One of my favorite songs in the Easter season is, “Were you there?” It is sung with faith and often tears in my eyes. It is a time of repentance followed by a joyous Easter Sunday celebration. The Lenten season is like a spring cleaning for our soul; out with sin to give room & let God it. As the scriptures are reverently read during Holy Week, the reality of what the Lord has done for me is forefront before my mind.
In contrast the Advent season is a time of great joy all four weeks. People everywhere enter into the traditions of giving and rejoicing; those who believe and those who do not. The days are full and the “to-do” list is always longer than is humanly possible. I used to say when I was a young mother, “Christmas time as a whole added to my already over-committed life. I was never quite sure if we were going to have to be Santa’s last stop; telling the children he got delayed over O’Hare airport but said that He will be coming New Year’s Eve instead. It wasn’t until I cut myself some slack that the Spirit of Christmas came to rest in my soul all year round.
What did I do? To be honest it is what I did not do that became the key to opening the door to peace and closing the door to over commitment. The most important thing I did was take a pause and pray. It was my way of making an analysis of how I could celebrate Christmas peacefully with a large family but still keep my sanity. These pauses and prayers have become a practice I repeat each year.
Sometimes the Christmas traditions I choose are different each year, yet some remain the same. After the plan is set in motion, trial and error has become my guide and peace my barometer. I am no longer caught in the trap of “but we always do….” Maturity has taught me that saying “No” to one thing gives you the time and energy to say yes to another. Quality of life has become more important than quantity.
The next thing I do at Christmas is clear my calendar from December 1st until New Year’s Day. I limit my speaking and writing so I can concentrate on Jesus and the people I love.
Jesus is coming! So what do you do? What do you do to prepare your hearts spiritually to receive Him anew?
One of my favorite talks at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Convocation this July in Orlando was given by a bishop, not known to me. It may not have been memorable to anyone else, but to me it was the souvenir that I took home. The bishop’s word to the leaders in the New Evangelism was taken from Matthew 23:25-26 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.” Just as Jesus did, this bishop told about his Italian mother. The bishop shared, “Whenever his mom would invite company over, she would prepare first.” Like most of us, she would clean the house, cook the food, set the table, and then welcome the guests. All this was done prior to the guest arriving so that they would feel welcome. How about you? What do you do to prepare to welcome a guest?
CLEAN THE HOUSE
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
Can’t you just picture Martha, apron on, with her broom in hand cleaning the home from top to bottom? Let’s face it, Jesus is coming and she was maid, Martha; she totally took this is as an invitation to do the spring cleaning. Scripture says, “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” (Hebrews 13:2) Martha was preparing her home to receive the King. “It must be perfect,” is what I would be thinking if I were in Martha’s shoes. Jesus felt so welcome there that he came back again and again. Their home became a second home for Jesus. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus were like family to Him. While Martha was preparing the home to welcome Him, Mary was preparing her heart to house Him. Martha made room at the table for Jesus. Mary made room for Him in her heart. Who chose the better portion?
When Sean was born our friends and family alike rallied around with cleaning, cooking and babysitting until I could get on my feet again. Sean was a preemie and he needed some extra care. After two weeks I was on my own with barely four year old Kaitlin at my side. I remember this one day as if it were yesterday. With baby Sean in my arms 24-7, I must say I was a bit overwhelmed with our seventh child, as well as sleep deprived as I began my day. I said Kaitlin, “First up, we clean the house.” My daughter looked at me and said, “MOM, why don’t you just call your friends and ask them to come do it!”
The Advent season is a time to focus on the inside. When we go to clean the inside of our hearts, we may feel a little like I did, overwhelmed. Or maybe some of you ladies feel a little like Kaitlin did; you want to say to the God of the universe, “Why don’t you get your friends, the saints to come over and do it.” The inner work of the soul is a work that only you can do. It is in the silence of your heart with God alone that the work begins, continues, and becomes fruitful. It is a work of grace which God and you will do together, as you listen and obey. Neither of you can do the work alone. You must cooperate with His grace. Is it hard work? Yes! Cleaning the inside of our hearts is a daily choice to live for Christ or ourselves. However, do a little bit every day, instead of trying to blitzing it overnight; the journey will be one you look forward to as you meet Jesus each day in prayer. I promise you, He will be there.
How do we go about cleaning the inside? Esther spent three years beautifying on the outside, do you remember? But what won the heart of the King was her inner beauty. She put God first, prayed, fasted, and sought His face. He was not just a part of her life; she lived for God alone.
Advent gives us a special time to clean the inn of our hearts to make ready for the Savior! It is the present we give our self and to Jesus. Take the time in prayer to sit with Him each day. Repent from past failures, seek to mend broken relationships, and work on sins that cause you to stumble. Clean house & do a spring cleaning. I, for one, feel my heart is clean when I go to confession. The grace gives me the desire to begin again. It is never too late to begin again. Begin each day by giving the day to Jesus, invite Him to guide you. End each day with an Examination of conscience. Vow to go to confession often, maybe on your birthday number or the first of every month. You will be clean all over.
Jesus is coming! He is coming to visit you. Is the inn of your heart clean? Is there room to house Him? Are you ready to welcome Him?