Advent is traditionally a time of quiet reflection as we prepare our hearts to embrace the Christ Child once again. Two new Advent devotionals for 2018 present the faithful with uniquely different methods for reflection and prayer as we begin our Liturgical year.
Simple Gifts: Daily Reflections for Advent
Diane M. Houdek is a crafter—knitting is her passion, and this small, simple devotional wraps the reader in comfort—like a favorite afghan by the fire on a cold winter evening. As the days grow shorter and darker, her book invites you to curl up and open its pages, drawing closer to Jesus—closer to the light.
This book is divided into four-week segments, each beginning with a long-reflection based on the theme for the week. The daily readings begin with a scriptural passage drawn from varied books of both the Old and New Testaments followed by a short personal reflection. The “Take a Deep Breath” section has a second Bible passage or phrase for the reader to reflect upon while breathing slowly and deeply. Each day ends with a “Simple Gifts” section which is a call to action based on the daily and weekly themes.
Houdek’s reflections and format of the book are in no small part attributed to her unexpected 2017 extended illness and hospitalization for acute respiratory failure. “The whole focus of my life for almost a week was breathing in and breathing out,” she writes. (page 30).
The theme of Week One—slow down, seems a juxtaposition to what the world is telling us to do. Houdek cautions against being so strict in your Advent practice that it becomes “penitential”, and we miss the joy of the season. “Like eating seasonally with the local harvest, we appreciate things more when we don’t have them all the time,” she writes. (pg. 17)
During the second week of Advent, we are called to simplify. It is this week that the author draws us into the very tangible ways to de-clutter our homes, reduce our possessions and create beauty for ourselves and others. “Advent calls us to simplify our lives and our homes so we can focus on what really matters: being aware of the Spirit of God breathing within and around us,” Houdek writes. (pg. 31)
Beginning with Gaudete Sunday, Houdek invites us into the practice of gratitude, which is hoped will carry over throughout the coming year. It is during this week that she delves into areas of patience, grief, independence, social justice and the art of becoming a cheerful (and grateful!) receiver. “…we will discover how much joy comes from the simple emotion of feeling grateful for the many ways God reaches out to us through others,” she writes. (pg. 60)
Though the fourth week of Advent is but two days this year, the Houdek invites us to “embrace the mystery” and provides a full week of readings so the book can be used for successive Advent seasons. She invites us to journey with Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah and the Angel Gabriel to the brink of the Nativity and beyond. She writes, “The seasons of the liturgical year are more than markers on the calendar. They should change us as we experience the mysteries of our faith.” (pg. 85)
Sacred Reading for Advent and Christmas 2018-2019
This perennial favorite produced by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network (formerly known as the Apostleship of Prayer) provides a guided spiritual retreat through the day and feast day gospels of Advent and Christmas. Spanning the days from the first day of Advent; Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, to the close of the Liturgical Christmas season with the Baptism of Jesus on Sunday, January 13, 2019, this slim volume provides enormous potential for spiritual growth.
The reflections for this year’s volume are written by Doug Leonard, former executive director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network. Each week begins with a quote from Pope Francis on the Sundays in Advent during 2017. The Holy Father’s monthly prayer intentions for December and January are also included. The hope of Sacred Reading is to open our hearts to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we pray with our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world.
Following a structured guide, each day is divided into six simple steps for spiritual renewal. The first step asks the reader to; “Know that God is present with you and ready to converse.” The simple prompts that follow open the reader’s heart to hear God’s word in step two—the Gospel reading. The full text of each day’s gospel is provided within the volume. The authors recommend reading the gospel several times “with a complete openness of what God is saying to you.” (pg. xi).
Step three; “Notice what you think and feel as you read the gospel”, provides a short gospel reflection to begin prayerful meditation. The authors note, “For the receptive soul, the word of God has boundless power to illuminate and transform the prayerful believer.” (pg. xii) A short thought follows this daily section, introducing the reader to the fourth step; “Pray as you are led for yourself and others,” forming prayers based on the previous reading, and our own thoughts and feelings.
“What else is Jesus saying to you?” is the daily question asked in “Listen to Jesus”—section five. One or two lines precede this question each day, drawn from the gospel reading by Leonard.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we are called to action by the sixth and final section of this devotional with the directive; “Ask God to show you how to live today.” Leonard puts forth a short call to us each day to go forth and live the gospel with our lives.