Advent is tough, but it will be well worth our efforts if we work hard to make it the season it’s intended to be.

I’ve felt over the years that Advent has kind of lost its place among liturgical seasons. It used to be a very somber time with violet vestments and even fasting. The Church still very much emphasizes preparation, but with less of a penitential rite. It’s not supposed to be another version of Lent, but it is supposed to be a time of getting ready, of waking up, of being more conscious of God’s place in our lives and renewing ourselves to that.

Advent is also tough because of modern schedules. The world around us turns to Christmas so early that it’s easy to look right past Advent.

I attended a meeting at Catholic University before Thanksgiving, and a Christmas tree was already up. In this case, I understand it. Students leave the campus for Christmas break in mid-December, so they make an effort to celebrate the holiday season together. The university is doing what most of us do in parishes, which is celebrate with decorations and even gift-giving before the holiday comes.

I think it’s good that parishes get so excited about Christmas. Schoolchildren are eager to exchange gifts and enjoy Christmas decorations in their classrooms, and many schools celebrate with Christmas pageants, concerts and events. We always need to remind ourselves of the miraculous blessing of God incarnate.

If there is a downside, it may be that we don’t prepare quite as well as we could. Maybe we don’t slow down enough to allow the Lord into our lives with open hearts that enable us to see the Lord more clearly.

My prayer this month is that we not lose the season of Advent.

At Catholic Charities, we’ve also put up our decorations, and we continue to serve in special ways. Our huge Angel Tree Project will provide over 1,000 gifts to children in our programs. If you would like to contribute or help as part of your Advent preparation, please visit www.catholiccharitiesdc.org/angeltree1/ for more information. I know many parishes and schools also offer Angel Tree programs.

We have our own Advent wreath at Catholic Charities as well, a reminder that each week brings us one step closer to the birth of Jesus.

We also serve many more meals, including some festive banquets. We had a spectacular Thanksgiving dinner at Pepco’s Edison Place Gallery. On Tuesday of that week, we served 412 meals and gave away 310 coats, which were paid for by Pepco. It was a night to remember for so many, not just those who were served but those who served as well. Families gathered, ate together, and went off to enjoy other Thanksgiving activities with not only full stomachs but also hearts full of love and care for each other.

We’ll do that again on Dec. 18, when we celebrate Christmas dinner for our clients at our main office at 924 G Street, N.W. We turn every single space we can – including my office – into a small private restaurant. The most beautiful part for me is watching the volunteers sit down and eat with our clients. The discussions and conversations become more important than the food that is served. I am moved every year by the great respect and love shown by all.

As we continue with Advent, I would like to offer three simple suggestions to prepare for the great day of Christmas. First, look for ways to serve others throughout this season. There are many opportunities at your parishes and schools, with us at Catholic Charities, or with many other great organizations. I encourage you do this as a family whenever possible.

Second, slow down to allow the Lord to move into your heart. God is the “still, small voice” that appeared to Elijah, as described in the King James translation (1 Kings 19). He doesn’t barge into our hearts, but rather “stands at the door and knocks” (Revelation 3:20). May we all make extra time for prayer and reflecting upon the Scriptures of the season. Simply pausing to allow our hearts to rest in Jesus is a special way to let the Lord into your life once again this Christmas.

Third, spend some time reading the Nativity narratives. I recommend the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, as Mark and John don’t begin with the Lord’s Nativity. They are great reflections on Jesus becoming one of us, which you can read silently and with your family as you open your hearts to the Lord’s coming once again this year.

Pope Francis said, “Advent increases our hope, a hope which does not disappoint. The Lord never lets us down.”

May we not miss Advent this year. May we make the effort to joyfully contemplate God in our lives and prepare for the great feast of Christmas. Let’s not be surprised by Christmas. Let’s take some time to really get ready for the Lord’s birth, not just in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago but in our hearts at this very moment.