The number one thing that I would do is spend more time in prayer and just ask the Lord to show you why Advent is so special, what the incarnation means, why should I be participating in the season? Gretchen Filz
Gretchen is a Lay Dominican with a passion for fostering an increase in Catholic faith and devotion through content writing and journalism. She works as a digital content writer, creator, and marketer for The Catholic Company. In addition to blogging at GetFed.com, she is also editor of the MorningOffering.com daily devotional email and author at GoodCatholic.com. She holds an M.A. in Christian Apologetics and converted to the Catholic Church in 2011. She is also active in R.C.I.A., pro-life work, and various faith-based web projects.
In this episode, I talk to Gretchen about Advent and the spiritual preparation before Christmas. She talks about:
-Ways to celebrate Advent
-Choosing spiritual gifts for our loved ones
-Celebrating the Christmas season and not just the day
-Starting a liturgical revolution
For our listeners who’d prefer to read, here’s the transcript:
Gretchen: My name is Gretchen Filz and I work for catholiccompany.com and I am a convert and my job there is to blog and just write and teach about the Catholic faith through various platforms that we have. So, we have getfed.com which is our blog. We have morningoffering.com which is a Catholic daily devotional. So, I’m the editor and curator for that daily devotional. Also, we have a new sort of series that we launched, our new platform that we launched. So, I write these content series that we have. The first one I did was a 30 day series on Our Lady of Fatima and right now, I’m in a 21 day content series on Mary. So, we have a lot more coming out in the next year, about six or seven new series. So, that’s what I do for The Catholic Company. So, it is…The Catholic Company, although we are an online store, we’re very much also part ministry. So, we care very much about not only selling devotional religious products to our customers but also informing them in their Catholic faith and teaching them why we use these things, how to go deeper in their faith and that my role there as a company is to help facilitate that process.
Pamela: So, in a way, your job is kind of like a ministry, right?
Gretchen: Yeah. It’s definitely, I consider it to be a personal apostolic, if you will, because it takes…it’s not easy to write. It’s not something that you can just go to work and do and leave work. Like, I have to also…in order to even be able to write about these things, I also have to practice and have a deep devotional life something that I don’t have. So, I can’t write about these things, I can’t explain how all of these things work if I don’t have them in my own life. So, certainly outside of work, I definitely have to make sure that I’m keeping up with my spiritual discipline and practicing my faith in the best way that I know so that I can benefit others who read my work.
Pamela: I read some of your work. I mean, you had a couple of posts on Advent and Christmas on your website and a couple of other websites and I was quite impressed with what I read there. And given that we’re going into the Thanksgiving, Christmas season, you know, I think we’ve lost this meaning of Christmas and preparation in a spiritual sense. So, can you explain why this is just not simply a holiday or just any other season, why is this so special, why is this so important?
Gretchen: Well, I think it’s important to keep in mind that Christmas is a liturgical season and it boasts…there’s two principle times of year for Catholics that are the highest Holy days of the year, Christmas and Easter. And so, that’s why Christmas is such a big deal out in the culture because hey, it’s presents, it’s Christmas trees and reindeer and snowmen and the fact that it’s such a big deal in the culture, I think, signifies that it should be a big deal in our spiritual life. In fact, I don’t think that we approach it appropriately considering what it is. So, the secular world kind of really disconnects it from Jesus’s birthday, but, for example, non-Catholic Christians, they do understand that it’s Jesus’s birthday but they don’t really understand the richness and the depth and the meaning and the beauty behind it. And I got to experience that as a Catholic, so that’s one of the posts that I have written, “Celebrating Christmas Like Catholics” where I just describe that transition of celebrating Christmas as a Protestant to celebrating it as a Catholic and just how much it exploded for me, its richness, its beauty and understanding what it truly is. Because I don’t think that I ever really understood what Christmas really was in Catholic until I learned of the incarnation, it’s a celebration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The words means flesh come down for us and what that means. I never learned about the incarnation as a non-Catholic. I mean, I suppose I understood it in some sense, but I didn’t really understand what a big deal that is. God comes and takes his flesh with us. And the importance of the Advent season that precedes Christmas, how it’s four weeks long, so we begin to enter into a time of anticipation for the arrival of Christ. That fall of Adam and Eve, the tradition is that it was about 4,000 years from the time of the world’s creation to the incarnation of Jesus Christ. So, we waited quite a long time for the birth of Jesus and the world was in sin and darkness. There was a lot of hope. We had the hope promised in Genesis when God prophesied that the world’s savior would come in the form of Angelian. I mean, there was a lot of prophecies in the Old Testament, but the arrival of the Messiah hadn’t come. So, the fact that the world waited for 4,000 years, darkness and sin, and then a hopeful longing that one day a savior would come and save us from our sins. That’s incredible. People don’t really understand that on this side of the incarnation because Christ has already come. We look back at it. But if we think about the other side of the incarnation is that the people of God waited for a long time. So, the four weeks of Advent is a way of tapping into that anticipation and that whole expectation and waiting of the birth and Messiah and they did. So, each of the four weeks of Advent can symbolize 1,000 years, so every week you go through in the Advent season, it’s like 1,000 years of waiting to the point where we get to the 4,000 years. So, yeah, it’s just, it’s a beautiful season, a beautiful time that we can enter into and I only think that we can truly celebrate Christmas if we are fully entering into the Advent season and gathering up all the richness there for us to ponder so that we can kind of get what a big deal the incarnation was.
