Advent is a busy time for moms. Advent is a time when we can definitely give in to that temptation to be “anxious and worried about many things” — after all, we’re usually the ones who take care of all those details that make our family’s Advent and Christmas celebrations meaningful and special. That means we’re often taking on too much, and midway through Advent finding ourselves nowhere near that ideal of peaceful, intentional preparation.
It’s good, during Advent, to take a little time for ourselves and use the techniques Claire McGarry shares in Grace in Tension to acknowledge our feelings, make an effort to view the situation through God’s eyes, and take action to scale back, even in small ways, so this holy season doesn’t become an unholy frenzy.
Why I love this book:
For Catholic women who, like me, deeply identify with Martha in her worry and distraction, Claire’s balanced discussion of how busy women can learn to sit at the feet of Jesus is both a challenge and a gift. Learn to find the grace amid your daily cares and burdens.
When we think about the story of Mary and Martha, it’s very easy to fall into the “Martha bad, Mary good” trap. Claire does not do that in Grace in Tension(and that’s why I’m reading the book for a second time).
When Mary chooses to sit at Jesus’ feet while Martha chooses to serve, I think initially Jesus approves. He knows both decisions are made with the sisters’ hearts. Each sister is living out her “better part” by drawing closer to God with her choice. It’s clear that sitting and listening to all that Jesus has to say definitely brings Mary closer to God. After all, Jesus affirms her choice by calling it “the better part.” Yet choosing to serve Jesus as Martha does can bring her closer to God too. There’s a sacrifice that comes from serving and a beauty in putting others’ needs before our own. Both paths lead straight to God. Martha’s problem isn’t that she chooses to serve. It’s that she eventually compares her choice with her sister’s. (67)
It’s not highly likely that I’ll be able to change my natural Martha tendencies. Cooking for my family and our guests is a big part of how I show my love. And over the years, I am happy to report that I have mellowed, so my family doesn’t have to live with Screaming Meemie Party Mom (yes, I’ve been called that and yes, I’m 100% guilty) every time company is expected.
I probably can’t change my tendencies, but as Claire encourages readers of Grace in Tension, I can — and should — derail the anxiety and worry that I often allow to carry me away from the joy of the moment. By taking steps like choosing a new response, drawing healthy boundaries, asking for help (and accepting it without judging), and adjusting expectations, in addition to the 10 other steps Claire outlines in this book, I can find the gifts God has for me in the moments where He has placed me.
Advent is a time to sit at God’s feet. And it’s usually a time when we wrap gifts. This Advent, unwrap God’s gift to you: the grace within your tension and the transformation of your heart and mind.
Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
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Don’t think for one second that it’s too early to plan for Advent. With the current news of paper shortages and shipping delays, the time to purchase what you’ll need for Advent (and Christmas, really) is now. I had the opportunity to peek at two new Advent resources: one for adults, and one for the whole family.
For the Family
Catholic Mom contributor Emily Jaminet’s booklet, On the Way to Bethlehem: Advent Daily Devotions for Families, is great for families with preschoolers on up. A QR code on the back of the booklet takes you to a website where you can download coloring and activity pages. There is not a printable page for every day, but there are 21 in all, including a day-by-day tracker. Your children can color or add a sticker to each day’s square as your family prays together that day. There is also an Advent Wreath coloring page with instructions to color one candle each Sunday. This extra resource is a great value for families because it’s easy to print enough coloring or activity pages for each child to have one.
My favorite part about this booklet is the call to action. Each day, there is a themed call to action that individuals or families can do. These correspond to the four themes of Advent: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. Emily also includes suggestions for parents to talk with their children about topics such as Heaven, trusting in God, and loving others when that seems difficult. On the Way to Bethlehem is available for Kindle and in print from Creative Communications for the Parish. Print copies are only 99 cents when you purchase two or more, and bulk discounts are available.
Ave Maria Press has published a beautiful new Advent prayer journal by Fr. John Burns and illustrated by Valerie Delgado. Adore: A Guided Advent Journal for Prayer and Meditation is such a beautiful book, I could hardly resist the temptation to grab my favorite pen and start using it right now.
Adore is organized into four weekly themes: watchfulness, preparation, nearness, and Emmanuel. Each day’s section contains four parts: a quotation from Scripture, a saint, or a great teacher; Fr. John Burns’ meditation, space to reflect along with journal prompts based on that meditation, and a closing prayer.
The book’s design is spare and uncluttered, with a different color palette for headings, quotations, and prayers each week. To begin the week, a beautiful painting by Valerie Delgado spans a two-page spread. You won’t want to stop looking at this lovely art!
