Never underestimate power of the Advent wreath

David Dawson Jr., Guest Column
Clarion Herald

It’s not complicated: any wreath will do, and pink and purple candles can be found almost anywhere this time of year.

However, getting around to putting an Advent wreath together and then actually using it with our families often falls to the bottom of the to-do list.

For many of us, this is because we never experienced this important pre-Christmas ritual growing up, so the idea of starting from scratch feels overwhelming, and we come up with plenty of good reasons to just skip it.

How much of a difference will it really make, anyway, to get a wreath together and force the kids to sit around it for prayer each night?

When I was growing up, it was a hassle for my parents to make reluctant older kids stop what they were doing to come and sit around the table and to keep the younger ones from constantly trying to blow out the candles every night. I think they were driven by their own experiences growing up, and I’m grateful to them for their perseverance.

Looking back, it was extremely important for me to not only experience the feeling that something deeply meaningful and mysterious was happening, but to also hear my parents, especially my father, wrestling with the mystery.

All busy household activities were stopped, there was no light but the candles, and the mood was quiet and serious.

My dad would read a Scripture passage out loud, usually from an Advent prayer booklet he got at church or from the day’s Gospel, and then he’d ask us what we thought or what stood out to us.

Then, after we gave what was often a childish or thoughtless response, he would share his thoughts.

These were rarely preachy, but more of just his honest musings about what might be going on in the mind and heart of God, how God operates in the world, or what he might need to change in order to receive the gifts God promised.

These thoughts were always simple, though sincere. It was clear, however, that this stuff was actually important enough for him to spend time focusing on it in the same way that we were naturally focusing our curiosity on each little movement of the flames in front of us.

After a while, it became easy to want to wonder about those mysteries in the same way my dad did. And, when given that sacred space where everything and everyone not essential to that moment melted into the darkness around us, that wonder grew into a deeper and deeper desire to understand and receive whatever God was doing through the gift of his Son at Christmas.

None of it was perfect, and we still struggle with the temptation to think that it can’t be worth the sizeable effort to stop everything and try to keep the kids quiet and attentive.

But, once it’s dark and the children’s eyes are caught by the flickering candles, the genius of our Catholic tradition is clear: without this time of focusing, of wrestling with these mysteries, we will miss the significance of the greatest event in all of history, and so will our children.

David Dawson Jr. is director of the Family Life Apostolate for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He can be reached at familylife@arch-no.org.

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