We are drawing near to the season of Advent — a season of anticipation, hope and arrival. However, Advent, at least in my household, has the sad tendency to get lost in the shuffle of Thanksgiving celebrations and the bustle of pre-Christmas activities.
In truth, I also spent much of my life unsure of this liturgical season’s purpose and aim. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us perfectly: “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming” (No. 524).
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In the spirit of this “little Lent,” as Advent is nicknamed, perhaps we can renew our desire by focusing on faith in the little things. Jesus reminds us of the important role that integrity plays, not just in our public dealings but in our private life, when he says: “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones” (Lk 16:10). In life’s busyness, I am all too guilty of prioritizing the larger, more demanding efforts — such as Sunday Mass and nightly prayers, and overlooking opportunities to sanctify the simple tasks and moments that make up my day. This isn’t the season for great acts of penance and mortification; rather, this is the season to dust out the corners of our heart and ensure it is a resting place worthy of a king.
Consecrate your day
A simple way to ignite this focus is a Morning Consecration, reminding us both what we are called to and of the significance of our hidden life. What could be more fitting than to begin our day with a prayer composed by the woman who saw the value of the little things most keenly: St. Thérèse of Lisieux? Here’s her prayer:
O my God! I offer Thee all my actions of this day for the intentions and for the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I desire to sanctify every beat of my heart, my every thought, my simplest works, by uniting them to Its infinite merits; and I wish to make reparation for my sins by casting them into the furnace of Its Merciful Love.
O my God! I ask of Thee for myself and for those whom I hold dear, the grace to fulfill perfectly Thy Holy Will, to accept for love of Thee the joys and sorrows of this passing life, so that we may one day be united together in heaven for all Eternity. Amen.
Ironically, it’s easy to lose sight of the present during the Advent season. Just last week, I found myself on my knees, cleaning the bottommost corners of my glass door because we had guests coming. But while my body was literally in the position of prayer, my mind was weeks into the future — planning what to give my children for Christmas and daydreaming about decorating. Certainly, those thoughts can have merit, but what an opportunity I could have taken to offer up that humbling task to Jesus in love for him and our guests rather than escape it.
The present moment is a gift; let’s lean deeply into what is in front of us, considering always, but especially now, how we can hold it up as a sacrifice and show Jesus how we have transformed the time he’s given us.
Do the right thing, right away
A practical exercise that I implemented in an effort to be more faithful in the small things, was to do what ought to be done, immediately. Surprisingly, the first way this played out was in the context of keeping my home tidy. My husband and I work from home and have three small children, so a spotless house was tossed out the window long ago. I’m also not an organized person by nature, so there is always a mess of books and papers at my desk and incessant piles of laundry, often creeping out of the laundry room onto couches, beds and tops of dressers.
My commitment was to act immediately whenever I saw something and thought “I should pick that up” or “I should put that where it belongs,” rather than leave it to be taken care of in the future. This was more humbling than anticipated because I learned that I knew very often what ought to be done but I rarely followed through. After a few weeks of this discipline, I was once again surprised to find that other areas of my life were being “tidied up”: I valued integrity in speech more, apologized more promptly, responded more thoughtfully, and the small tasks that had once required much effort to complete had become a habit — freeing my mind to focus on other, greater things.
Love your neighbor
Especially in a far-reaching digital world, we can become disconnected from those closest in proximity to us. Consider taking some time to bake cookies or write a personal note to your neighbors during this holiday season. This small devotion of your time and effort in honor of another beautifully affirms their worth and is a powerful act of charity. It might not feel like a grand effort, but we are all placed intentionally, by Jesus, in our present time and location to communicate his love within our sphere of influence. I argue that there are few more meaningful or grander actions you could take!
Resist small temptations
St. Francis de Sales calls trifling temptations — such as vanity, affectation, jealousy and envy — “flies and gnats, stinging one cheek, now the other.” He exhorts those of us who experience these bothersome attacks to turn our hearts immediately to the crucified Jesus and “[make] an act of love to Him, kiss His sacred feet.”
The holidays can be a time of increased anxiety due to financial pressures, the stress of family gatherings or — on the flipside — loneliness. There is nearer cause for envy, too, of gifts beyond our own means or even of families who are able to gather happily, in the same place. Perhaps we can position an image of the child Jesus in our minds and, turning to his sweet face in those difficult moments, follow St. Francis’ advice and kiss his sacred, tiny feet.
I believe that through an increased focus on the little things, you’ll find a greater attunement to the surrounding world and all of its easily-missed glories. You might experience yourself more easily by seeing the face of Christ in others, clearing our eyes of “flies and gnats,” and, in Henry Nouwen’s words, developing “a taste for the here and now.” Your heart — and home! — may be more ordered and receptive to our impending Guest. And, perhaps, you may find through faithfulness in the small things that you’ve already been given the great ones.
I wish you a blessed Advent and Christmas season. Come, Lord Jesus!