There’s a free leader’s guide available from Ave Maria Press if you’d like to use Adore with your family, prayer group, or even your whole parish. Each week, you can get free access to the author’s video series. Adore is available in ebook and print format. The print version is priced at $10.95, with discounts available for purchases of 10 copies or more.
I previewed several other Advent resources this year which are Christian but not Catholic. Those haven’t been included in this article because they are set up on an “Advent has 24 days” model, and that’s not the way the Church works. For Catholics, Advent has four Sundays before Christmas. It can actually have as few as 22 days, in years when Christmas falls on a Monday – or as many as 29 days, as it will in 2022 when Christmas falls on a Sunday. For some materials, that doesn’t matter; it really depends on the individual resource, so check things like that carefully when you purchase such resources.
Advent resources are often evergreen, so if you’d like to check out some items I’ve reviewed in the past, last year I had a list of 10 books and booklets you can try. Visit Prepare the Way: Advent Prayer Resources to learn more.
Finally: it’s not too early to purchase your Advent candles! Visit your local Catholic shop or order them online now, and put them in a place where you won’t forget them come November 28. I suggest you store them inside your turkey roaster, if you’re hosting Thanksgiving this year!
Copyright 2021 Barb Szyszkiewicz
Image: Stencil This article contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchases through these links benefit the author.
Is Advent coming up faster than you expected it to this year? It’s like that for me, for sure. While I can’t help you with the pink and purple candles, I’m happy to say that thanks to my friends at Creative Communications for the Parish, I have 10 Advent prize packs to offer readers this year (plus 3 bonus prizes)!
Wonderful Life in Christ prize
This prize pack includes:
Our Greatest Gift: A Wonderful Life in Christ by Michael Hoy, a page-a-day devotional based on the scenes and themes of the Christmas classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, placing the events of the fictional George Bailey story in the context of our faith.
Sarah Reinhard’s new booklet, Prince of Peace, offers four weeks of family devotions and related activities. The Advent themes of hope, peace, joy, and love are embodied in a weekly activity focused on helping others.
Heavenly Peace, an Advent daily prayer devotional by Sarah Thomas Tracy, written to prepare readers for the coming peace of Christ.
To enter: Leave a comment on this post or on the posts on Facebook or Instagram stating your biggest Advent challenge.
More opportunities to be entered to win these prizes will be offered on social media, so be sure to visit the posts at the accounts linked above for bonus chances to win!
The fine print: This giveaway is open to winners in the USA only. This giveaway closes at 6 AM Eastern on Tuesday, November 17. 13 winners will be chosen at random and will be notified by email (for winners on this blog) or by direct message on Facebook or Instagram. Winners will have 48 hours to reply with their mailing address; unclaimed prizes will be awarded to alternate winners.
Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz Photos of prizes provided by Creative Communications for the Parish
With Advent only one short month away, this is the perfect time to choose a new devotional, prayer book, or journal. Whether you’re looking for a seasonal booklet or something you can use year ’round, there are plenty of new options available. Here are some of my new favorites.
The Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Advent 2019 (Ave Maria Press) was penned by four Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart. Keep your Bible handy as you read these devotions, each based on the Gospel reading for the day. After a short reflection on the Gospel, the writers offer concrete ways to live the message they find in Scripture. Each day’s entry ends with a brief prayer. Don’t skip the Introduction — it’s a wonderfully encouraging set of tips that we can all use as we ponder how to keep a spiritual focus in an increasingly secular season.
Let the Heavens be Glad Advent Devotions: Inspiration from Henri J.M. Nouwen (Creative Communications for the Parish). The Advent reflections in this booklet are not based on the Scriptures for the day, but instead begin with excerpts from some of Nouwen’s inspirational writings. Following these are short reflections and prayers. This booklet would work well for individual prayer, or it could be used by a married couple or prayer group.
There’s no law that says you must begin reading a daily devotional on January 1! Jump on in anytime — just flip to the current date and begin from there. Both of these are gift-quality books.
Jesus Speaking: Heart to Heart with the King by Gabrielle Bossis (Pauline Books & Media). This is one of those devotionals that’s as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside. The hardcover book is a beautiful teal color embossed with the title and an image of the Sacred Heart. And I don’t know what kind of paper this cover is made of, but it’s so smooth and almost soft in my hands. A built-in gold ribbon bookmark will help you keep your place. Do you think you don’t have time for a daily devotional? You can definitely manage this one. Each day’s reflection is only a few short sentences long, beginning with a verse or two from Scripture and ending with a prayer prompt.
