by Therese Notare
December 3, 2004
Advent is the time the Church asks us to prepare ourselves anew for God's greatest gift to us – our salvation made real in the birth of His son Jesus. There is a flip side to Advent that we often forget – it also presents us with an invitation to reflect upon what gifts we can give to so generous a God.
What gifts can we give? Jesus provides a hint: "Love the Lord your God with your whole heart and soul" and "love your neighbor as yourself." Most of us find the "love your neighbor" part difficult. And that's understandable. It is difficult to love people we have little in common with. In our world, the stranger is often to be feared. And forget about the people we can't see who lie hidden in the womb. So what are we to do? Two simple suggestions: behave as if you do love your neighbor and practice little ascetisms.
If you want to love your neighbor, act that way. It doesn't matter if you "feel it." The heart will eventually follow. Call your sister who you have been fighting with. Take Aunt Josie to the doctor's even if you'd rather stay home. Baby-sit for the couple who live in the apartment above you. Volunteer at a pregnancy crisis center. Above all, practice "putting on the eyes of God." View your neighbor as God does. This means that when watching the news see both the person who was robbed and the mugger as God would. This exercise does not excuse the mugger of his sin, but it can help us see his real value before God. It can also stoke the fires of our hearts to desire his repentance. A prayer offered with the desire for the person's well-being delights the Lord God!
Likewise, if you have trouble summoning up concern for babies in the womb, try to see them as God sees them. God creates each person to do something only he or she can do. In the bustle of your routine, stop and think about who that person in the womb is and will be. Question the legality of abortion. Talk to others about the worth of all people. Pray for the well-being of "womb people."
Finally, practice little ascetisms. The ancient practice of "giving something up," or more specifically "fasting," needs to be integrated into our lives. Even fasting only one day a week "tunes up" the soul. When we give something up for a higher purpose we can see our sins more easily. We can see the talents God gave us to spend in the world. We also can see what God wants of us. Our innate compassion is more readily available. Our desire to help stirs. Our heartfelt prayers for our neighbors become a natural response.
This Advent, give gifts to God. Put on the "eyes of the Lord." Include a bit of fasting with your prayer. If we all strive to do this, we may see peace in the world. We will also make beautiful gifts for our Heavenly Father.
Theresa Notare is the Assistant Director of the Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.