Advent comes from the Latin word “adventus,” meaning coming, and the primary focus of the season is the comings of Jesus, past, present and future — at the first Christmas, during this holy season and at the end of our lives or at the Second Coming.
Because of this strong emphasis, the sanctoral cycle, or the memorial of the saints celebrated during Advent, sometimes remains in the background, but it deserves our attention and can be helpful in our preparation for the coming of the Lord.
Dec. 6: St. Nicholas
St. Nicholas (280-345) is one of the most popular saints of Advent and Christmas. His parents were wealthy, died from the plague when he was young, and left him a considerable inheritance. At the time of his ordination, he distributed his money to the poor and thus began the tradition of St. Nick giving gifts (to learn more about the life of St. Nicholas, see page 1). As we shop for Christmas gifts, in addition to gifts for family and friends, it is also good to share with the needy. Nicholas went to church early every morning to pray, an important factor in his selection as bishop. Daily prayer is indispensable in the rush to Christmas. Finally, we should reclaim the spiritual meaning of Santa Claus. In German the word for Nicholas is “Nicklaus” or “Klaus” for short, while Santa means holy or saint; Santa Claus, “Saint Nicholas” or “Holy Nicholas.”
Dec. 7: St. Ambrose
St. Ambrose (340-397) was the bishop of Milan, Italy. He was renowned as an eloquent preacher, and his words, sweet as honey, were firmly grounded on his study and reflection on Sacred Scripture. Two excellent ways to prepare for Christmas are daily Bible reading and meditation, as well as regular Mass attendance and careful attention to the homily. St. Ambrose played a key role in the conversion of St. Augustine by teaching him the fundamentals of the Christian faith. There are many parties and family gatherings around Christmas time and in our socializing there may be opportunities to share our faith or explain the spiritual meaning of Christmas.
Dec. 8: The Immaculate Conception
The Immaculate Conception is the patronal feast of the United States and a holy day of obligation, so we attend Mass on this day. Mary was conceived without sin, a reminder that we should do our best to steer clear of sin, particularly in the days before Christmas. It also is an opportunity to pray for our country, that through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary our nation might remain true to its spiritual foundation, that religious liberties will be respected, and that Americans will be able to practice their faith freely.
Dec. 12: Our Lady of Guadalupe
Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrates the appearance of the Blessed Mother Mary to St. Juan Diego in 1531 near Mexico City. It was a time of terrible racial strife between Spaniards and Native American Aztecs. Over the ensuing years, these rival Mexican groups were unified by their common devotion to Mary and their desire to worship at the new cathedral. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of the Americas, especially for racial and ethnic harmony. This feast is a reminder that all racial and ethnic groups must find welcome and a home in our parishes, not only during Advent and Christmas, but throughout the entire year.
Dec. 13: St. Lucy
St. Lucy (d. 304) was a virgin and martyr. Her name is derived from the Latin word “lux” which means “light.” She was born in Sicily, and filled with the light of faith, she dedicated herself exclusively to God and refused marriage. When she was assaulted, she refused to give in, and when tortured, she faced her hardships with immense courage and gave awesome witness to her faith. The holidays are a time of great temptation, particularly overindulgence in food, drink and other pleasures. St. Lucy is an inspiration for us to live honorably, as in daylight (see Romans 13:12-14), without yielding to sin.
Dec. 14: St. John of the Cross
St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) was a Carmelite priest from Spain who is best known for his long poem, “The Dark Night of the Soul,” a reflection on loneliness and suffering. He did his best to reform the Carmelites but was harshly criticized for his efforts. John believed that his sufferings were his participation in the Cross, and that the Cross is the route to union with God. For some, December is a particularly dark time, and the best way through the low spots is to stay firmly united to Jesus, the light who conquers the darkness (see John 1:5).
Dec. 21: St. Peter Canisius
St. Peter Canisius (1521-1597) was born in Nijmegen, Holland, educated at the universities of Louvain and Cologne, became a Jesuit priest, and was one of the leading theologians of the Catholic counter-reformation. He was a consultant at the Council of Trent, and then spent the next 30 years as the “second apostle of Germany,” teaching and strengthening the Catholic faith with his new catechism published in 1555. Peter remained true to the Church and its doctrine at a time when many had grown lax or left for other denominations. His memorial is timely in our increasingly secular and pluralistic culture. The Church is our home, and Jesus is the path to eternal life.
Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.