Advent season should prepare us for Christ

Brother David Henley, Glenmary Vocation Director“They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child...”
Matthew 2:10-11

Shopping, decorating, card writing, cookie baking, trip planning, there are so many things that can distract us from what the Advent season is supposed to be about. Rather, the Advent season is supposed to be a time to prepare ourselves for Christ’s second coming.

I think Scripture can give us a glimpse into how the magi experienced the “first advent.” Matthew’s Gospel narrates the account of the “magi from the east,” who upon seeing His star, a sign in the heavens, journeyed to Bethlehem to “do him homage” and offer him gifts. 

How did they prepare? Scripture does not give us an exact account, but we have to believe they did some preparations for their journey. I don’t think they used Google Maps to plan out their trip ahead of time, and other than gold, frankincense and myrrh, we are not certain what they packed. Nor does the Gospel describe how long the journey was.

A call to religious life, like Advent, can be preparation for Christ’s second coming in the life of an individual. For someone considering a vocation, the Advent season, like it was for the magi, can be a time to journey. But as you set forth on your trek, I offer you a few tips.

First and foremost, read the bible. It will be your roadmap on your spiritual path. Like the magi, we need to understand the Scripture to interpret the signs. In his book, Rediscover Jesus, Matthew Kelly says, “The Word of God equips us for the mission God wants to send us on.”

Next, trust your instincts. Sometimes, we are afraid of failure and may not ever start the journey. “People would do nothing if they waited until they could do it so well that no one could find fault with what they have done,” an anonymous source once wrote. The good news is we don’t have to know it all or be ready to be a missioner on day one. Glenmary has a formation program to help our students prepare to become missioners. Responding to one’s call means trusting in God and taking the first step of entering into the formation.

In a Glenmary formation house, there are priests and brothers who will help you develop and prepare you to serve in the missions. In addition, you will have a chance to form bonds with other students on a similar journey with similar fears and questions. There, you will have opportunities to talk to and learn from those who have overcome the same struggles.

Third, travel light. We might need to let go of those things that are preventing us from starting our journey. What is holding us back? What do we need to let go of? Do we think that we are not good enough or that because we have made mistakes in the past that we cannot change? This time of Advent can truly be a time to let go and to offer those things up to God. Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Letter, Mercy and Peace, “In the sacrament of Forgiveness, God shows us the way to turn back to him and invites us to experience his closeness.” Starting on our journey may begin by attending a Penance Service in our parish.

The good news is that you don’t have to have gold, frankincense and myrrh for your own Advent/discernment journey. We are all created in God’s image and likeness and each one of us has a multitude of gifts and talents to share. Some of those are gifts you may not recognize now but reveal themselves once you begin studying for the priesthood or after you have been a missionary brother for many years. Freely we have received; freely we are to give.

Last, identify resources along the way. The magi did not know the exact route of their journey. They had to stop in Jerusalem and ask for directions. Who can you ask for advice on your journey? Have you talked to your pastor or called the Glenmary vocation office?

Apart from the magi, we can read an account of the shepherds in Luke’s Gospel. They, too, witnessed a sign of Jesus’ birth in the heavens. The Angel of the Lord proclaimed to them the Good News of our Savior’s birth, telling them “Do not be afraid.” After hearing the news they too journeyed, looking for Christ. Can we respond like them saying, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

The Lord has called you. Can you recognize the signs that are affirming your call? Glenmary Home Missioners and the people living in Mission Land U.S.A. are awaiting your response. Are you willing to take the first step on that journey? Trust in God, knowing that following your call will be like the star the magi followed, leading you closer to Christ.