9 Advent Traditions For Your Home

20 days. 20 days until Advent begins. It’s time to get ready.

Unlike much of the world, Catholics don’t plunge headlong into Christmas after the Halloween candy has been passed out. Nope, we take it slow. We like to REALLY prepare for Christmas. That means a four week period of getting ourselves ready, spiritually, for the celebration of the Incarnation: God-made-man.

Advent actually has two spiritual purposes: we prepare spiritually for Christmas in remembrance of Christ’s first coming, and we also prepare ourselves for Christ’s second coming, whenever that may be.

Here are some Advent traditions for you, whether you live by yourself, have a bunch of kiddos at home, are grandparents or babysitters – there is something for everyone.

  1. The Advent wreath. You can make this as simple or as elaborate as you’d like. If you have youngsters, you can certainly include them in the making of a simple wreath. You’ll also need four candles: three purple and one rose. You can learn more about this tradition here. (Don’t forget to bless it!)
  2. An Advent calendar. Not sure what it is about this, but kids LOVE opening the little doors each day to reveal a picture, a Scripture passage, a treat. You can find versions of this online, purchase a paper calendar or create a more elaborate one.
  3. Set up the Nativity set, and tell your kids about its history. Many families will “assign” one of the pieces of the Nativity set to each child, and as Advent progresses and the children work on good works, that piece advances until, on Christmas Day, each family member’s piece is present in the manger next to Baby Jesus.
  4. Fully celebrate the holy days in Advent: St. Nicholas’ feast, the feast of St. Lucia, Our Lady of Guadalupe. There are plenty of crafts, food and stories surrounding each of these, so with a little planning, you can enjoy each of the celebrations regardless of the ages of folks in your home.
  5. Can’t wait to get the tree up? Decorate with Jesse Tree ornaments. These ornaments (and the accompanying prayers) tell the story of Christ from the Old Testament – a prophecy and promise of the long-awaited Savior.
  6. Learn and pray the “O Antiphons.” These beautiful prayers date back to the 8th century A.D. You’ll recognize them as part of the hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
  7. Want to sing your way to Christmas? You don’t have to tune in to the “all Christmas music, all the time” radio station. Here’s a list of Advent music to enjoy.
  8. Go to confession. This is truly the best way to prepare for the arrival of the Christ Child. Go as a family, and then perhaps enjoy a special treat afterwards.
  9. Make someone else’s day. Bake something special for a neighbor, make a wreath for an elderly friend, volunteer at a food bank or shelter, visit a shut-in.

As always, our prayer life should deepen in this holy season, so whatever you choose to do: pray.

God of Love,
Your son, Jesus, is your greatest gift to us.
He is a sign of your love.
Help us walk in that love during the weeks of Advent,
As we wait and prepare for his coming.
We pray in the name of Jesus, our Savior.


3 Ways To Declutter Your Soul

Many of us go through the ritual of spring cleaning. We toss garbage, drop off clothes we no longer wear at Goodwill, sweep out the garage and take the trash to the curb. We polish and shine, mop and scrub.

We sort through books, and decide which we can part with. We may decide we don’t need so many knick-knacks, that our kids have outgrown certain toys. We know we don’t need seven soup ladles. (How did we get seven soup ladles??)

And after a hard weekend of work, we look around our tidy, decluttered, shiny home and sigh. We are satisfied.

We need to do the same with our souls, with our interior life. Just as we slowly accumulated stuff in our homes without even realizing it, we often do the same with our souls. Old concerns drag us down. A busted relationship is still a source of pain. Maybe we carry wounds from our childhood that we’ve never really dealt with. Instead of carrying our cross, we are carrying around all the things that clutter our soul.

Here are three ways to declutter. Just so you know, it’s a lot of work, just like spring cleaning!

  1. Go to confession. Before you go, make a sincere Examination of Conscience. What is dragging you down? What resentments have you allowed to ferment and linger? If a relationship in your life is strained or damaged, do you bear any responsibility? Have you committed a grave, mortal sin? As painful and difficult such a confession will be, God’s grace is always more!
  2. Sometimes, we just can’t figure out what needs to be done. We are stuck: spiritually, emotionally, psychologically. When we’ve been dealing with a problem and it just never seems to get better, it might be time to talk to a professional. Many people shy away from psychological help – they think they don’t need it, or it makes them seem weak. However, a psychologist’s job is really to help us find new ways to deal with old issues. There are places to find good Catholic and Christian psychologists. However, if you can’t find one, at least make sure the person you are working with respects your faith.
  3. Our clutter may not be psychological; it’s spiritual. Maybe you’re really longing to enter into a deeper relationship with God, but you aren’t sure how. Perhaps you want to find new spiritual paths. Sometimes we want to lead a holier, more spiritually mature life but we just aren’t sure how to get there. A spiritual director can be the key. Many priests offer this type of work. However, there are also religious (think religious sisters or brothers) and lay people who are spiritual directors. The one sure way to know if a spiritual director is good is if they themselves are leading a holy life. A good spiritual director will not be there to make you feel good about yourself, but will challenge you to make that move to a holier way of living.

Do you need a bit of “soul spring cleaning?” Perhaps it is time to clear the cobwebs, go to confession, and make the move to some spiritual decluttering.

A.C.T.S. prayer

A.C.T.S.: A Way To Pray

We all experience times when our prayer lives need a boost. Maybe we slip out of the habit of praying without intending to. Maybe we have a crisis in our life and the only prayer we can think of is “Help!” Maybe we just get stuck in a rut.

Here is a simple way to pray: A.C.T.S. or ACTS.