Who Do You Say I Am? Daily Reflections on the Bible, the Saints, and the Answer that is Christ by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan (Image Books) is a full-size hardcover with a one-page (often a full page) reflection per day, beginning with a Scripture verse. I enjoy Cardinal Dolan’s down-to-earth style; he writes like he speaks. The tone is never academic, complicated, or stuffy. Last week on his radio show, Conversations with Cardinal Dolan, the Cardinal noted that the book is made up of excerpts from homilies, speeches, and columns — all of which he wrote himself, because he feels uneasy preaching or teaching in someone else’s words. I confess: I have a hard time putting this book down after reading only one reflection. It’s a wonderful mix of personal stories, deep devotion, meditations on the Gospels, saintly inspirations, and nuggets of historical facts. (And if you love the Rosary, you’ll see it coming up again and again in this book!)
Prayers, Retreats, and a Journal
Melanie Rigney’s Woman of Worth: Prayers and Reflections for Women Inspired by the Book of Proverbs (Twenty-Third Publications) is an encouraging book for women that underscores their value, no matter what their vocation, age, or state in life. Melanie discusses the virtues behind the ideal woman presented in Proverbs 31. In the Introduction, the author notes, “maybe it was progress that I thought my relationship with Jesus did make me a woman of worth.” In each of these 20 chapters, the author examines a verse or two from Proverbs 31, offering a personal reflection and meditation on the virtue, a brief profile of a saint who is a model of that virtue, three questions for discussion or personal journaling, and a prayer. This book would make a wonderful Advent spiritual read. I read it, a bit at a time, in the Adoration Chapel.
Take a DIY retreat for Advent — or before Advent — based on St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. Joe Laramie, SJ, has put together a 10-day personal retreat in Abide in the Heart of Christ (Ave Maria Press). “You and I may feel intimidated by these spiritual giants,” the author notes, “but they can become great models for us because they help us to realize that God works through our spiritual talents and abilities” (68). You can do the retreat in a single 10-day span, or pick one day per week for 10 weeks, or whatever combination works for you: it’s designed “to help busy people grow closer to Christ” (7).
Holy Angels Prayer Book is the latest in the Catholic Treasury series from Pauline Books & Media. This small prayer book, like the others in the series, boasts a leatherette cover, gilt-edged pages, and a bound-in ribbon bookmark. I had no idea there were so many ways to pray for the intervention of the angels! There’s even a Rosary of the Angels, novenas to each Archangel and to the Guardian Angels, chaplets, and individual prayers. For those interested in learning more about the angels, there’s even a handy list of Scripture references to angels. This purse-sized book would make a beautiful gift.
Another excellent gift (or gift-to-yourself) book is Becky Thompson’s new journal, My Real Story: One Year to Record, Reflect, and Remember (WaterBrook Press). This undated keepsake journal can be started at any time. It offers a modern, bullet journal feel, with both dot-grid and ruled pages. Throughout the book are some journal prompts and anecdotes, plus pages with three different headings:
To be honest, this is how I really feel today
For the record, these are the moments I don’t want to forget
Give thanks in all circumstances: 3 things I’m thankful for today
This pretty journal offers plenty of room to reflect on how God is working in your life, even in the little things.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.
Before you say, “It’s too early to start thinking about Advent!” I’d invitee you to take a look around any craft store, gift shop, and warehouse club and notice all the Christmas merchandise that’s been on the shelves for at least a month. Advent begins December 2, and the best way to enjoy a peaceful liturgical season is to do a little prep work ahead of time.
The authors and editors from Ave Maria Press have been putting together Advent resources for months now. I had the chance to peek into five of these, each with a different focus.
Sacred Reading for Advent and Christmas by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network. This book for Advent and Christmas is always a favorite. It’s a 96-page paperback that offers the daily Gospel reading and a walk through a lectio divina exercise for the day, from the First Sunday of Advent through Epiphany (celebrated this year on January 6). After you read the Gospel, you are prompted to notice what you think and feel as you read, pray as you are led for yourself and others, listen to Jesus, and ask God to show you how to live today. In the instructions for using the book, the authors note,
One of the ways we can better understand and respond to the Lord during this holy season of Advent is by rediscovering, along with Christians all over the world, a powerful, ancient form of prayer known as sacred reading (lectio divina). What better way to deepen one’s friendship with Jesus Christ, the Word of God, than by prayerfully encountering him in the daily gospel?
Sacred Reading: The 2019 Guide to Daily Prayer by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network is set up in the same way: it’s the full-year version of Sacred Reading for Advent and Christmas. This easy-to-use prayer guide is appropriate for teens and adults and provides a wonderful way to enter into the spirit of each day’s gospel readings. The book also includes the Pope’s monthly prayer intentions, so you can unite your prayers with those of the universal Church for those special intentions each month. I have used the books in this series for several years and was honored to endorse this year’s edition; the full-year version isn’t too big to be portable (and as with the Advent book, an ebook version is also available).
