On keeping “Excruciatingly Correct Advent”

I was delighted by a recent blog post on Confessions of a Carioca, the blog of Fr. Dan Martins. He shares a bit of his own spiritual journey, including a gradual shift in how we has understood Advent. Perhaps I enjoyed this post so much because it is so familiar to me, having made a similar journey myself. Martins talks about the struggles that he faces in encouraging people to keep Advent faithfully, not just in church but at home too.

Failure to keep an Excruciatingly Correct Advent will certainly not keep anyone out of the Kingdom of God. It won’t, in and of itself, subtract one gem from anybody’s heavenly crown. And I don’t think Jesus even gives it a second thought (though, I would like to think, party animal that he was while inhabiting this planet in human form, that he might not be above engaging in some playful repartee on the subject).

That said, we do well to remember the purpose of any feast day, fast day, or liturgical season—Advent, Christmas, or the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost—or, for that matter, any liturgical practice, discipline, gesture, or posture. They are all tools. They are all means to an end.

That’s right. Or to put it another way, the Sabbath was made for us, and not we for the Sabbath. We should realize that all our liturgical observances are intended to draw us closer to God. The sacraments are to prepare us for a time when there will be no more sacraments. Now, of course, there is a danger here that we will go too far the other way, failing to take seriously our liturgical tradition and the radical life to which we are called to live. Getting the balance right is tricky.

For parish priests, it’s always hard to know when we should be generous in accepting resistance to the church’s tradition and when we should be firm in setting a high standard. I don’t suppose there are any easy answers. Maybe the best way we pastors can lead people is to live a joy-filled life ourselves, rooted solidly in the life of the church. For that reason, I was glad to read Dan’s post. I’ll bet the people of his parish are more likely to keep Advent faithfully with such a faithful leader, willing to share his struggles and eager to share his joy.

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