Pamela: You mentioned that Advent is a week long. Also, why is it important that we should prepare? I mean, why is it important that people should spiritually prepare? A lot of people might say, “Well, okay, 4,000 years back and now we’re looking to the future.” But how has this helped you spiritually and how can we convince other people that this will spiritually help them, that Advent will make a difference?
Gretchen: Well, I think it’s important because we need to remember there’s actually two comings of Christ. So, Christ came in the flesh at Bethlehem. So, it’s been now 2,000 years since Jesus came to us in Bethlehem and he doesn’t appear on earth, but he promised that he will return at the end of time. So, Christians…the hope of the people of God in the Old Testament times was waiting for the birth of the Messiah to save us from our sins. And for the Christians today, it’s waiting for the second coming of Jesus and the hope of the Resurrection. So, people in the Old Testament, they endured in sorrow because of the world of sin that they lived in waiting for the coming of Christ and I think in the same way we do as well. That the people in the Old Testament kind of taught us how we wait and we anticipate the coming of Christ, because just as they waited, so we wait, too, on the second coming. We endure a lot, you know, 2,000 years since the Christ came but we also have that hopeful longing for the second coming. So, whenever we enter into the Advent season, it is a reminder, the Advent, that Jesus is going to come back and how should we behave? In prayer and sacrifice and, Alms giving, as we await Christ because we know that we will need to be ready. So, I think the importance of celebrating Advent is to remember that just as Christ came in Bethlehem, he’s coming back again and this is what Advent does for us. It brings us back to the center of our faith, which is Jesus Christ and ensure that we prepare our hearts. So, in the Old Testament, they prepared for his coming in Bethlehem and we prepare his coming in the clouds, the sign the sound of the trumpet when at the time of the Resurrection at the end of time.
Pamela: You wrote about 12 tips to make Advent more meaningful and can you share some of these important ones so that people can infuse this into their own Christmas prayer, into their own Advent?
Gretchen: Well, I think most families or most Catholic families that probably participate in the Advent based tradition, so I think it would be a neat thing if families, what I wrote about in my 12 tips, I think it would be a neat thing if families took that up a notch. So, for example, when the families light a candle each Sunday of Advent, why not make a big celebration out of it? Why not invite friends or family over for each of the Sundays of Advent and create a traditional meal according to their culture or according to the season? And light the candle together as a group, not just as a family, but inviting other people to enjoy that with you. And I think that’s a wonderful way of evangelizing the day for those people who may not have that tradition or who otherwise may not really celebrate the Advent season as you can help them enter into that time of preparation.
So, I think a beautiful way to do that is just to have like a mini prayer service, if you will. Have everyone come over. Have a nice dinner, even a campfire, something like that and maybe towards the end of the night, maybe light a candle in the Advent Wreath. You say a little prayer and then everybody goes home. And then do that to the four weeks of Advent. And I think this is a really neat way to practice hospitality and to visualize our faith and to do works of mercy for those who may not have a deep relationship with God and hopefully, that would foster that relationship. So, I think that’s a beautiful way that we can celebrate the Advent season.
