearts are made for the worship of God. We are designed for unity with him. And Advent is meant to help us recognize that part of ourselves which longs for God, which needs him, and which is built for unity with him.

In 1986, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI, wrote that: “Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope. … It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”

Advent will only prepare us for Christ—and open within us the doors of hope—if we allow it to.

At Christmas, Jesus Christ is present as a small, quiet, unassuming child—a beautiful newborn.  Those who expected the Messiah to arrive triumphantly as a worldly king, with great fanfare, missed the Messiah. Only those who were seeking goodness, who hoped in the goodness of God, encountered the Christ Child.

All of us were made for unity with Jesus Christ. But in our own lives, we miss the presence of Jesus Christ if we focus only on the loud, pervasive noise of Christmas.

If we want to discover him at Christmas, we need to look for Jesus with joyful expectation. And this means that to encounter Christ, we must find a way to quiet ourselves, and to hope for redemption in the presence of a small, quiet voice.

The answer, of course, to opening the doors of hope, is pursuing during Advent a deeper life of prayer and sacrifice. During Advent, the Church recommends to all Catholics that we attend Mass more frequently, celebrate the sacrament of penance, spend time in eucharistic adoration, and spend time with Scripture. I pray that Catholics in the Archdiocese of Denver might spend time with the Book of Isaiah, which so beautifully anticipates Christ.

I hope, most especially, that you will spend time in prayer with your family. The family, the domestic church, is the place where we encounter Christ at Christmas—because we encounter him in the Holy Family. Every family is called to model the openness, the generosity, and the listening of the Holy Family.

And so I pray that Advent will become a time when your family commits to reading Scripture together, meditating on the rosary together, and remembering the journey of the Holy Family to Bethlehem. As you follow their journey, your own family will also sojourn to the place where Christ was born and made present to the world.

There is an ancient Advent hymn of the Church I love, the “Conditor alme siderum” (“Creator of the stars at night”). Its opening verse prays: “Creator of the stars of night/thy people’s everlasting light/Jesu, Redeemer, save us all/and hear thy servants when they call.”

Jesus will always hear us when we call. I pray that we, too, will hear him and cooperate with him.  Advent, a time of quiet hope in truth and goodness, will allow us to. If we let it, during Advent the Church will, as Pope Benedict XVI reflected, “take us by the hand and—in the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary— express her motherhood by allowing us to experience the joyful expectation of the coming of the Lord, who embraces us all in his love that saves and consoles.”

COMING UP: On Fathers and Christian Masculinity

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The Year of St. Joseph points us to Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, as the essential model for fathers. Joseph not only manifests genuine masculinity, he also images God’s own fatherhood, as Pope Francis makes clear in his apostolic letter, Patris Corde: “In his relationship to Jesus, Joseph was the earthly shadow of the heavenly Father: he watched over him and protected him, never leaving him to go his own way.” Jesus, though the Son of God, obeyed Joseph, learned from him, and worked with him, acknowledging Joseph as a true expression of God’s own fatherhood.  

God does not just use fatherhood as an image of himself, because he himself is Father, even within his own triune life. Earthly fatherhood comes forth from him and should manifest his life and love. St. Paul speaks of honoring the “Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph 3:15). God wants everyone to be able to see his own fatherly love and called certain men to share in his own paternal gift of bringing forth life and caring for others. Every father is called to be liked Joseph, “an earthly shadow of the heavenly Father” for his own family. 

Our culture, however, often denigrates masculinity, sometimes viewing even its proper expressions as toxic. We too often see maleness in its fallenness — dominating and selfish — rather than showing self-sacrificial service. In fact, later in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the true vocation of the husband and father: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). He also speaks of the role of fatherhood: “Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Paul shows us the goal of fatherhood — sacrificing himself for the flourishing of the family by putting the good of his wife and children before his own desires.   

No matter what the contrary voices of our culture say, we need strong men and fathers. God created man and woman in complementarity, and they need each other to thrive, helping the other in relation to their own strengths and weaknesses. Children need the strong presence of a father to discipline and teach, as Paul reminds us. Study after study has shown that fathers have the largest impact on the faith of their children. Christian Smith explains in his sociological study, Young Catholic America, that “the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children (125). The same can be said for general wellbeing and success. When fathers are absent or refuse to exercise their role, a moral and spiritual vacuum appears. A strong majority of felons, for instance, grew up without fathers in the home.  

St. Joseph helps us to understand the strength of Christian fatherhood. First, like any good husband, Joseph listened — not just to his wife but also to God. Woken up frequently by angels, he demonstrated obedience and trust, quickly leaving everything behind to follow God’s instructions and to protect his family. We also know Joseph for his work as a carpenter and builder, content to live simply and to work hard. Importantly, he also taught Jesus how to work, showing that fathers model and teach by drawing their children into their life and work. And we can also learn from Joseph’s humility, serving the Incarnate God and his Mother without even a single recorded word in the Gospels.  

This humility points us to the essence of Christian fatherhood. Although living with two perfect people, Joseph was still called to lead. He quietly and humbly did what was needed for his family and taught his own maker how to share in his work. Fathers do not lead in order to be in charge or to get their own way. They lead because God asks them to care for and protect their families. Fathers and mothers share in the great and beautiful partnership of family life, although fathers cannot simply sit back and let mom take the lead in the spiritual life, as they are often tempted to do. Like Joseph, fathers should act firmly and lovingly to put God and the family before self, obeying God and leading the family in the right direction. They are called to model faith, work, and sacrifice to their children. 

On Father’s Day we can affirm that masculinity and fatherhood are not just good — they are essential to understanding God and his plan for human flourishing. If our culture turns around, it will be because, in large part, Christian men stand up and fight. As Christians, we cannot give in to the culture’s attempt to denigrate masculinity and fatherhood or to pit men and women against each other. We can use this celebration to affirm the essential role that our fathers play, leading their families like St. Joseph.