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Advent Daily Reflections
The God-Shaped   Hole

by Page Zyromski

We're born with a God-shaped hole in our hearts, one of the saints tells us. It's a space for God alone. Until we recognize what it is, we try to fill it up by stuffing earthly things into it—possessions, activities, self-importance. It's like trying to force the wrong piece of a jigsaw puzzle into a space not meant for it. We don't know why we're not satisfied, so we search for novelty in the things we cram into the hole.

It doesn't work. Nothing but God will fit the God-shaped hole.

Advent is our time to unclog that hole, to clear out all the litter. What obstructions are blocking the space we give to God in our lives? Are we offering him a temporary parking place until Christmas, or a permanent dwelling?

If we're faithful to this season year after year, something wonderful happens. We want to give God more and more room. The feeling lasts longer and longer after Christmas. The God-shaped hole enlarges! Each year it widens. Like a dilated pupil in the eye, people see more and more of God in us and less and less of our own willfulness. We're able to say with John the Baptist and the great saints, "He must increase and I must decrease."

One day we suddenly realize that when Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord," the God-shaped hole in her heart was the largest of all. Not only could people see God in her life, they could see him magnified, enlarged!

Use the daily reflections in this Update to eagerly enter into the season set aside by the Church for the ongoing enlargement of our hearts.

First Sunday of Advent
Pause and watch

      Today we hear the Gospel message to wake up and tune in. This first week of Advent is the time to stop our normal routine and listen for the signs around and within us. The Sunday readings proclaim that the Day of the Lord is coming. How will be prepare ourselves?

Lord, help me carve out time to spend in silence with you.

MONDAY of the First Week (Is 4:2-6; Mt 8:5-11)

Stop yourself from judging. A Roman centurion cared so much for his lowly servant that he went out of his way to seek Jesus. He risked being ridiculed by his peers. He was an "outsider," yet our Lord praised him extravagantly. When was the last time you went out of your way to seek Jesus in prayer and solitude?

Free me, Lord, from thinking I have all the answers.

TUESDAY    (Is 11:1-10; Lk 10:21-24)

Rest. "Blest are the eyes that see what you see." Are you taking time to appreciate the wonders that surround you? Have you read something that needs more reflection? Find an extra few minutes today for a quiet walk or a look at the stars or simply thinking about the gifts God has lavished on you.

Father, slow me down so I won't miss what's important.

WEDNESDAY    (Is 25:6-10; Mt 15:29-37)

Don't worry. The disciples grumbled to Jesus, "It's hopeless! How could we ever get enough bread?" Seven loaves later, their worries were history. Your problems are not bigger than those of the disciples. Do what you can, then be at peace. Especially pray at bedtime so you can let go of today and begin tomorrow anew.

In you, O Lord, I place all my trust.

THURSDAY    (Is 26:1-6; Mt 7:21, 24-27)

Turn off the TV. Or at least tell the kids all those commercials are designed to make people greedy. Find a way to teach about the real St. Nicholas and his spirit of giving. As a generous bishop he loved children and gave dowries to poor girls. You have at least three things in your house you can do without. Give them to someone who can use them.

Empty me of greed, Lord Jesus.

FRIDAY    (Is 29:17-24; Mt 9:27-31)

Slow down. Jesus waited until two blind men caught up with him. He'll wait for you too. He doesn't wear a wristwatch, and there are days when you should take yours off too. Say yes to Jesus when he asks if you want him to heal your spiritual blindness.

Deliver me, Jesus, from the idolatry of the clock.

SATURDAY    (Gn 3:9-15,20; Eph 1:3-6, 11-12; Lk 1:26-38)

Learn how to wait. The Jews waited impatiently for a Messiah because they thought they knew how he would save them. Mary's only desire was to serve. Her yes was followed by years of patience as she waited without understanding how the divine plan was unfolding. Can you let go of the need to know everything ahead of time?

Give me patience, O God; teach me to wait.

Second Sunday of Advent
Listen and prepare

      The promise of the Lord's goodness is all around us—we have only to listen. Prepare the Lord's way, we hear John the Baptist proclaim in the Gospel. We prepare by repenting, turning towards God. One way to turn is to listen to God's word, to listen to our neighbor, to listen to the world around us. Listening is an important part of preparing the Lord's way.

Teach me, Lord, to be a better listener.

MONDAY of the Second Week (Is 35:1-10; Lk 5:17-26)

Keep your ears open. If you're not attentive you'll miss the tone of voice as Jesus says, "Friend," to the paralytic lowered on a mat. Jesus combines healing with forgiveness of sins. You too can hear Jesus call you "Friend" with the warmth we all feel after receiving the forgiveness of our sins. Your parish has a communal penance service during Advent. Be alert for the times.

Help me forgive others the way you forgive me, Lord.

TUESDAY    (Is 40:1-11; Mt 18:12-24)

Apply the parables. The Good Shepherd leaves 99 sheep and looks for one that's lost. Advent is the season to shepherd your relationships. Is there one relative or friend you've lost touch with because of the 99 things you're caught up in? Can you give that person a phone call today while you're thinking about it?

Lord, help me reach out to others with special care.

