Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB was a towering figure in 19th century liturgical studies. The following is taken from the section on Advent from The Liturgical Year.
Gueranger discusses what he understands of the history of the season, and then how Advent informs the shape of the liturgy. In the third portion of his discussion, he turns to the individual believer: the various stances towards Christ human beings have, and how Christ seeks to meet each of us, no matter where we are, and how that meeting will change our life.
For this glorious solemnity, as often as it comes round, finds three classes of men. The first, and the smallest number, are those who live, in all its plenitude, the life of Jesus who is within them, and aspire incessantly after the increase of this life. The second class of souls is more numerous; they are living, it is true, because Jesus is in them; but they are sick and weakly, because they care not to grow in this divine life their charity has become cold ! 18 The rest of men make up the third division, and are they that have no part of this life in them, and are dead; for Christ has said: ‘I am the Life,’
Now, during the season of Advent, our Lord knocks at the door of all men’s hearts, at one time so forcibly that they must needs notice Him; at another, so softly that it requires attention to know that Jesus is asking admission. He comes to ask them if they have room for Him, for He wishes to be born in their house. The house indeed is His, for he built it and preserves it; yet He complains that His own refused to receive Him ; at least the greater number did. ‘But as many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God, born not of blood, nor of the flesh, but of God.
One of the reasons I want to share this with you is that Gueranger, not surprising for a liturgical scholar, presents the individual believer’s spirituality in the context of the Church’s liturgy. I think this is very important for us to understand, in a culture – even a church culture – in which we are encouraged to shape our lives in response to the proddings of the Holy Spirit.
What is often forgotten, however, is that when Jesus promised the presence of the Spirit, he did not take individuals aside and say, “I’m sending you the Paraclete. And you – over there, let me talk to you. I’m sending you the Paraclete as well.”
No. He made this promise to the apostles, as a body – as the People of God, as the Church.
So when I, as an individual baptized Christian, seek to live my life in accordance with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the first place I look is the Church.
Living by the promptings of God’s spirit can involve complex dynamics and careful, even painful discernment. It may indeed put one in conflict with various elements of Church authority or tradition as it is being understood or misunderstood at a particular point in time. There is nothing new or radical about this, and anyone with an atom of understanding of church history understands this, and countless women and men we now honor as saints endured, usually painfully, these struggles of discernment as they were moved to serve in one direction, while bishops or other authorities told them to just stop.
But it all seems to shake out in the end, as we push and pull and move and serve.
And so it is with our prayer life and our individual spiritual lives. The Spirit dwells in the Word of God and in the prayer of the Church. Paul says, Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
He will be born, then, with more beauty and lustre and might than you have hitherto seen in Him, O ye faithful ones, who hold Him within you as your only treasure, and who have long lived no other life than His, shaping your thoughts and works on the model of His. You will feel the necessity of words to suit and express your love; such words as He delights to hear you speak to Him. You will find them in the holy liturgy.
You, who have had Him within you without knowing Him, and have possessed Him without relishing the sweetness of His presence, open your hearts to welcome Him, this time, with more care and love. He repeats His visit of this year with an untiring tenderness; He has forgotten your past slights; He would ‘that all things be new.’ Make room for the divine Infant, for He desires to grow within your soul. The time of His coming is close at hand: let your heart, then, be on the watch; and lest you should slumber when He arrives, watch and pray, yea, sing. The words of the liturgy are intended also for your use: they speak of darkness, which only God can enlighten; of wounds, which only His mercy can heal; of a faintness, which can be braced only by His divine energy.
So….how to observe Advent with yourself, your family, your kids? Don’t stress. Just keep it simple.
Start with the liturgy. With the daily Mass readings, and whatever else you can manage. It is worth the time, it is worth the awkwardness, it is worth the struggle. I have never looked back on that time on the couch, sometimes so painfully won from other commitments and distractions, and thought, “Well, that was a waste of time,” while I always look back at a day when I just gave up and gave in to Everything Else and said, “Well, that wasn’t worth it. I should have tried a little harder.”
Yes, when I make what I see, in hindsight, is just a small sacrifice, and open myself and try to help my family open up, I see that even a little bit is enough, for I know that all of our yearnings are met here, in the tiniest opening: The Spirit helps us in our weakness.