A: Adoration. We praise Almighty God! We praise Him for his promises kept, for His goodness to us, His beauty in nature. We praise His for the gift of Christ Jesus, His Son, who gave His life that we may have eternal life. We praise the Holy Spirit for endowing us richly with gifts that sustain us. Adoration acknowledges that God is God Almighty, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and Omega.

C: Confession. We fail. We sin. We stumble and fall. Sometimes it takes us a while to get back up again. The Church has a wonderful tradition of examining one’s conscience every night before sleep. Of course, if we are in the state of mortal sin, we must avail ourselves to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. However, regularly acknowledging our failings and asking God for his mercy and forgiveness is a valuable part of a solid prayer life.

T: Thanksgiving. We all have things to be thankful for, even when life is difficult or we are facing a crisis. We can be thankful for a kind co-worker, for the offers of prayers from others. We can be thankful for family and friends. We give God thanks for our safe travels, our homes, and every small blessing we receive every day. The habit of thanking God reminds us that no matter what is going on in our lives, God is present.

S: Supplication. Finally, we present our needs and the needs of others to God. We all need protection from evil. We may ask God for healing and restoration, whether from illness or a broken relationship. Of course, God knows all our needs before we even approach Him in prayer, but by bringing our needs and others’ to Him, we acknowledge God’s power in our lives, in our world. We know His promise of answering every prayer perfectly.

If you need a “boost” in your prayer life, try this simple method: ACTS. May we always praise God for His mercy and love!

sorry for sins

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

One of the most controversial aspects of Catholicism is the Sacrament of Penance. The majority of the people outside the church don’t understand it, but neither do many inside the church. Why do we have to tell a priest our sins? Can’t we just tell God directly?

According to Fr. Eamon Tobin at, the Church requires us to go to confession, because despite our best efforts and the grace of baptism, we continue to sin against God and each other. But the most important reason

why the Catholic Church asks her members to confess their sins to a priest is simply because the Church has always believed that sin, however private, is a community affair. Every sin, however small, wounds the Body of Christ, the members of the Church. . . . When any of its members sin, they all suffer. Moreover, because my sins wound the community and diminish its effectiveness, reconciliation must include the community and not just God. In the confessional, the priest is the representative of God and of the community. In the confessional, the priest represents the whole Christ, the Head (Jesus) and the members (the Church).

We would like to think that our sins go unnoticed or are unseen. We are like the child who steals a piece of candy from a store, sure that no one will ever notice. Or we become the rationalizing adolescent who thinks to herself, “Hey, it’s a big store – they have lots of money. They won’t miss one pair of earrings.”

What we must realize in order to mature in our faith life is that each of our sins – even if they go unnoticed, unseen, hidden away – still harm us and others. That girl who makes a habit of shoplifting becomes an untrustworthy friend and employee. A man addicted to porn in private ends up distancing himself from his wife and family. Imagine the wounds of the Body of Christ: not necessarily the grave wounds of the cross, but the millions and millions of tiny wounds we inflict upon the Body of Christ every day because of our sin.

Lent is the perfect time to got to confession, especially if you have not been in awhile. (Even if “awhile” is years. Or decades. It’s okay.) The Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops have given us this guide to the sacrament and instructions on how to go to confession.

Remember that no matter what you are feeling, God is waiting for you with great joy. He wants the opportunity to unburden you. He longs to hear that you are sorry for misusing the gifts He’s given to you, and most of all, He wants to tell you, “You are forgiven. Go and sin no more.”

stronger than our scars

Stronger Than Our Scars

You have bent down over our wounds and have healed us, giving us a medicine stronger than our scars, a mercy greater than our fault. Thus, even in sin, in virtue of your invincible love, served to raise us up to divine life. (Ambrosian Rite prayer)

A medicine stronger than our scars. That is profound. During Lent, many of us take the time to examine our weaknesses and our scars. But do we ponder the wondrous medicine that is the Cross?

Most of us have scars that are hidden, and we prefer it that way. We perceive our scars as weakness and failure. Sometimes they are: we sin. We do evil and fail to do good. We need the Sacrament of Reconciliation to heal our sin.

But some of our scars are ones life has left us with, through no fault of our own. We weep for our dead friends and family; we miss them and their loss is a scar on our heart. Perhaps our scars are borne from the addictions of others; we fear for the health and safety of loved ones who cannot seem to overcome their addictions to drugs or alcohol or pornography. Maybe we are in a marriage where one party is trying so very hard to be faithful and loving, and the other person wants out. And maybe we bear actual scars from disease, illness or accident – scars that cause us significant physical pain.

We think there is no medicine for these scars – no doctor can fix a broken heart or a parent’s tears. But Christ is the Great Physician, one who heals through the medicine of the Cross. Jesus was also a Man who Himself knew pain.

He was spurned and avoided by men,
a man of suffering, knowing pain,
Like one from whom you turn your face,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem.
Yet it was our pain that he bore,
our sufferings he endured.
We thought of him as stricken,
struck down by God and afflicted,
But he was pierced for our sins,
crushed for our iniquity.
He bore the punishment that makes us whole,
by his wounds we were healed. – Is. 53:3-5

By his wounds we were healed. That is the radical truth of our faith: God became Man, took our sins and scars upon Himself, and saved us. Yes, we sin and we must acknowledge our sin, but sin no longer means death. Indeed, we are stilled scarred, but Christ provides us a medicine stronger than our scars. There is nothing and no one who is greater than this truth, this Good News, this Christ.

Today, take some time to thank Jesus for the medicine He has provided you. Rejoice in the fact that – despite our afflictions – we are healed through Christ our Lord.