WEDNESDAY    (Is 40:25-31; Mt 11:28-30)

Learn. "Learn from me," says Jesus, "for I am gentle and humble of heart." There are people in your life who are gentle and humble of heart too, but they're drowned out by noisier types. Maybe they're in your own family. They're worth listening to. Take time to draw them out, away from all the racket.

Remind me to listen to your quiet ones, Lord.

THURSDAY    (Is 41:13-20; Mt 11:11-15)

Consider John the Baptist. A fiery preacher. Not exactly Brooks Brothers clothing. But oh, what a message! Would he have turned you off because of the externals? What would the nutrition police have thought?

Lord, free me from being influenced by appearances.

FRIDAY    (Is 48:17-19; Mt 11:16-19)

Accept rejection. People took offense at the strictness of John the Baptist as well as the sociability of Jesus. If you're doing what you're called to do, someone will surely be miffed. This happens frequently with people of conscience in the Church. Be gentle with those who are offended, but not unduly surprised.

Whether dancing or dirging, Lord, let me be doing your will.

SATURDAY    (Sir 48:1-4,9-11; Mt 17:10-13)

Pay attention. "Elijah has already come," said Jesus, "but they did not recognize him." How alert we need to be so we don't miss what God's doing in our lives! Do you have a spiritual friend you can share with? Sometimes two pairs of eyes are better than one.

Give me companions on the journey, Lord.

Third Sunday of Advent
Seek Christ in our midst

We are moving ever closer to our heart's desire, the presence of the Lord Jesus. Yet there already are signs of Christ in our midst. Today's Gospel tells us of some of those signs that point to the One who is coming. Where is healing in our lives? Where are signs of charity and justice? John the Baptist pointed out the signs of God's reign—each of us is challenged to do the same.

Open my eyes to see you in all things, Lord.

For those days in the third week that fall on December 17-23, see Fourth Sunday of Advent.

MONDAY of the Third Week    (Nm 24:2-7, 15-17; Mt 21:23-27)

Look for answers. The Jewish religious leaders demanded answers from Jesus, but they refused to commit themselves about the underlying questions. If you're honest with your spiritual questions, you'll find wiser heads to help you as you grow. Don't rely on the secular media. A good place to start is by subscribing to your diocesan newspaper or going to the Web site AmericanCatholic.org.

Lord, enrich my understanding of our faith.

TUESDAY   (Zep 3:1-2, 9-13; Mt 21:28-32)

Concern yourself with obedience. One son said yes and the other no. Neither meant what he said to his father. Does your no lead to regret and your yes to lack of follow-through? How can you be more careful with your words? Follow up on at least one thing today that will serve others.

Father, don't let my actions give lie to my words.

WEDNESDAY    (Is 45:6b-8, 21b-25; Lk 7:19-23)

Anticipate obstacles. The search isn't easy. John the Baptist himself needed reassurance. Occasional periods of doubt and frustration are normal. Singing Christmas carols is the simplest way to lift your spirits, whether you're in the choir or the shower. (Is anyone teaching your kids the traditional religious Christmas carols?)

Help me when I get low, Lord.

THURSDAY    (Is 54:1-10; Lk 7:24-30)

Expect the unexpected. "What did you go out to see?" asked Jesus. You might not know ahead of time where each day will lead you, but if you're faithful it'll always circle back to Jesus. Staying on top of mundane chores frees you to go where the Spirit leads.

Lord, show me the next steps I need to take.

FRIDAY    (Is 56:1-3, 6-8; Jn 5:33-36)

Examine the testimony. "I have a testimony greater than John's," says Jesus. Scripture and Tradition explain what he meant. Choose one short phrase from today's Scripture to think about through the day. Repeat it again and again as a prayer.

Increase my love of Scripture, Lord.

Fourth Sunday of Advent
Gaze on God's Glory

Put yourself into today's Gospel. It is the day of God's glory becoming manifest. God's messengers, the angels, are breaking into people's everyday lives, bringing the Good News of Christ's arrival. What else could anyone be besides awestruck? God's glory revealed always leaves us in a state of prayer. We realize, in every bone of our being, that God is great and we are small. Let all things be done according to God's will. Rejoice!

Teach me humility, my Lord who modeled it so well.

DECEMBER 17     (Gn 49:2, 8-10; Mt 1:1-17)

Visualize the people. All those names in Jesus' genealogy! Each human life, cherished by God, is part of the divine plan. And now look at the names on your Christmas card list—it's the same song, second verse. Are you ever prepared for the very humanity of Christmas? Pray for the people whose names come up in conversation, or on TV or the newspaper.

Come, O Wisdom of our God Most High!

DECEMBER 18   (Jer 23:5-8; Mt 1:18-24)

Sit with the Nativity scene. Joseph needed a dream to tell him not to divorce Mary. Imagine the real-life struggles of the other people involved. What did they think, what did they tell their relatives? Did the Good News estrange them from anyone right from the start?

Come, O Leader of ancient Israel!

DECEMBER 19    (Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25; Lk 1:5-25)

Reflect on Zechariah. Poor man. God finally answers his prayer and he simply can't believe it. Notice it's right when he's in the middle of his day-to-day routine too. Do you have a similar story of God breaking into your life when you were least looking for it? Compare it to Zechariah's. Include your muteness!