Gaze Upon Jesus: Experiencing Christ’s Childhood through the Eyes of Women, edited by Kelly Wahlquist, is a six-week scripture study that focuses on Jesus’ infancy and early years. This is a unique devotional that blends Bible-inspired fiction, sacred art, personal narratives, and scripture reflections. Gaze Upon Jesus can be used by individuals as well as prayer groups or book clubs. Contributors to this book include authors from WINE (Women in the New Evangelization): Alyssa Bormes, Sarah Christmyer, Mary Healy, Maria Morera Johnson, Stephanie Landsem, Elizabeth Lev, Joan Lewis, Deborah Savage, Kelly Wahlquist, Katie Warner, and Carol Younger.
At the beginning of the book you’ll find several pages of beautiful, full-color art reproductions (of varying styles) that accompany certain readings in the book. In the Introduction, editor Kelly Wahlquist observes,
Jesus always looks at you with love. He has fixed his gaze on you. The question is, have you fixed your gaze on him?
Gazing upon Jesus and receiving his gaze changes our lives. It allows us to feel his burning love for us. It heals our hearts and enkindles in us a burning desire for a relationship with God. (3)
The Living Gospel: Daily Devotions for Advent 2018 by Greg Kandra is a series of reflections by a journalist and deacon who writes in a down-to-earth style. Each day’s entry is a page or two in length; scripture references for the day’s readings are included (bring your own Bible). The reflections provide plenty of food for thought (or journaling), and there are action items/resolutions and a prayer to close out each day’s entry.
We get some idea of the daring that life involves as we begin the season of Advent. Whether we realize it or not, we’re embarking on an adventure of our own.
Word Made Flesh: A Companion to the Sunday Readings (Cycle C) by Christopher West looks at the Cycle C Sunday readings through the lens of Theology of the Body. (This is not specifically an Advent book, but as this Advent begins the Cycle C readings, that’s the right time to begin reading Word Made Flesh.) The meditation for each Sunday is only about two pages long, which is perfect when you’re pressed for time. West notes in the introduction that it can guide your prayer after Communion, or you can read the day’s readings and this commentary in advance of Sunday Mass to “help you enter into the treasures of that day’s liturgy.”
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given free review copies of these books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.
Advent is more than a time to light candles at the dinner table and eat chocolates of questionable quality from behind the little windows of a cardboard calendar.
There’s much more to this holy season than shenanigans involving wax and flames. It’s the beginning of the Church year: a new year, a fresh start, a time to prepare our souls for the coming of the Savior.
Ave Maria Press publishes this annual prayer book, which highlights the gospel reading for each day in a simple lectio divina framework.
Don’t let the words “lectio divina” intimidate you just because they’re Latin. This book outlines a six-step process each day for praying with that day’s gospel reading:
Know that God is present and ready to converse. A short opening prayer helps you place yourself in the presence of God.
Read the gospel. The entire reading is provided for you; you won’t have to search for it online or in your own Bible.
Notice what you think and feel as you read the gospel. A brief summary of the reading highlights the important points.
Pray as you are led for yourself and others. A prayer prompt based on the gospel gets you started; then you are directed to continue in your own words.
Listen to Jesus. A short meditation written from God to you is provided; then you are invited to consider what else Jesus is saying to you.
Ask God to show you how to live today. A resolution to act on the gospel wraps up your prayer time.
This easy-to-use prayer guide is appropriate for teens and adults, and provides a wonderful way to enter into the spirit of each day’s gospel readings.
Sacred Reading is available in paperback and Kindle formats. Plan ahead: it’s time to order yours now.
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.
It was always the custom in my husband’s family that one of the children would put the Baby Jesus into the manger, last thing on Christmas Eve. When our children were little, we took it one step further, gradually adding figures into the scene to build anticipation and correspond with liturgical celebrations. All the figures are kept behind the manger (backstage) to await their appearance.
Right around now, we’d put the animals into the manger (except the donkey, who was on a journey with Mary and Joseph.)
Early on Christmas Eve, Mary and Joseph and the donkey would make their appearance. Baby Jesus would be placed in the manger, last thing on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Day, the shepherds would arrive; the kings wait until Epiphany. And the whole scene stays in place at least until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord–sometimes until Candlemas.
I always wanted a set of figures that had Baby Jesus separate from the manger, so he could be placed in it ceremoniously on Christmas Eve, but these are the figures that came with the stable we could afford 25 years ago when we bought our first Christmas decorations together. I’ve added in a table runner that my mom made for me (which doesn’t fit my table but is perfect here), and four different handmade Christmas trees, all made by special people in our lives.
