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What are you giving up for Advent?

The following story appeared in the December 3 Idaho Catholic Register.

By Father Gregory Vance, S.J.

That’s the question I began my classes with at Bishop Kelly High School on the first Monday of Advent. On cue, just as I had planned that it would happen, a couple of kids (the ones who actually listen to me when I say something) replied with: “Isn’t that Lent, not Advent?”

They are right, of course. The tradition of the season of Lent is that we give something up as a way for appreciating the power and grace of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter. However, there are telltale signs that the season of Advent has a lot in common with the season of Lent. Here are merely a few of these signs:

Liturgical color. Both Advent and Lent share the color of violet or purple. Twenty-five years ago, when I was first ordained a priest, navy blue was sometimes worn during Advent, but that tradition seems to have fallen by the wayside. Violet is a

“penitential” color in the Catholic tradition, meaning that when you see it, you should take it as an invitation to focus on your own need for God’s healing and forgiving grace in your life. That color is also reflected in the Advent Wreath that many of us use to mark the time during this season. This liturgical color leads directly into the next sign of connection between Advent and Lent.

Focus on Confession. The Church asks us to seek the grace of sacramental recon-ciliation, or to go to Confession, at least twice per year during – you guessed it – the seasons of Advent and Lent. Parishes will host reconciliation services with the opportunity for individual Confessions in order to make this as easy as possible for us. At Bishop Kelly, we have just completed two days of reconciliation services. Also this year we have asked that each student, whether he or she goes to Confession or not, take just a few moments of their day to approach a priest and pray with him. What a great blessing for our school, and many thanks go to the generous priests who gave of their time to come and assist us in these services!

Charity toward neighbor. Our Frassati Food Drive, one of the largest food drives in the state, always happens at BK during the beginning of Advent. This effort will positively impact the lives of those families who struggle with poverty and need during the coming year. In Lent, we participate in projects like “Rice Bowl” through Catholic Relief Services, to help us be thankful for our plenty, and to help us be generous with those in our world who don’t enjoy the same plenty.

Anticipating joy. Both Advent and Lent are the preparatory seasons for the most joyful times in Church life, Christmas and Easter respectively. What better way to experience the deep joy and gratitude of these two celebrations than taking some time to slow down, be quiet, and focus on how dearly we need God in our lives? Both Advent and Lent are like annual retreats in the Church, where our tradition invites us to just a little more prayer, reflection, and insight into the power of God’s saving action in the world, through the Incarnation at Christmas, and through the Paschal Mystery at Easter. During both seasons, while the secularized culture surrounding us speeds up and stresses out, our faith calls us to the deep waters of our own souls, to reflect and pray from that depth about our utter (and ultimate) dependence on God for life and salvation.

See? Advent really is a lot like Lent in its focus and philosophy. So, perhaps to help us toward a greater appreciation of this, a good question might be: “What are you giving up for Advent?”


Father Gregory Vance, S.J., is chaplain at Bishop Kelly High School in Boise.

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