Come, O Flower of Jesse's stem!

DECEMBER 20    (Is 7:10-14; Lk 1:26-38)

Look to Mary. The human details of the Annunciation include "she was deeply troubled" by the angel's words. How young Mary was! Was all creation in some way holding its breath until she said, "Let it be done to me as you say?" Only the Key of David fits into our God-shaped hole.

Come, O Key of David!

DECEMBER 21    (Sng 2:8-14 or Zep 3:14-18; Lk 1:39-45)

Watch Elizabeth. "Who am I," said Elizabeth, "that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" It's usually Mary who has our attention, but think of it from Elizabeth's point of view. Face-to-face with your own graces, what astonishes you? Does some recognition "leap" deep inside? How do you acknowledge it?

Come, O Radiant Dawn, O Sun of Justice!

DECEMBER 22    (1 Sam 1:24-28; Lk 1:46-56)

Pray the Magnificat. Mary isn't the only one God has done great things for. This is your opportunity to thank him for what he's done for you personally, in your "lowliness." The Church prays this prayer every evening as a corporate and personal thank-you.

Come, O King of all nations!

DECEMBER 23    (Mal 3:1-4,23-24; Lk 1:57-66)

Envision the wonder. The party at the circumcision of John the Baptist was a preview of our joy at Christmas. The father of "the voice crying in the wilderness" found his own voice. How can you best use your voice this Christmas?

Come, O Emmanuel, God's presence among us!

DECEMBER 24    (2 Sam 7:1-5,8-11,16; Lk 1:67-69)

Be ready. God never comes into our life twice in the same way. The space we offer him is different each time. This year it's wider than last year. If you're faithful, next year it'll be wider still. And the year after that, and the year after that....

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!



Saints for Advent

Here is a short list of some saints whose commemorations come during or just before early Advent, depending upon the year. Each has an Advent message.

MARY. Most of us readily think of St. Mary, Mother of God, during Advent. After all, Mary is the one closest to Jesus. Two Marian feasts fall during Advent: the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8) and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec. 12). From Mary we learn the greatest traits of the Christian: love, humility, justice, openness to God's grace and willingness to act.

ST. FRANCIS XAVIER (DEC. 3). He tirelessly evangelized in the Far East. Busy as he was, he took time to set religious truths to verse and fit them to popular tunes in the countries he served. This was such a successful way of spreading the Good News that his songs were sung in the streets. Xavier invested his missionary zeal in a way that yielded a harvest long after he left. This didn't happen without hours spent in silence and prayer, asking for guidance and inspiration. Ask for his intercession if you want your time spent in Advent to bear fruit long after you've left the season behind.

ST. JOHN DAMASCENE (DEC. 4). "The one who seeks God continually will find him, for God is in everything," says St. John Damascene. It's to this little-known Advent saint that we owe the pleasure of looking at religious art. In a period of Church history when others wanted to forbid the use of images, John Damascene insisted they could be used to inspire us. He suffered for his convictions, but now we need to thank him. Where would we be at Christmastime without our treasure of religious art? Take time looking at your Madonna and Child Christmas cards, and thank God for clear thinkers like John Damascene.

ST. NICHOLAS (DEC. 6). This fourth-century Greek bishop is known for his faithfulness to Christ, his devotion to justice and to charity. Santa Claus is a character that started with Nicholas and took on a life of its own. We would do well to remember the real Nicholas. Ask for his intercession as you pray for a charitable heart.

ST. AMBROSE (DEC. 7). Ambrose of Milan spent much of his time listening. He listened to St. Monica as she wept about her sinful son—the future St. Augustine—and Ambrose was able to comfort her. He listened to opposing factions in the Church and was able to make peace. This Doctor of the Church saw himself as a lifelong learner: "In the endeavor to teach, I desire that I may be able to learn," he said. We only learn if we keep listening—especially when we're the teachers! Pray with Ambrose to improve your listening skills.

ST. LUCY (DEC. 13). This fourth-century martyr chose to be a Christian when being Christian was illegal. She wanted to give up all her wealth and devote her life to the poor, but she herself became a victim of oppression. After resisting the advances of a Roman soldier, she was denounced as a Christian and torturously executed. She teaches us that life in Christ's light is worth devoting your life to—even dying for.

ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS (DEC. 14). He is the great mystic of Advent, who says that we are "face-to-face with Love's own grace." What wonderful words to ponder this week! Yet in contrast to John's lofty poetry, he took for himself the most menial jobs wherever he was. Before he entered religious life he worked in a hospital for people with disgusting diseases. Besides bathing them, he sang songs to cheer them up. Even when he held high administrative posts he took the lowliest tasks. His life reminds us that no matter how soaring our spirituality, it must be grounded in humble day-to-day duties or we miss the whole meaning of the Incarnation.



Page Zyromski is a freelance writer and contributing editor of Catechist magazine who lives in Painesville, Ohio. Her latest book is Pray the Bible (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

Next: Making Christmas Less Commercial (by Dan Andriacco)


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