I also wrote some other tips about devotional readings. So, that’s pretty standard. I think most people tend to do that kind of devotional reading, but I do think it’s essential and it’s something that we should never forget. One of the things, I don’t know if I included that in my 12 tips, but I really love the St. Andrew Christmas Novena and that is a tradition where you pray what’s called the St. Andrew’s Novena Christmas prayer because St. Andrew’s Feast Day actually determines when the first day of Advent starts and because he was the first Apostle called by our Lord and he’s the one that actually introduced Simon to Peter to Christ, so that’s why Advent is, the date when Advent starts is when we celebrate his feast day because he is the first Holy Apostle. So, it’s a beautiful tradition, but the St. Andrew Novena prayer is prayed every day from St. Andrew’s Feast on November 30th to Christmas Eve and it’s, “Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of his Blessed Mother. Amen.” So, I fell in love with that prayer and you recite it 50 times a day for special intention from November 30th to Christmas Eve and I think that is an incred-…if you do nothing else for Advent, I recite that prayer. I think it would…it goes a long way. You recite it 15 times because it becomes a beautiful meditation as you think about each of the words and it just impresses on our minds, the importance of the incarnation and how the incarnation, Christ is coming to us dwelling in our soul.
Pamela: Not lighting up Christmas decorations immediately after Thanksgiving, you suggested doing it through Advent slowly. That was I think one of your…
Gretchen: I think it would, it kind of goes into the liturgical season and rather, maybe you put up a few lights every day of Advent and then your house progressively becomes more light and more decorated as you progress throughout Advent and that is also one of the beautiful things that you can do for St. Lucy’s Feast Day in December. Lucy’s name means light and her Feast Day falls in the Advent season. So, that could also be a day that would be appropriate for, you know, turning on your Christmas lights for the Feast of St. Lucy because that falls during Advent season. But in any case, I just think it’s nice to recall you shouldn’t start the celebration as if Christmas is already here by having everything put out. should be something that is progressive in a sense that a little bit at a time could be a better way to do it. And I’m not knocking those who put out everything all at once. But I’m just trying to think if we can move with the rhythm of the liturgical season and correspond our actions accordingly and in that way when we have all of the light fully on, even on that last Sunday of Advent, we’re more inclined to want to keep them up for the whole 12 days of Christmas.
Pamela: What about the Alms giving, penance and all of those things?
Gretchen: Yeah. so one of the ways that the Saints have taught that makes our prayer more powerful is when we accompany our prayer with prayer and fasting and Alms giving and this is done, of course, in a major way during the season of Lent, the passion of Christ celebration. The Advent has also, as I mentioned before, is known as the Little Lent, so it’s a way of doing little things, little sacrifices. And there’s also a beautiful Advent tradition, especially for children, so the principle behind this is you have an empty Christmas creche or an empty Christmas crib and children are taught to make little acts of sacrifice every day of Advent and for every act of sacrifice, you add a piece of straw to the cradle and then on the Feast, the baby Jesus figurine is placed in the creche and baby Jesus is made warm and comfortable by hay that’s in the cradle which symbolizes all of the child’s acts. So, what this means to children and us is that we make room in our hearts by making these daily acts of sacrifice, daily penances, by which all the things that we’re attached to in our soul we need to break up our attachments by giving to other people and making sacrifices and helping others. It detaches us from those things that keep us away from God. So, as we’re making the sacrifices throughout Advent, we’re becoming more and more free, we’re creating more and more room in our heart and therefore, when Christmas comes, we can really enjoy the fullness of Christ’s presence because we’ve also made room for him to give him more space in our souls for him to dwell because it’s Christ’s presence through sacramental grace. It’s not merely made operative. So, that’s the principle behind it.
Pamela: You have very specific advice about giving gifts, especially Christmas gifts. So, can you tell people about that? I think that now a lot of people will go crazy shopping and buying a lot of stuff. What is your advice about getting Christmas gifts for people?
Gretchen: Okay. So, we live in a completely materialistic culture and consumerist culture. And that is, although that’s unfortunate, we can make people more mindful of the presence of God and their relationship with God and get them to start thinking about that by giving them some sort of gift of faith, whether that is a devotional book or a Saint medal or a prayer card, a Rosary, anything like that that is something that they can benefit from spiritually. So, other than a new DVD or a new smart phone, all these electronic devices, cameras, you know, all of these things that we constantly give as gifts, we can remind them of God and to think of God if we give something that is devotional in nature and that brings their heart to God or their mind to God. And I think that is especially important in our day and age because we’re almost in a crisis of our culture.
