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‘Put on Christ’ more thoroughly this Advent

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the Advent coming of our Lord Jesus Christ fill your hearts with grace and blessings! As we begin this season of hope, we prepare our hearts, our homes, and our souls to receive the Lord again. He brings with Him every spiritual gift, especially forgiveness of sins and the grace of conversion, to pour out upon us. With Him comes mercy and healing, if we are open to receive it. And as we bear His name and Cross in following Him every day, His joyous arrival lifts us up in the promised salvation for which He has shed His precious Blood.

Already we are seeing the festive lights and decorations of Christmas appear. If we have forgotten, we decorate our homes this way not merely out of custom, but in celebration of the true meaning of Advent: Christ is coming! I am always happy to see this, because it shows that we and our neighbors, even if we don’t remember the true reason, still recall that something special is happening in our midst.

But of course, preparation for Christ’s arrival cannot be only an external activity, that leaves our hearts unchanged and unprepared. That would be to think that putting on different clothes makes us different people. Of course, this is false; therefore, we must “decorate” interiorly! How do we do so?

Interior preparation for Christ starts with prayer. Prayer is simply spending time with God. Prayer in our heart, as opposed to mere words on our lips, begins with gratitude. We thank God for His wonderful gifts, and even for the difficulties we face, which God allows in order to draw us closer to Him. The more we grow in gratitude, the more we also grow in faith and intimacy with Him as the source of all good things. We must thank God every day. Whether we use structured prayer like the Rosary or the Chaplet of Mercy, or silent prayer of different kinds, or spontaneous prayer, or all of these, thanksgiving must be a basic and regular part of our prayer.

Advent also calls us to a deeper examination of conscience. We are called to scrutinize our lives and our commitments, our habits and our faith, in greater detail. In what areas do we always or frequently fall? What would we be ashamed to show to Christ when He comes? The more thorough and honest we can be in exposing our hearts to God’s light, the more open we can be to His healing touch.

Gratitude and knowledge of our sinfulness lead us to confession, by way of contrition and conversion. Our interior preparation cannot be complete without this necessary sacrament. If thankfulness in prayer and examination of conscience are like stringing up the lights and the wreath, then confession is like actually turning the lights on. God’s grace in this sacrament cleanses us thoroughly, and lets His light reflect from the mirror of our souls into the world around us. Without confession, our souls remain dusty and dark, unable to reflect much, or even any, of His saving light.

In the grace of this sacrament, we can once more “put on Christ” more thoroughly. The depth and desire of our imitating Him makes us more ready to receive Him fully when He comes. In the course of our Advent preparation, this sends us even more deeply into prayer, into the silence of listening to God in our hearts. We hear Him in several ways: in the words of the Scriptures, in meditating on Him and His life, in the voice of our conscience, and in Christ-like acts of charity and mercy, by which we can reveal Him to others every day. Silent prayer is so important in our preparation for Christ! But we cannot remain at the level of prayer only; true love for God, strengthened by prayer, sends us out as disciples. As St. James says in his epistle, “Be not hearers of the Word only, but also doers.” Advent is also opportune for “doing the Word,” with a cheerful and generous heart.

Having prepared our hearts and our souls in all these ways, interiorly and exteriorly, we will be ready to receive Him fully. Here in this life, we do so best and most completely in the Holy Eucharist. But Advent is not only about our life in the Church; it is also about our future life in Heaven, or, God forbid, in hell. We are preparing not only for Christ’s first coming into history, in the stable at Bethlehem, but also for our death and judgment, “when we will see Him face to face.” He comes to us at that moment, and we do not want to find ourselves unable or unwilling to receive Him! And we are preparing for the second coming, the end of time, when “God will put all things under His feet,” and “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

The Church gives us the season of Advent to prepare ourselves to receive Christ, now and in the future. Dear brothers and sisters, let us use the time wisely, as we are called to do. Please pray for me, that I may lead you to Heaven as your bishop, and for our priests, who help me in this ministry so generously. I pray for you every day. May the joys of Advent bring you peace and every blessing!

Once again, I am pleased with the Broncos of late. We all know football is just a game, but sometimes it’s good to let loose and enjoy the moment. Sorry Chiefs’ fans!

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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