But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God. (John 1:12,13)
All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. (James 1:17)
Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. (James 1:22)
We are now in the third week of the grace-filled season of Advent. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of getting ready for Christmas (shopping, decoration, parties, etc.), it is easy to be distracted from the true meaning of Advent. So let’s slow down for a moment and re-focus our minds on how to use the remainder of the Advent season to truly prepare our hearts and minds as Catholic men for Christmas.
In the previous article, we focused on the three “comings” of Jesus we celebrate during Advent. As a reminder they are: 1) the first coming of Jesus at Christmas, 2) the second coming of Jesus at the end times, and 3) the coming of Jesus more deeply into our hearts.
In this article, I’d like to focus on how we can prepare ourselves to allow Jesus to come more deeply into our hearts (the third coming). Before I do, let’s start at the very beginning, literally, for most of us. As Catholic Christians, Jesus has planted his divine life into us through the Sacrament of Baptism, and we have received it through faith. Nothing else can replace this combined act of divine grace and human response! It is a gracious gift, not an earned right like a military rank or an academic degree.
In light of this marvelous Baptismal reality, then what does it mean to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus more deeply into our hearts during Advent? Although they play some part in this preparation, helping out at the church Christmas party, singing Christmas carols in the choir, serving Christmas dinner at the soup kitchen, or other such works are not the entire answer to this question. Nor is reading our Bible or spiritual books more, or attending Mass more often? A big part, yes, but not the entire answer.
More than anything else, we must allow Jesus to be the center of our lives. Another way of saying this is that Jesus has to sit on the throne of our hearts, not us. Since this is easier said then done, we need to look to the saints for some help, saints like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and others. They prepared their hearts to receive Jesus by committing their lives to Jesus Christ and to doing God’s will.
Are we willing to do the same during this Advent season? This means that we must step out and do what God says! This means we become “doers of the word, and not merely hearers” (James 1:22). This means that everything we do during Advent, whether we are praying more, doing special acts of generosity and charity, we tell Jesus, “It’s all about you,” not “It’s all about me.” This will help to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus, to receive new life in Christ in a deeper way.
During Advent, each of us can be a “saint” in our own way. Each of us has the awesome privilege of allowing Jesus to come into our hearts more deeply through surrender, trust, and obedience to Him. Of course, as we mentioned, we can’t accomplish this just through good works or reading spiritual books. But through Christ in us, the celebration of Christmas this year can have a profound impact on us, as we surrender our lives to him, do works of God for him, and receive eternal life through him. So let’s take a step right now by using the prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola below to more fully surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, and let’s ask Jesus in his great love and compassion to come into our hearts in a new and deeper way.
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me; to You, O Lord, now I return it; all is Yours, dispose of me wholly according to Your Will. Give me only Your love and Your grace, for this is enough for me.
Many thanks to The Word Among Us (www.wau.org) for allowing me to adapt meditations in their monthly devotional magazine. Used with permission.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
1. Take a few minutes to meditate on the Scriptures above. What do you think God is trying to say to you through them?
2. It is easy during Advent to think about the coming of Jesus as a baby at Christmas. What do you think it means that Advent is also a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus more deeply into our hearts?
3. Why is the new life we receive in Christ through Baptism and faith just the beginning of our conversion to Christ, not the end of it? What else is needed for ongoing conversion?
4. The article asks the question: “what does it mean to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus more deeply into our hearts during Advent?” Why is it that “helping out at the church Christmas party, singing Christmas carols in the choir, serving Christmas dinner at the soup kitchen, or other such works are not the entire answer to this question”? What else is needed?
5. How would you describe the approach many of the saints took in preparing their hearts to receive Jesus? What additional steps can you take to prepare your heart?
6. Take some time now to pray for the grace to commit your lives more deeply to Christ using the prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola at end of the article as the starting point.