The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an important event on the Advent calendar. (File photo)
The liturgical season of Advent began Sunday. Here are just a few ways you and your family can make room in the inn of your hearts for the Christ Child over the next few weeks.
— Give something up. We usually associate this practice with Lent, but Advent, too, has a penitential aspect. Fasting, whether from a favorite food or an activity that takes up too much of our time, is a great way to sharpen our focus on what matters this time of year.
— Celebrate the important feast days. One of these, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, is actually a Holy Day of Obligation, so attending Mass is not optional, but another way to make the day even more memorable is by planning a special meal or activity (early cookie-baking party, anyone?). Spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, if your schedule allows it. If you aren’t located near a perpetual adoration chapel, see if a nearby parish is offering special adoration times, like St. Frances Cabrini Parish in West Bend, where the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed following the 8 a.m. Mass until 11 a.m. End the day with a patriotic Rosary, praying for each of the 50 states in the union, as the Blessed Virgin is Patroness of the United States under her title of the Immaculate Conception.
— Don’t forget about Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas. This important feast falls on Sunday, Dec. 12, this year, so we will all be at Mass anyway, but many parishes are planning additional celebrations. For instance, Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Milwaukee will host mariachis, indigenous dancers, authentic Mexican food and a bilingual play (for more information, visit mgcparish.org). The evening before the feast day, on Saturday, Dec. 11, St. Anthony and St. Hyacinth parishes in Milwaukee will have a celebration that includes traditional dance, a brass band, the rosary and a Marian hour (for more information, visit stanthony-sthyacinth.org); the next day, they will offer both Spanish-language and English-language Masses.
— Make time for prayer and reflection, not just personally but as a family. Read from the Book of Isaiah at the dinner table. Sing an Advent hymn (not a Christmas one — remember, there is a big difference) in the dark of your living room around the soft glow of the tree or Advent wreath. Collect the season’s Christmas cards, choose one each evening at dinner and remember the sender in prayer together.
— Don’t forget to incorporate your parish into your Advent. Many churches are once again offering Advent music events, like the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist’s Advent Lessons and Carols on Sunday, Dec. 5, at 5:15 p.m. (visit stjohncathedral.org for more information). Others have returned to hosting traditional family-friendly Advent breakfast celebrations like the popular Breakfast with Jesus at St. Joseph in Wauwatosa on Saturday, Dec. 11, at 9 a.m. (visit stjoetosa.com for more information).
— Make the gifts mean something. If the last two years have shown anything, it’s the power of connection and community. Consider shopping local and supporting small businesses as much as possible when completing your holiday gift list. Transform the mundane task of gift-wrapping into a spiritual one — say a prayer for each recipient as you wrap their gift, asking the Lord to send grace upon them in the new year.
— Get to Confession. There is no better way to prepare for Christmas than by partaking of the sacramental grace found in Reconciliation. Although it’s important to keep this habit up year-round, Advent and Lent are particularly opportune seasons to access the confessional, as many parishes schedule special reconciliation times — like the ones that will be offered at St. Joseph in Burlington (10 a.m. on Dec. 4, www.ourblcc.org), St. Lucy in Racine (9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 16, stlucychurch.org) or St. Andrew in Delavan (10 a.m. on Dec. 4, standrews-delavan.org), to name just a few.
— Remember the power of nine. Nine is a strong number in Catholicism: we love our novenas — our nine-day prayers — and that is born out in some wonderful cultural traditions during Advent. Hispanic cultures celebrate Las Posadas over the course of nine evenings from Dec. 16 to Dec. 24, with processions to individual homes that mimic the travel of Mary and Joseph, and several parishes in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee are planning to hold Las Posadas celebrations (for a complete listing of parishes that offer Hispanic Ministries, visit https://www.archmil.org/Espanol/Parroquias.htm). Similarly, Filipino Catholics celebrate the Simbang Gabi novena of nine Masses held at different churches between Dec. 16 and 24, and this year Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki plans to preside at the final Mass of Simbang Gabi, to be held at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 23 at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Greenfield. For more information, visit archmil.org/offices/intercultural.htm.