Cardinal Zen: Reorient Your Lives This Advent!

One of the most prophetic voices in the Church today urges us to deep conversion this Advent.

The vehemence of the arguments against playing Christmas music before Christmas intrigues me. I don’t disagree with the arguments, but the sheer emotionalism that so often accompanies them makes me wonder. I’ve concluded that the passion that surrounds this issue reveals a certain fear. We know the importance of Advent, but are we afraid that if we don’t do it just right, we won’t be able to enter into it? 

In the Church’s wisdom, she has decreed times of preparation proceeding times of feast. Lent prepares us for Easter, Ember days prepare us for the high feasts, and Advent prepares us for Christmas. Yet, while most Catholics enter fairly easily into the spirit of Lent, many find it difficult to overcome the secular influences that make Advent merely a run-up to the Christmas feast rather than a spiritual preparation for it.

How are we to prevent Advent from getting sucked up into The Winter Holidays? What are we to do? Maybe if we don’t listen to Christmas music or decorate the house during Advent, then we’ll be prepared for Christmas. Christmas will be protected and we will be ready for it.  

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

Yet maybe feeling under-prepared is the point. Perhaps Advent reveals that we will never be prepared for so great a gift as the Christ child. The value of our preparations are that they make manifest our poverty. We are unworthy of God, and he became man anyway. 

This awareness of one’s insufficiency before God is also called humility, and humility may be the one virtue most needed in a teacher of the Faith. Put simply, Saints and saintly men are the best catechists. It is a glory then to find that our beloved Cardinal Zen has penned a series of reflections on Advent to prepare us for the Christ Child.  Saints and saintly men are the best catechists. It is a glory then to find that our beloved Cardinal Zen has penned a series of reflections on Advent to prepare us for the Christ Child. Tweet This

In his Advent Reflections, the good Cardinal leans into the fact that Advent is a time of deep conversion. It is a time of reorienting our lives towards the Divine Child, which is no easy task. At the heart of this call to conversion is the greatest gift that can be given, and so the pains of preparation are turned into cries of rejoicing. The center of Advent is the joy of the Child, freely given as a gift to mankind. 

Significantly, the Cardinal’s reflections on Advent are comprised of two parts: Advent and Christmas. These two seasons of the Church may be separate, but they rely deeply on one another, intertwining: much like a child in the womb. His life is a single reality with two parts: he exists from the moment of conception but is celebrated for his coming at birth. 

This reveals a great mystery: in the time of preparation for Christ’s coming he is already here! He is already present and worth celebrating during our time of preparation. Maybe this is why we find it so hard to distinguish between Advent and Christmas – because we know that the one for whom we are waiting has already arrived. 

And just as Advent and Christmas aren’t the sum total of the life of Christ, Zen’s reflections on Advent serve as an apologia for the whole of the Christian pilgrimage on earth. When discussing Advent he discusses the themes of ‘Hope, Vigilance and preparation, Repentance, and Rejoice!’ You’d think that he was discussing the whole Gospel and not a single liturgical season. It’s fitting because Advent-Christmas is the one season where the world wakes up and remembers that she is Christ’s. Even through the commercialized facade of an American Christmas, Christ remains the acknowledged center, and surrounding the creche is Christ’s Church. Not even the intensity of Lent is so culturally changing as all the humble nativity scenes on the hearths of so many American homes. 

Yet just as our culture is at war, in spite of all the caroling that calls for “peace on earth,” Zen turns immediately from the creche to the slaughter of the innocents. Befitting a Cardinal who has devoted his life to the defense of the Faith and has the battle wounds to show for it, his reflections are not all sunshine and roses. He reminds us that the world needs the Gospel more than ever and that it is only through intense conversion that we will gain the grace necessary to emulate St. John the Baptist in preparing the way of the Lord. 

Let us then repent! We must turn back to Christ in the manger, the source of our life and of all goodness. It is through the Incarnation that our little lives are made meaningful. Our meager preparations now have worth only because of that little Child in Bethlehem. Cardinal Zen leads us to find him there.  


  • JohnMark Cayer

    JohnMark Cayer is the Director of Faith Formation at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church and School in Greenville SC. He lives in South Carolina with his wonderful wife Lucy and their dog Santiago. He is a graduate from Franciscan University of Steubenville with a degree in Humanities and Catholic Culture.

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...