Despite the pandemic-related dearth of holiday parties and typical social engagements that stuff the weeks before Christmas for many, local Catholics may be feeling a different sort of special excitement for this year’s Advent.

With more time and more space, there may be more energy to devote and focus these days on the meaning of Advent and the preparation for Our Savior’s birth.

In years past, many Catholics spent the Christmas holidays traveling to various parts of the state or country to celebrate with family members. Many days were wrapped up in shopping, and attending Christmas parties and children’s school programs. Many of the Catholic traditions that normally begin the first Sunday of Advent, such as praying in front of an Advent wreath or creating the Jesse tree, often lost their luster during the month and never saw completion on Christmas Day.

This year’s quieter season of preparation at home means there is the potential for greater focus and fewer distractions ahead of Christmas.

Each Advent, Fr. Michael Hammer, assisting priest at Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, held an Advent evening of reflection at the parish. This year, due to the pandemic he has recorded a program, titled “Advent: A Season of Waiting. A Season of Hope” on the parish YouTube channel.

He got the idea to do this video because, prior to the pandemic, the parish had a history of offering pre-Advent and pre-Lenten programs, which the parishioners responded to very well.

“We are not able to have those face-to-face evenings at this time. However, I realized during evening prayer that since we do the YouTube Mass on Sundays, we could also record this Advent presentation. When I submitted the idea to staff, they agreed,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to have the program at all without doing it this way due to the pandemic.”

Admittedly it wasn’t as easy to hold a virtual Advent night of reflection without an audience to interact with but Fr. Hammer has much experience from celebrating the television Mass for many years, so it wasn’t too difficult for him to present the program in that manner.

In the video, Fr. Hammer suggests several ideas to touch the lives of his audience, bring them to the creche and to help them focus on preparing spiritually for the birth of Christ. Ideas such as poetry, prayer, scripture reading, Advent calendars, customs and giving space to celebrate the beauty and blessings of the season are some of the ideas discussed in his video.

In recognizing the difficulty of this year, Fr. Hammer hopes that his presentation will help fellow Catholics slow down and open their hearts to the sacredness the season of Advent brings.

“People are rushing more headlong into Christmas, as evidenced by the exuberant buying of Christmas trees – it’s very understandable,” he said. “That is why I suggest dedicating a certain amount of time daily, but nothing that would be too difficult. One suggestion I have is breaking it down in the way that the Sunday readings do. The first two weeks having to do with the focus on the paroufia, or second coming. The second two weeks dealing with the birth of Jesus itself. I suggest that each person try at least 10 minutes a day. Five minutes dealing with the second coming because we will all face the end times and the second five looking at the different ways that appropriately celebrate the birth of Christ.”

To watch this video, visit the Cathedral’s YouTube Page:

Fr. Michael Hammer