We can say the reverse, that Advent is a time when, in the midst of an unbelieving world, something of the luminous quality of this lost faith is still perceptible, like a visual echo. Just as stars are visible long after they have become extinct, since their erstwhile light is still on its way to us, so this mystery frequently offers some warmth and hope even to those who are no longer able to believe in it.
Advent is a time when a kindness that is otherwise almost entirely forgotten is mobilized; namely, the willingness to think of others and give them a token of kindness. Finally Advent is a time when old customs live again, for instance, in the singing of carols which takes place all over the country. In the melodies and the words of these carols, something of the simplicity, imagination and glad strength of the faith of our forefathers makes itself heard in our age, bringing consolation and encouraging us perhaps to have another go at that faith which could make people so glad in such hard times.
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One of finest books I've read about Advent is Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings (Ignatius Press, 2006), by Alfred Delp, S.J., a German Jesuit priest who was imprisoned in Berlin in 1944, then tortured, imprisoned, and executed on February 2, 1945. As I wrote last year, "The Advent meditations in this book were written while he was in prison, facing an almost certain execution. Free of any sort of false piety and sugary spirituality, they are challenging, bracing, and very timely. Fr. Delp's sermons and reflections, the Introduction notes, focus on four ways in which we are called in Advent to encounter God: We are called to be 'shaken awake', we are called to integrity and authenticity, we confess and proclaim our faith, and we respond to God with reverent awe." Fr. Delp wrote:
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The believing Christian celebrates an Advent with multiple meanings. Each of these meanings ultimately leads to generally applicable religious principles and problems. Therefore Advent is precisely the liturgical season in which the interior religious tension of our time is most conspicuously revealed. ...In a reflection written in 1935, several years before being arrested, Fr. Delp directly addressed the increasing hostility toward "the original religious meaning of Advent," which was being replaced by a "German faith" that was atheistic and "knows no articulated Creed, no dogma, no form ..." "Each one of us," he wrote, "is confronted with the new religious ideas in one form or another. It is not enough to be faithful within the privacy of your own heart or home. This is the moment for public, serious, and faithful profession of our faith."
The season of Advent is, first of all, the time of man's original religious instinct. Never will we experience our primeval homesick yearning for God more actively and alertly than in this season of Rogation Masses and Advent wreaths. Advent is the time of the God-seeker. The original longing within every human heart is a great impulse toward the hidden and distant God, a longing to wander in that far-off forgotten homeland of the soul. That longing is what the Church expresses, both in her inner attitude and in the liturgy of the season.
Related Articles, Interviews, and Links:
• The Mystery Made Present To Us | Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J.
• "All of life is Advent": On the life and death of Alfred Delp, S.J. | Abtei St. Walburg
• Remembering Father Alfred Delp, S.J., Priest and Martyr | A Conversation with Father Karl Adolf Kreuser, S.J.
• Remembering a Priest and Martyr: On the Ordination Anniversary of Alfred Delp, S.J. | Abtei St. Walburg
• Faithful Even Unto Death: The Witness of Alfred Delp, S.J. | Fr. Albert Münch