"All the Christmas presents in the world are worth nothing without the presence of Christ." says David Jeremiah, a conservative evangelical Christian author. With a similar view, the Couples for Christ India (CFCI) youth and CFCI singles have taken up an 18 day advent challenge to prepare their hearts worthy to receive Christ, this Christmas.
Couples for Christ India is an affiliate of CFC-FFL, a private association approved by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Philippines. In India, it operates under the Conference of the Catholic Bishops of India Family Commission, and in each diocese, under the family commissions at respective dioceses. CFCI Singles are young employed and no yet married.
Around 8 people of a common household in the CFCI community, usually made it a point to come together to share their life experiences and speak about being a true Catholic amidst the hustle and bustle of the wordly desires. While doing so recently, they went back to the liturgical readings just before the Advent season began. The readings constantly kept reminding them about the second coming of Jesus Christ. There was a verse that they were reflecting upon, which was from the Gospel of Luke 21:28 which read, "And when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draweth near.''
This made them ponder over the aspect of Jesus's second coming. Questions that ran through their mind included: Are we really prepared for Christ's second coming? Are we ready to welcome Him amidst us? Do we have the courage to stand up and lift up our heads? It further led them to think about what Advent actually means. The term Advent has its origin from the Latin word Adventus which means coming. According to the teachings of the Church, Advent is not just a period of waiting and hope of our Saviour's first coming(Christmas), but also a time of anticipation and preparation of the second coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
In the present day, Christmas goes around the idea of cleaning our houses, decorating the Christmas tree, shopping, partying, preparing kuswar (Christmas delicacies) and the list goes on. All these exterior preparations are necessary, since the season of Advent is a time of joyful preparation. But we shouldn't end it there. Have we actually thought about cleaning our hearts to receive Christ as He comes again (when ironically He always is with us)? Without Christ being the spot-light of our preparation for Christmas, all other preparations are in vain. This was the view seen by the youth of the particular household. They decided to take a step to cleanse their hearts so that they could have a fruitful advent. But before that, they decided to involve all the households and give them a similar chance, enlightening them about the vision they had. The thought was later shared with a formator in the community and the ultimate idea was to give a chance to the entire troupe of CFCI youth and singles, with a willing heart, to take up the challenge to prepare their hearts worthy to receive Christ, this Christmas.
What is the main purpose of the challenge?
It is mainly focussed on us, our lives and our relationship with Jesus. It is to involve Jesus Christ during the period of Advent, in our everyday affair.
What is comprised in this challenge?
As Saint Teresa said, "Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things willth great love". It was decided that this challenge would have to be simple, fun and interesting, without losing the focus, which was bound to be on involving Jesus in our daily life.
The 18 day Advent challenge has 4 parts, each part having its own spiritual benefits.
The first part focussed on the spiritual aspect which involved the following disciplines:
1.Praying the Angelus twice daily, once in the morning and another time at night.
2. A short time of worship: This comprised listening to a hymn of our choice and dedicating a short time of free praises to God that mainly focussed on spending a few minutes with Jesus, just to be honest before Him and allowing Him to love us the way we are.
3.During our day, we are involved in a lot of routine activites that we forget to acknowledge God's presence in our lives. To keep in constant touch with our Lord, a reminder prayer was introduced that says 'Jesus, I love you. Holy spirit, I love you. Jesus, I know you're with me.' Once a person says the reminder prayer, he/she is encouraged to put it up on the WhatsApp group created for this purpose, saying "Reminder". This encourages the others to pray the reminder prayer and acknowledge God's presence in and around us.
4.Usually whenever a prayer request for a particular intention is made, we decide to pray but may tend to forget about it in some time. Under this challenge it was decided to compulsorily pray a Hail Mary and then leave a message on the same group saying, 'Prayed' instead of 'Will pray'.
This concluded the spiritual aspect.
But what about our day to day activities that don't seem right and just in the eyes of God? To overcome this, prayer in action was introduced, which was the second aspect of this challenge.
A small thought that came across, was unnecessary usage of our phones at the dining table while having dinner. The time of dinner is exclusively, a family time. It was decided under prayer in action that the usage of phones at the dining table would be avoided.
Since the present era is an age of social media, letting others know about this challenge, so that they too can renew their hearts and prepare themselves for Christmas in a worthy manner, is a part of evangelisation, and this turned out to be the third aspect of this challenge. A Bible verse apt to a daily task is decided for each of the 18 days. The Bible verse and a daily task is to be posted on Instagram and thus in a way, encourage others to understand the true value of the entire thought process that's into spiritual play and to know God better by taking up this challenge.
Another idea that came forth, was the idea of Secret Santa which would be the final part of this challenge. It's a very common part of Christmas, but here, a different approach. It was decided that one person taking up this challenge, would pray for another person referred to as a 'Secret Santa' for 18 days and thus at the end, purchase a small gift for the secret santa worth less than 50 rupees. It strengthens our bond and helps us grow in love.
A short meeting was conducted to brief about the 18 day Advent challenge. Initially, 40 people from the CFCI community took up the challenge. The news spread, and by the end of the second day there were about 80 young people who came forward, taking up the challenge. This included not just young people from CFCI, but people from outside the community as well. The first day focused on being grateful and thus urged us to thank one or more people in our lives via a text message on WhatsApp. This task brought about a change in each one's heart because of the positive responses from the other end. The first task itself brought about a lasting impact on our souls, that are thirsting for God's peace and love. All are in anticipation of the upcoming tasks which involve doing minute things to further build us as cool and virtuous young Catholics.
This is named as challenge, but it should not be looked at, as a compulsion. It must be of one's own free will, trying to build a relationship with God which cannot be broken by any rock.
Let us all strive for holiness this Advent, embellishing our hearts in anticipation of Christ.
As pope Francis puts it very well "Holiness is not a privilege of a few but a call to everybody."