I mentioned we have this consumerism and materialism but there’s also a lot of suffering because of this is prevalent in society and because God is locked out in so many ways that people have a hard time connecting with God and they don’t really know how to do that and a lot of people are suffering severely from anxiety and depression, especially among young people, suicide is at an all-time high and people out there are really suffering. So, I don’t think that we can underestimate, I mean, even among our friends and family, you know, people don’t openly talk about these things a lot of times. A good thing to do is maybe just pray to your guardian angel and when you’re thinking about a gift to give to somebody, we can maybe ask our guardian angel to ask their guardian angel, you know, “What can I give them that would be the perfect thing to help their relationship with God at this point where they are in their life?”
And the Holy Spirit will lead you to pick just the right book, you know, to get the right book for a person is not easy because there’s so many and people are at different levels and different places in their spiritual walk and it’s not easy to pick just the right thing, but you can ask your guardian angel to do that work for you and you can know that it would be something that God would be very pleased with, you know, do you think God wants everyone to be saved? He wants to draw all souls closer to himself and if you’re asking to participate in that and cooperate in that in getting just the right gift for another person that would need that in their lives, do you think that would be something that God would allow an angel to be able to communicate that? So, pray about it and give something whether it’s a Patron Saint medal or, you know, a Rosary, a book, just something that reminds them about their relationship with God, I think, is really important at Christmas time because of the celebration of the birth of Christ and he is the one who is the center, center of our being, the center of our world and center of our life and you should get at least one gift for everybody that you do get gifts for that symbolizes that.
Pamela: I think that’s fantastic, I mean, to be able to pray and then decide on a gift and then give a spiritual gift. I think that’s great advice.
Gretchen: Yeah. We have these spiritual tools at our disposal. We should use them.
Pamela: So, you also talk about celebrating all 12 days of Christmas. I know a lot of people just take down the stuff before the Feast and by New Year, they’re done with Christmas. So, tell people about these 12 days of Christmas and how they can celebrate more of the Christmas season instead of just Christmas Day.
Gretchen: Well, the 12 days of Christmas are…Christmas traditionally ends on Epiphany. I wrote a blog post on that “Does Christmas end on Epiphany.” There’s so many different traditions as to when the actual end of Christmas, because you take Christianity is 2,000 years old in its practice and different cultures and different eras and ethics and so there was some, you know, discrepancy like, for example, for a long time in the East, it was Epiphany that was a celebration of the birth of Jesus, not Christmas. Christmas and Epiphany were like one thing and in the Latin church those two days are separated. Anyhow on the 12 days of Christmas span from Christmas day, the birth of Christ up into the Feast of the Epiphany when the Magi came and presented their gifts before the baby Jesus. And so, that’s where the whole concept of giving gifts at Christmas, a celebration of the birth of Jesus comes from. That’s what the Magi did. So, this is where the tradition comes from.
So, the 12 days of Christmas are traditionally when we celebrate the feast of Christmas. Typically, in the Old Testament, they’re celebrating the feast in an octave that comes from the Old Testament celebrations of the great festivals of the Jews and it carries over into Christianity. Major feast days are celebrated for eight days. So, for example, eight days after Easter, we have Divine Mercy Sunday. The higher Holy Days have an octave that we celebrate. But in the case of Christmas, it goes 12 days to the Feast of Epiphany and so the best thing to do is celebrate all the and in many cultures, it has been even in the Catholic Church for many years, this is lost in our time. Epiphany was a very major feast day at the Catholic Church. So, after Christmas feast, Epiphany was right up there, after Easter and Pentecost. So, you have Easter and Pentecost and then you have Epiphany as major days. And so, Epiphany is also a major gift giving day in many cultures, even more so than Christmas. And so, I think it’s important to the number of Catholics that Christmas doesn’t end on December 26th, we see the Christmas celebration as going to Epiphany. And I think it’s okay to do that. So many people have a lot of holiday time planned and time off between Christmas and New Year’s. Why not save your Christmas parties to the week after Christmas? I think that’s the perfect time.
