the shortest distance is between
Is Advent a penitential season? I think the question isn’t quite right. Temperance is a virtue we should always follow, that should always be a part of our habits. Every Advent we want to use this special time to open our hearts to receive the Lord—it seems to me that we won’t find the room to welcome the Lord unless we empty ourselves at least a little!
We should always practice penances, generally. When we purposefully lay aside something that will give us pleasure, we are performing a penitential action and this is a very good and useful part of our spiritual life. Useful? Absolutely! The less full-of-ourselves we are, the better at welcoming others we become—be it a stranger whom we welcome, our neighbor, or even Christ Himself.
If we empty ourselves from self-serving desires, we likewise open ourselves to be more attentive to the voices that come from outside of ourselves. Then again, sometimes we get “hangry” when our need for nourishment becomes startlingly present and destroys our ability to be decent to the people around us (usually, our own families). Like other virtues, temperance lives in the world of neither too much nor too little. There are things we need to take care of to satisfy our hearts, but we also need to be able to be attentive to the needs of the good people around us.
Practically speaking, one way in which I urge you to fast this Advent—to do penance, to exercise temperance—is to cut down on the amount of noise you consume. The noise-sources in our lives are things like the constant radio in the car, the television in the background, or the ever-present Internet of distractions. Choose to cut down on the noise even just a little bit. Not so much to get disturbed by their absence, but at least enough to let your mind think about the world with a little more circumspection.
The people around us need our attention, and the work of preparing our hearts for the Lord is something that requires our attention, too. For the sake of being able to build habits of listening to sources we do not choose, to encountering communication that does not fit in our plan. Perhaps we could even call this “intentionally being open to distraction,” but with an important caveat: not a distraction of our choosing, but rather being open to the voice of the Spirit.
The Spirit’s voice is very quiet; let us attune our ears to this subtle voice.