The annual season of Advent is intended to provide our Church with a period of joyful and spiritual expectation. We await the infant Christ who has already been born in time and whom we now eagerly await for His return in glory. We celebrate His birth and anticipate His triumphant reappearance at the end of time. Advent calls us to a spirit of preparation for God’s constantly surprising entry into our personal lives.

During the 36 years that I have been a bishop, I have confirmed approximately 140,000 people at parish communities throughout Chicago, Belleville, Atlanta, and now here in the Archdiocese of Washington. Confirmation is a celebration that still generates great joy in my heart as I share the Holy Spirit with so many wonderful people through this sacrament. On occasion, the residual impact of those many ceremonies has also brought me a surprise or two. Several weeks ago, as I was walking down a street in Georgetown, a young woman approached me and told me that I had confirmed her “a long time ago.” From the appearance of her still quite youthful face, it could not have been all that long ago, but she excitedly recalled the event. She was visiting D.C. on a college exploratory adventure. I was delighted to encounter her and to sense that she was still an involved member in the Church.

Likewise, this past Thanksgiving, a mother accompanied by her husband and their three daughters had just attended Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and she stopped me and told me that I had confirmed her 30 years ago at St. James Parish in Arlington Heights, Illinois. We took a photo that I suspect she will then compare with those Confirmation pictures that she may keep at home.

As I was flying over to Rome last week to participate in the Ad Limina visits to the Holy Father and the curial offices, a person wrote me a note and then left it at my seat while I was napping, telling me that I had confirmed her son four years ago at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Kennesaw, Georgia. She asked me to pray for that son who had since stopped practicing our Catholic faith. I will keep that touching note in a basket of prayer reminders under the altar at my residence.

Each of those chance encounters served as a reminder of the connection that I share with many people through the sacrament of Confirmation. I treasure those moments, and I continue to keep all of those people that I have confirmed in my prayers. I hope that those confirmati will also occasionally remember me in their prayers. Little did I realize when I was ordained a bishop that I would establish such a significant and lasting spiritual bond with so many people through that sacrament. These chance encounters provided me with a happy Advent memento of the Lord’s unexpected presence in and through our sacramental life.

Advent is a time when our hearts should be open to the “God of surprises” who comes as the long-awaited Messiah but first in the form of a poor Infant and then eventually He will manifest Himself as the King of Glory. This God of wonders enters our lives in so many mysterious ways, always asking us to be watchful and ready for His appearance and presence. As we enter this holy season, let us listen to and then heed the wisdom of Matthew who admonishes us: So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."

A blessed and holy Advent to each one of you, dear sisters and brothers in the Lord. Stay watchful, for He will surely come to each of us!