An Advent Q&A with Bishop Schlert

During Advent, we prepare to celebrate Christmas, the Solemnity of the Nativity. Why does the Church give us four weeks to prepare for this celebration?

Bishop Schlert: Everything important in life requires some preparation. In Advent, there are three things, traditionally, that the Church asks us to prepare for. First, we take time to prepare for the Church’s commemoration of the Incarnate Lord coming into the world at Christmas.

It is impossible to overstate how momentous it was for the Earth to receive its Creator in the flesh. We could meditate on this for a lifetime without exhausting the mystery. This is the basis for all the joyous carols and hymns, the decorations, and the celebration with family and friends.

Second, we need to prepare our hearts to worthily receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Of course, we need to do this every time we receive the Sacrament, but Advent provides a special time for us to take stock of our spiritual life, to attach ourselves to God and detach ourselves from anything that harms our relationship with God.

Third, in Advent we meditate on Christ’s return, whether that is at the end of time or, for each one of us, at the moment of our own death. We take stock of our life and prepare for the real possibility that Jesus will come when we least expect.

Why did God reveal Himself to us in such humble circumstances?

Bishop Schlert: It’s important to consider that Jesus, being God, chose the details of His own birth. He chose Mary and Joseph. He chose that precise place and time in history with all the complications arising from the Roman census. He chose the manger just like he would later choose the Cross. Like the Cross, the manger testifies to His humility and the extent of His love for us.

Another, practical reason is that the time of his public ministry had not yet come. Jesus, as a grown man, would slowly reveal Himself to His disciples. It would take time for them to understand His mission as well as His relationship to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Why do Catholics call Mary the Mother of God, and not just the Mother of Jesus?

Bishop Schlert: The Church teaches that Jesus was truly God from the first moment of His conception. Calling Mary “Mother of God” emphasizes this fact. The Incarnation was not akin to God sending an angel to us, or God merely appearing to be a man. God became man and took on all our limitations and sufferings—except that He did not sin. There is no human problem therefore, no worry, no situation that we can’t bring to Jesus. He meets us right where we are.

You mentioned that Advent also corresponds to the Second Coming of Christ. Is Jesus’s return at the end of the world something that Catholics take literally?

Bishop Schlert: Yes, Catholics do believe that Jesus will return. The Church does not typically speculate about when this will happen, but it does have an impact on how Catholics act. We are not, ultimately, looking for a human solution to all the world’s problems. Many great advances have come through men and women making use of their God-given talents, but the world will not be made perfect through our efforts. When it comes to the lasting peace and healing that our world so badly needs, we are waiting for God—that is the heart of the Advent message.

Every year at this time, Catholics face conflicting demands: on the one hand, to enter into a spirit of watchful, quiet waiting; and on the other hand, to shop at stores where Christmas music has already been playing for a month, attend parties, and check off all sorts of mundane tasks. Is it really possible to do both well?

Bishop Schlert: The preparations for our Christmas celebrations with friends and family can be good for us if we undertake them in the right spirit. When we shop for a gift, at very least we are thinking of someone other than ourselves for a moment. But we should not allow the world to pull us into a frenzy that separates us from God or crowds out prayer. Prayer takes time just like any other activity that we want to do well, and so we have to strike a balance.

What are some things Catholics can do to participate fully in Advent?

Bishop Schlert: Make time for prayer. Yes, there is a lot going on this time of year, but is there any way we can open the door a bit wider to Christ? For those who are not able to do it regularly, this is a great time to make a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament. Imagine that, like one of the shepherds, you are meeting the Incarnate Lord for the first time in the stable at Bethlehem. I can assure you that He will meet you there, and that an hour in His presence will be transformative and healing in some way.

Spending more time with Scripture, perhaps reading the Sunday readings before Mass, is also a great way to participate in Advent, as is praying the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. If you are already blessed with an active prayer life, just try to sit with God in silence a bit more. Let Him refresh your prayer and give it new life.

Advent is also a fitting time to go to Confession, knowing that it is Jesus who we meet in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, through the Priest.

Finally, it is important for us to remember that any good that we do, whether in praying or in acting, comes ultimately from God’s initiative. Let us expectantly wait for and seek the Lord. We will not be disappointed.


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