It is one of the great joys of fatherhood.
Pulling into the driveway after a long day at work, seeing the children’s faces peeking out the window anxiously awaiting my arrival, and walking into the front door to be greeted by children hugging my leg while yelling, “Daddy’s home!”
This moment, while heart-warming, does not happen by chance. As the workday winds down and my wife receives the “On my way home!” text message, she tells our children that dad will be home soon. My youngest boy, Leo, quickly changes the location where he plays with his toys. He knows it takes him longer to get to the front door than his older brothers and sister, so he grabs the monster trucks and heads to the front door to prepare for my arrival.
It is wonderfully humbling to see how children react to ordinary situations and realize a greater lesson to be learned. If we are to prepare for Christ the King to enter this world, perhaps we should be more intentional and “move our monster trucks closer to the front door” by preparing our souls, homes, and community.
Preparing our Souls
In many parishes, the opportunity for a night of penance is offered to the parishioners. Multiple priests around the diocese will visit different parishes and make themselves available to hear confessions. Whether your family has the habit of going to confession every month or it has been a while since your last confession, making a good confession is a wonderful way to prepare your soul to welcome the Christ child into this world. If the family is nervous about going to confession, allow time for everyone to examine their conscience before arrival so no one feels rushed or pressured when the confession line dwindles. It is also a good practice for the father and mother to go to confession before the children. This sets an example for the family, showing the children that dad and mom need forgiveness just as much as they do. Finally, once the family is finished going to confession, go celebrate! Enjoy hot chocolate together, curl up next to the fireplace to read out loud a good book, or dust off the box of a family fun board game. If it has been a while since your family has been to confession, here is a guide on how to make a good confession.
Reinforcing our Atmosphere
What children see in the domestic church should reflect and reinforce what they see in church every Sunday. As we mention in our book, Living Beyond Sunday: Making Your Home a Holier Place:
Our house is a physical manifestation of the process of sanctification. It is not holy in the same way as a church altar or tabernacle but in a natural, practical way. The words sacred, sacrament, and sacrifice all come from the Latin root word sanctus, which means “holy” or “set apart.” Something is considered holy when it is removed from common use and “set apart” exclusively for the service of God. On a natural level, this is exactly why we build houses—to take a piece of earth and “set it apart” from the rest of the world exclusively in the service of a domestic church and the rites that take place within.
The traditional advent wreath is an easy way to include a liturgical atmosphere in the home. Placing the Advent wreath on the kitchen table before dinner every evening is a visible reminder that these next 4 weeks are different from all the other weeks in the year. Before dinner begins, help a child light the candle(s) on the advent wreath and invite them to lead the family prayer before dinner, allowing them to mention one unique prayer intention the whole family can offer up in prayer. This is not only a wonderful way to live liturgically but also reinforces the importance of the family praying for specific prayer intentions, just like we do in Holy Mass when the church family offers up prayers of petitions after the homily. If you are looking for a guide, fisheaters.com offers a good one.
Cultivating our Virtues
While it is a joy to give and receive gifts during the Christmas season, not everyone is as fortunate as others. It is important during the Advent season to remember that the Christ child did not come into this world wrapped in cashmere and gold but swaddled in a blanket and placed in a hay-filled manger. The Holy Family did not have many possessions, but the wise men traveled a great distance to generously offer gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The wise men give our families an example to be generous and remember those less fortunate. One way to cultivate the virtue of generosity is by having each family member pick 1 to 3 items they enjoy, load them up in the car, and, together, make a donation trip to Catholic Charities. The great saints of the Church remind us that God allows some families to have great riches in this world, so that they may grow in virtue and be good stewards with what God has given them.
While Advent can be a time of anxiety and chaos, allow these four weeks to prepare us for the peace and joy of Jesus Christ. Intentionally make small changes, so when the Christ child arrives, we will anxiously await to greet and welcome Him into our homes.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.