Bishop’s Reflection: Uniting Home and Church During Advent

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

The month of December is a wondrous month in the life of the Church as we enter into the season of ADVENT with the hopeful readings at Mass leading us to the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation, the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day. The season, filled with hopeful waiting fills my heart with abundant memories of how we celebrated this holy time within my family. One deep abiding memory is how the Advent Wreath was given a central place in our home and how it shaped and summed up how our Catholic faith, especially during Advent and Christmas, was always present in a concrete way at the heart of our family life at home.

The more I reflect upon this simple devotion, the more I realize that it contains deep wisdom about our faith and the importance of living our faith in the context of the family. The Advent Wreath is usually lit at the family meal each evening. The dinner meal in my home growing up was a constant and rock solid ritual. It was easy for our family because my father’s work was so predictable that he would return home almost at the same time each evening. Also my mother, even when she had a job to help pay the bills, was always at home in enough time to have dinner ready when my father arrived home. It was a blessing that I took for granted. Life, I know, is more hectic today with competing schedules, two parents working and a host of electronic distractions. But the Advent Wreath still speaks wisdom to our hectic lifestyles and reminds us that sharing a meal is not just about eating, but it is also a time to deepen the bond of love and unity in the family. The family meal is a needed experience to counter the dividing influences of our culture today. This meal is also important because it echoes how we gather around the altar at Mass to share the sacrificial meal of the Body and Blood of Christ. With the Advent Wreath in the center of the table we are connecting home and church, thus the spiritual message of Advent is not just experienced in church, but makes its way into the heart of the family and into our daily lives.

If you find that the family meal on a regular basis is almost impossible, then consider the Advent Wreath as a daily family prayer event where you take time to gather all the family, everyday for some time – maybe in the evening or before leaving for school – and light the candle(s) and say the Advent prayer together.

The simple beauty of the Advent Wreath is that it calls the family to prayer in the home and gives us real time to appreciate the season of Advent, which is so often overshadowed by the din of secular advertising for Christmas. The Advent Wreath calls us to consider what it means to wait and helps us slow down to consider the real meaning and heart of CHRISTmas.

The Advent Wreath is also an opportunity for children to see both their mother and father as leaders of prayer, and each child can take an active part in the prayer when it is their time to light the candle.

Even just creating an Advent wreath for your family can stand as a reminder to prayer or shine a light on how little our homes can reflect our faith in daily life. Maybe, just seeing that the candles have not been lit once can call us to prayer and slowly change the routine so that family prayer in some form becomes a part of the routine of family life.

In a world that is becoming more secular we need to make our homes an oasis of faith and connect church and home more often. I see a beautiful example of this on the evening of December 11, the day before the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, when our Hispanic brothers and sisters gather together for an evening of prayer until midnight so they can sing to honor Mary at the beginning of her feast day. As part of the celebration, families bring their statues and pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe and place their images and statues around the altar. After Mary is greeted at midnight with songs of praise, I bless the images and then they are returned to their homes. Home and church are now united. Like this event, the Advent Wreath is another way to bring home and church together.

By the time you receive this month’s Catholic Connection, Advent may have already begun. If you do not have an Advent Wreath yet, don’t worry about being late. Make or buy one and begin to establish this custom of prayer. Even if it sits as a simple sign, it will still speak volumes and may be the beginning of deepening the connection between church and family in your home. •