When I was a little boy, getting ready for Christmas meant looking through the pages of toys in the catalogue my mum had and trying to choose something that we thought we would like. My two brothers and I used to spend hours going through the pages and comparing notes. Come Christmas morning my middle brother always seemed to have chosen the better gift. As we got older, we started drifting into choosing clothes; Christmas was one of maybe three times in the year when new clothes appeared in our house.

As Altar boys we also got involved with Midnight Mass and this meant going to the odd practice and being encouraged to go to Confession. There was also the school play, which in my earlier days at school tended to be a Nativity, but towards the end of primary school there was a move towards finding roles for everyone and some of the Christmas message was starting to be diluted. In Scotland, Christmas was a time for the children and New Year was time for the adults. It was a time for lots of food and drink, and a time when lots of traditions came to the fore. It was also a time to learn as older generations passed on some of the traditions and methods of food preparation to their younger relatives. I remember my gran showing us how she prepared tongue meat from scratch, not something many people would do nowadays. Most of our preparations were centred around family activities, in those days Advent calendars were unveiling pictures which told the Christmas story, with no chocolates inside.

In our first reading today, there is a sense of their being great distance between God and the people. Isaiah is stating that the people have abandoned God, they have strayed from the path laid out by the prophets and found laws to suit their own purpose. Isaiah pleads with God to “tear the heavens open and come down.” Isaiah states that God is our creator, he is the potter, and we are the clay. We have been moulded into the image of God, crafted to be like Him and given a heart to love like Him.

As we look towards Christmas when we remember the first coming of Christ, we also remember that Jesus said He will return, and we need to prepare for that second coming. The psalm urges God to help us return to the true path, asking God to bless us so that we can be saved. This time of preparation encourages all of us to look at where we put obstacles between God and ourselves, asking ourselves what we need to do to be closer to God.

In the second reading St Paul is reminding the Corinthians of all of the blessings they have received and urging them to remain faithful until the last day, encouraging them to use the gifts they have received from the Holy Spirit, like the Corinthians we need to be aware of the gifts we have received and use them to stay on the right path. Jesus speaks about this Himself in the Gospel, reminding us to be ready, stay awake, something which if we remember the agony in the garden the disciples were unable to do at that particular time.

As we enter into Advent, what are we going to do to help us prepare for Christmas? Our Bishop has been urging us to take up the 6 holy habits1. How are we getting on with them? Looking at them I know I need to work harder to develop these habits, which is really disappointing for me. In the past I would have been quite comfortable with at least 5 of them, at the moment I can probably only be happy with my response to three of them.

So, for me, this Advent is a time for me to work at being ready, by re-focussing on these 6 Holy Habits I hope I can be awake, should the Master decide to come I hope He will find me ready.

Further Reading

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

First Sunday of Advent

CCC 668-677, 769: the final tribulation and Christ’s return in glory
CCC 451, 671, 1130, 1403, 2817: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
CCC 35: God gives humanity grace to accept Revelation, welcome the Messiah
CCC 827, 1431, 2677, 2839: acknowledging that we are sinners.

Six Holy Habits

First, to keep Sunday special, as a family day, by attending Mass, the ‘source and summit’ of the Christian life, supporting your parish community. 

Second, to resolve to spend at least five minutes a day in prayer, at whatever time you find best, using the Scriptures, maybe the Gospel of the day. 

Third, to keep Friday as a day of penance in honour of the Lord’s Passion, intentionally serving the poor and needy. 

Fourth, at least once a fortnight, to pay a private visit to church for a short period of prayer before the Tabernacle. 

Fifth, to go to Confession once a month or so, like a spiritual check-up when you can personally experience God’s love and mercy.

Sixth, to join a small group for formation, prayer and fellowship, where you can share with others your own experience and hear what God is doing in the lives of others. 

Please keep in your prayers this week

  • Those who are sick, those recovering from surgery, those who are dying, the recently deceased and those who mourn.
  • All those struggling to feed their families at this time.
  • Those working to help others who are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.
  • Those discerning a vocation and those considering coming into the Catholic Church.
  • Cassian, who was baptised earlier this week.
  • Those attending the RCIA at St Bede’s next Wednesday.

1 The Six Holy Habits – Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth (portsmouthdiocese.org.uk)