I have two favorite quotes from Saint Francis. The first is “Let us begin again, for until now we have done nothing.” Francis said this as he was nearing his death, knowing that conversion is never a single moment but a lifelong journey. We constantly need to renew our commitment to Christ, to following the Gospel, to drawing closer to God. Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year, is a perfect time to begin again, a fresh start for each of us.
When I was a child, Advent was a big part of my family’s seasonal celebrations. An Advent calendar and a Jesse Tree hung on the wall. The Advent wreath occupied the center of the dining room table and every evening we knelt around the table and took turns reciting the Advent novena, beginning on the Feast of Saint Andrew (November 30) and ending on Christmas Eve. My next encounter with Advent was when I was a stressed and overwhelmed graduate student. I was home early for Christmas and let myself be persuaded to go to an Advent reconciliation service that ended up changing my life. Ever since then, Advent has always been a time of darkness and quiet, the calm before the bustle of the Christmas holidays. But it is also a time of much-needed rest, even solitude, time to sort out priorities and seek healing for life’s inevitable stress.
Advent is a time of resting and waiting. My favorite images betray my upper Midwestern roots: early winter sunsets, deep blue tinged with lavender, fallow fields marked with a dusting of snow, bare trees etched black against the sky.
Throughout the season of Advent, we explore the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus letting go of divine splendor to embrace a human existence. In doing so, he raised all of humanity to its divine destiny.
For Francis, meditation on this mystery was at the heart of his understanding of God’s saving love for us. It was also at the heart of Francis’s wholehearted embrace of poverty, of humility, of all of the divine virtues.
If Jesus could let go of so much, surely Francis could let go of his luxurious lifestyle and his quest for glory and admiration. In doing so, he showed his friends and all of his followers through the centuries how to let go of the pride and possessions that kept them from living the Gospel to its fullest extent. Advent at the time of Francis was a penitential season, much like Lent. The austerities of the season were a reminder to let go of human vanity and embrace a more divine humility.
In this spirit, we might focus our Advent activities on prayer, on charity, and on reflecting on the true meaning of Christmas.
My second favorite Francis quote is, “I have done what is mine to do. May Christ show you what is yours to do.” Francis knew that it was important that those who followed him never lost sight of the fact that they were ultimately following Christ. It’s not about a slavish imitation of a man who lived in the Middle Ages in a small town in central Italy but about seeing through his life the message of Christ for all people in all times and places.