Four easy ways to deepen your prayer life this Advent:
- Read the daily readings. I use the Daily Readings on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops site.
- Read the daily readings AND a short meditation. There are many wonderful guides out there. I often try to commit to this, but end up missing a few days, for various reasons. It’s easy to feel ashamed of falling short of your ideal goals, but don’t let it stop you from continuing. Remember – I am posting mediatations daily starting November 29, right on this site! (wink, wink!)
- Reading the Sunday Readings, a little at a time through the week (practicing Lectio Divina)
- Celebrating special liturgical days
Prepare the Sunday Readings
Lectio Divina, meaning “Divine reading”, is a breaking open of the Word. This is actually an activity we do year-round in our house. On Monday, we read and discuss the 1st Reading; Tuesday is the Psalm; Wednesday is the 2nd reading; and Thursday is the Gospel. We reserve Friday for catching up if anything got us off schedule (illness or an appointment). I use the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website (usccb.org), but I give my old-enough-to-read kiddos the chapter and book and have them look it up in their own Bibles. It helps them get comfortable using a Bible and knowing where things are located. It always goes slow at first (when we are making the transition from a children’s stories kind of Bible to the real deal), but if you are patient, it really pays off.
We use the standard mass introduction (Ex. “A reading from the book of Genesis”) and closing (ex. “The Word of the Lord/Thanks be to God”). After the reading is finished, we spent just a few minutes discussing it. Sometimes we talk about words or places we may not be familiar with; sometimes we talk about the meaning or back story of what we heard.
This is a fruitful practice for all ages!
Celebrate the Special Days
There are several significant celebrations that happen to fall during Advent. Celebrating these special feast days can enhance your Advent experience.
- December 6 – Feast Day of St. Nicholas – St. Nicholas is, of course, the true saint behind the myth of Santa Claus. We don’t have to bash Santa to appreciate St. Nick, but knowing who the saint was can bring us closer to the real meaning of the season. There are great books on the story of St. Nicholas for every age level out there. Or, there is a Veggie Tales episode, if you prefer a visual (me! me!). If you read, watch, or discuss the story ahead of time, you can then have your children leave their shoes out on the evening of December 5, in the Dutch tradition. When they wake up, maybe St. Nicholas will have filled the shoes with small gifts and candy! He once even came to visit my children’s choir at church the one time our rehearsal fell on Dec. 6. The kids were very excited to find the shoes they left in the hallway filled with goodies. After all, I never left their sight, so it couldn’t have been me, the director! They were pretty sure afterwards that they had heard mysterious footsteps – and oddly, sleigh bells – while we were singing! You just never know….
- Dec. 8 – The Feast of the Immaculate Conception – There’s almost no simple way to explain the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception refers to the Catholic belief that Mary was free from Original Sin from the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb. To put it as simply as I know how, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a Marian feast day. Jesus entered human life in the womb of Mary, his mother. It seems only right that the spotless Lamb of God was sheltered within the equally spotless womb of the brave woman who said yes to God. God exists outside of time, and so always knew that Mary would say an unqualified yes to bearing the long-awaited Savior. To honor her bravery and love in bearing God-made-man within her own body, God granted her the gift of being free from sin.
- Dec. 12 – Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe – Another Marian feast day! How right it is to have two special Mary days during Advent, which seems a particularly Marian season, as we, along with Mary, await the birth of her son, Jesus Christ. This feast day celebrates the time when the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant Mexican farmer, Juan Diego, and asked him to help her get a chapel built on that spot. It is a great story – miracles and visions and the naming of Our Lady as Our Lady of Guadalupe. More on this story when we reach December 12!St. Juan Diego’s feast day is December 9, while the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is Dec. 12. Celebrate by buying some roses and placing them in your home. I think this year I will hunt up the late ’90s children’s show Wishbone (The episode called “Viva Wishbone”) and find the episode that retells this story. It is a fun retelling. (Fun fact – my cousin, Sean Hennigan, is an actor and often had parts in this series, although not in this episode).