I’m joining in at CatholicMom.com for the first-ever Nativity Scene linkup! Join the fun; share a photo of your Nativity scene on your blog or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (use hashtag #CMnativity on social media).
Our Advent wreath is the same one that Hubs had when he was growing up. My mother-in-law gave it to us several years ago. I add a white pillar candle in the center for Christmas, and place it on a red charger. This year, I decided it needed a little something, so my daughter wrapped the wreath in string of golden berries. Basically, it’s pretty simple.
We only have one child at home most of the time now, and he’s 14, so our issues with Advent fire are different now than they were when the kids were preschoolers. (Now it’s all about re-lighting the candle and seeing how far away one can stand and still manage to blow the candle out…)
If you’re worried about combining lit candles and small children, those LED candles are a terrific substitute. I wish they’d been around when my kids were small. Back in 2005 I offered some advice to parents who worried about combining toddlers and flaming objects on the dining-room table:
Don’t skip the Advent wreath just because you have young children. The Advent wreath has been great for our children during this season. Three times now, we have been through the Tremendously Terrifying Twos at Advent wreath time and I’m pleased to announce that no one has been hurt yet. However, now that we have a Teenager in the house, I’m thinking it might be a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher at hand.
Maybe you have one of those cake plates that sits high off the table. Set your wreath on top of that, if you need to keep it away from the little one.
I wish you and your family many blessings this Advent!
The newly-canonized Saint Teresa of Calcutta is especially compelling, I think, because many of us remember when she was still alive, serving the most vulnerable and needy. Saint Teresa did more than serve, though–she inspired through her words and her example.
Heidi Hess Saxton has collected some of Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s most inspiring words and paired them with prayers, daily Mass readings and calls to action in a newly-published seasonal daily devotional. Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Daily Meditations offers food for thought and prayer for any reader who is devoted to this fascinating saint.
Advent devotionals based on daily Mass readings are difficult to put together, as Advent does not have the same number of days each year, and there are special feasts (St. Nicholas, the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe) to consider as well. Heidi has taken care to offer a guide to navigating the liturgical calendar as you read this book, so that it can be used year after year. As a reader, I appreciate such attention to detail!
Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta actually runs through the Octave of Christmas, with a bonus meditation for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, so be sure you don’t put it away on December 24.
In the meditation for the first Sunday of Advent, Heidi summarizes the purpose of this book:
As Christians, every part of our life is oriented toward our place as citizens in the kingdom of God. We are called to love. We are called to serve. We are called to recognize the face of Christ in everyone around us, even our enemies, for the greater good of all….As we begin our Advent journey, consider how God is calling you to choose the way of peace for the good of all…beginning with yourself. (3-4)
This daily devotional for Advent is one you’ll be able to stick with; I had a hard time putting it down! I highly recommend praying with this book through the Advent season and Octave of Christmas.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book from the publisher, Servant Books, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.
When you’re in the thick of minute-by-minute parenting and corralling little kids, there’s always that one sage parenting veteran who observes, “You’ll miss this one day.” And usually your first impulse (which you resist with all your might) is to punch that person in the face.
I am now that person, missing the crazy of Advent with 3 kids who enjoyed their Advent wreath a little TOO much.
It’s easy to tell that whoever thought it was a good idea to observe Advent by putting candles on the table, in the reach of children, never had children themselves. Year after year after year I threaten to toss the regular candles in favor of the battery-operated variety, because in my house, Advent is where table manners and fire collide.
At my Advent table, you’re likely to hear:
“Where are the matches? These candle lighters are for WIMPS.”
“Finish chewing your food before blowing out the candle.”
“Stop warming your food over the Advent candle!” / “Awesome! It really toasted the bread!”
“I like to put the candle out with my spit.”
“I wonder if I can sneeze the candles out tonight.”
“No spitting on the Advent Wreath!”
And once in a while, you’re likely to see this:
The newest Candle Game involves sitting in your seat without leaning forward and blowing as hard as you can to extinguish as many candles as possible. Each person gets one chance, then it’s the next person’s turn. Asthmatics are definitely at a disadvantage in this game. (Ask me how I know).
But clearly, I didn’t miss my calling as an instructor in Charm School.
A very wise woman from my parish (and the Secular Franciscans) who was herself the mom of 6, once told me I shouldn’t worry when stuff like this happened. “At least you know they’re normal,” she reminded me. Martha was one of those people who could find humor in any situation. And that’s what gets me through Advent, year after year after year.