In the month of December, in the days of December before Christmas, you know, you’re busy with your cooking, your shopping, your, you know, all the things that you’re doing to prepare for Christmas and then you’re bombarded with Christmas parties. Your office Christmas party, your friend’s Christmas party, your church Christmas party, there’s so much of that going on but Advent is supposed to be a time of prayer and penance. So, I mean, these parties all during Advent and it just doesn’t seem right. So, save all of your parties until after Christmas. I think that is just a brilliant idea because people’s schedules aren’t as busy because, you know, that time of starting the New Year and things are more slowed down. So, I think that’s a prefect time to do a lot of your celebrating, your visiting with family and friends and all of…it really requires planning and intention in order to keep Advent as a quiet prayer, reflection, meditation. And then kind of move all of your Christmas activities, fun and celebration and joy and feasting and merriment so that the 25th all the way through Epiphany on January 6th. I think that’s the proper way to do it. It’s the way people did it for a long time. It’s just in our modern days where we’ve really gotten that completely flipped and distorted. This is a moment for the soul to make changes in your life that correspond to the reality heaven’s time clock. We should remember that the liturgical calendar is God’s clock. It’s the church’s time. It’s God’s time which means it’s Heaven’s time. And we should correspond all of our actions to this reality that God has a clock and we should align all of our actions and our festivities according and not get them out of order. So, I think when we do all of our feasting and merriment and all of that kind of stuff during the Advent season, it kind of upsets what Advent is meant to be as a quiet time of waiting and longing. And it’s a sacrifice. You know, we can have the feasting and the merriments and the joy and the gift giving. All of that is meant for after Christmas and Christmas is a long season. So, I think what we should make the conscientious decision which can be tough, it’s counter-cultural, to move all the feasting and merriment to after Christmas and really make that concerted effort to align ourselves up with God’s clock.
Pamela: I think that even one of the points on one of your posts was about Advent calendars and it just adds to that. Instead of just the Advent calendar, you should have the liturgical calendar for the whole year. And there’s so many feasts after the 25th. You’ve got the Feasts of the Innoncent’s and you’ve got the Marian Feast. And people can attend all of those feasts and masses and celebrate all of those rites with their families.
Gretchen: Yeah. I think totally and I think you just have to start a movement. I mean, start a chain email. Get everybody on the chain email and just say, “Hey everybody . This year we’re doing Advent & Christmas right.” You know, just get everybody involved because I think we all want it. We just need to start a liturgical revolution. calendar, actually in conformation of our liturgical calendar. Start a chain email. Send it to all your family and friends and just say, “Look, this is what we’re doing this year. We’re gonna move all of the parties, all of our festivities, you know, until the…we’re gonna celebrate the 12 days of Christmas. We’re gonna have parties and all that.” I think that’s just a better way to do it. But it’s hard, it’s counter-culture. You can’t be the only ones doing it, because you’re gonna be the opposite of people with you, you know. You can be the one who decides that we’re gonna do things differently this year.
Pamela: Any last bits of advice that you have for people who are starting with their Advent, who are starting with their preparation now?
Gretchen: The reward will be really great. I think really focus on the prayer and spend more time with prayer. What I would do is make an intention to carve out some of your time even if it requires giving up TV or taking a shorter lunch break at work so that you get home earlier to spend more time in prayer. The number one thing that I would do is spend more time in prayer and just ask the Lord to show you why Advent is so special, what the incarnation means, why should I be participating in the season? And I think through that prayer that you’ll instill in your heart a love, a love for the baby Jesus, a love for the liturgical season and what it means and then when you begin to do that, we can’t help but notice the effects. I mean, when you’re making more room in your life for God, you’ll be happier and God will show us that joy. I mean, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have trials and temptations, but through it there’s like this sustaining current of joy underneath those things. So, I think…I just think it’s the best way to celebrate Christmas. I mean, it’s…the way we do it now, I think is just depressing, with all the shopping…
Pamela: It’s exhausting. If people want to speak to you or contact you or reach out to you, can you share your links or where they can find you online?
Gretchen: I am on Facebook under Gretchen Filz. Just Google my page and it should come up. And you can send me a message and I see that. I’m on Facebook all day every day.
Pamela: So, thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule and coming on this show because a lot of people say no to doing podcasts, so I’m so thankful that you…
Gretchen: You know, we all have to do what we can and participate in building others’ faith as much as we can. So, it’s just we all have our own audiences. We all reach people in different ways and every little bit is necessary to reach just the right people that God is wanting us to reach.
Happy Thanksgiving All