Advent Reflections from Alliance for Catholic Education

My Soul In Stillness Waits: 1st Week of Advent

Reflection by Evie Kenney, ACE Teaching Fellow 

A few days ago, as I walked out of the high school where I teach, I was met with a pitch-black sky. My jaw dropped―I couldn’t quite believe it. It’s only 6 p.m.! How did I completely miss the sun today?
I climbed into my car and turned on the radio to my usual after-school station, but for some reason the pop music playing felt a little jarring. The dark sky felt somber, and I needed music that provided more comfort than entertainment. I tuned the radio to the Christian music station. And on my drive home, while my eyes were filled with red brake lights against the night sky, my heart was filled with the comforting words of Scripture. 
Advent can feel this way sometimes. The noise of advertisements and Christmas shopping can feel harsh in comparison to the quiet of colder, shorter days. In these moments of contrast, God invites us to lean into the stillness of this season. 
Marty Haugen’s Advent hymn, My Soul in Stillness Waits, beckons us to sit in the darkness of the night, in the stillness, waiting for our Savior to enter our world. The lyrics of the hymn mimic the O Antiphons, prayers prayed in the days leading up to Christmas in which we invoke the names we call our Lord and ask Him to move in our broken world. In the first verse of this hymn, the cantor prays,
“For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits, truly my hope is in you. O Lord of Light, our only hope of glory, your radiance shines in all who look to you. Come, light the hearts of all in dark and shadow.”
I love these lyrics, for the same reason I love the O Antiphons. They remind us beautifully that God is the one on the move in this season, and all we need to do is be still. When we take time for silence, for stillness, we remember that we do not merit our Savior, but we receive Him as a gift freely given. When we sit in the darkness, we remember our own humility, and we marvel at the abundant generosity of our God. 
Something about darkness begs our stillness. Maybe it’s the unknown within it that demands we slow down. Whatever it is, it invites us to turn to our Lord of Light, in whom there is no darkness, and ask Him to shine His radiance upon us.

O Come, Divine Messiah: 2nd Week of Advent

Reflection by Mary C. Maloney, Ph.D.
Principal, St. John Brebeuf School, Niles, IL
ACE Principal Academy

As the principal of a Catholic school, Christmas is the most joyous time of year for me. The hope and excitement in the hymn “O Come, Divine Messiah!” is reflected in our school community. Our younger students are so excited about preparing for the birth of Baby Jesus and retelling the story of His arrival. Our older students are making room in their hearts for the arrival of our Savior. Teachers have Advent wreaths in their classrooms with prayers and activities at just the right levels for their students. Our families are preparing for Christ’s birth as well, and students discuss this with great gusto during lunch time. Our pastor, Fr. Jason, has set up extra Reconciliation sessions for our students so they can better prepare their hearts and minds. We also enjoy breakfast with Santa, special Christmas-themed dress down days, and a visit from Santa on our last day of school before Christmas break. Our entire school and parish community is buzzing with excitement!

O Christ, whom nations sigh for,
Whom priest and prophet foretold,
Come break the captive fetters,
Redeem the long-lost fold.

As we began to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, I thought at the beginning of this school year, “Oh good, Covid restrictions are no longer necessary. We can go back to 2019 activities and procedures.” I was correct about the first statement – but wrong about the second. The last two years had been unlike anything any of us had ever encountered. I found that my students needed far more support right now than they had required before the pandemic. 

Academically, they were doing fine, as we remained open during the worst of the pandemic. What I found is that they were experiencing emotional dysregulation. According to Arlin Cuncic, emotional dysregulation refers to emotional responses that are not within a range of typical emotional reactions. It can involve many emotions, including sadness, anger, irritability, and frustration. When I think back to how tightly controlled everything was during the pandemic, it is easy to see how students need extra support to ease back into self-regulation.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist is preparing people to encounter Jesus in the future. He is ministering to them, working to bring them healing in advance of the coming of Jesus. I see parallels to the work my staff is doing with our students as we continue to emerge from the pandemic. Our students need grace and compassion in order to heal and become self-regulating again.

During Advent, we are laying the foundation of preparation for Christ’s glorious birth. Each week brings another step in the process toward welcoming our Savior. We are patient and joyful, and we celebrate each moment together.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel: 3rd Week of Advent

Reflection by Leslie Fragozo
Junior, San Miguel High School: Cristo Rey Network
PATH Tucson, Cohort 1
Graduate, St. John the Evangelist Catholic School

“Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel” – but what exactly does that mean to us? As Christmas approaches, we sometimes forget the exact meaning behind Christmas. Is it all the bright Christmas lights hanging on our trees? Is it the presents we receive from our families and friends? Or is it the Christmas carols we hear on the radio? These can be ways we express Christmas in our households, but what does it mean exactly? 

Throughout the years, more and more people forget the true meaning behind Christmas. We live such busy lives that we don’t take the time of the day to think about the day our Savior was born! I know that in the past couple of years, it has been tough for many people. Things such as the pandemic and injustices in our world have lessened the faith for some of us. For people my age, it has been difficult to maintain that faith within us, but guess what? Those things don’t define us, and Advent serves as a time for reflection and preparation. 

As we light four candles in Advent, the third is pink and symbolizes joy. There are many moments in our lives where we have experienced that great feeling of joy. A moment I experienced great joy during this time was when my family was talking about what Christmas was like in their childhood. I remember specifically looking at my mother and seeing her face light up as she talked about what Christmas was like for her as a child. What made this moment so special is that I witnessed joy within my family and I heard their stories. 

That is what the third Sunday of Advent means to me: expressing joy within yourself and with others. I would like to invite you to take time out of your day to reflect on a time you experienced great joy and to share it with others. We should find ways to spread joy into our world, even if it’s the smallest thing like listening to other people’s stories about a time they were truly happy. As a high school student, I know some teenagers feel like their lives won’t make a difference, but trust me – it does! Our generation has proved that we can create big change and find ways to spread joy and impact those who might feel alone during these special times.

So how does joy connect with the idea of rejoicing? During Advent, my teachers often play the song, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” When I first listened to the song I didn’t quite know what it meant. All I remember when hearing this song is that it was catchy – I would catch myself or my friends singing it all the time. 

As I grew older, though, I started to realize what it meant. Emmanuel means “God is with us,” and during Advent God is present with us at all times. Now when I listen to this song I have a different understanding of it from when I was younger. I remember asking who Emmanuel was, and why were people asking him to come? Now I understand that this song is about rejoicing for Jesus’ coming. We feel joy because we receive God’s grace and delight in the coming of Jesus. During Advent, we should reflect that same excitement and joy we have for the birth of Jesus and share it with a loved one. We must prepare our minds for the special event that has yet to come!

People Look East: 4th Week of Advent

Reflection by Maggie Gunther
Music teacher, Marymount School of New York
The Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, Cohort 20

I grew up with a family that discussed directions often. My mom and her sisters loved trying to find the fastest, most efficient routes for toting their children around the streets of Long Island, New York. Looking up directions via Mapquest was out of the question! “Just get off at exit 15N, make the first left, first right, and then make sure you’re on the west side of the block.” When you arrived, you’d hear a familiar line of questioning: “How long did it take you?” “Did you take the shortcut through the park?” “Did you hit the long light on ____ road?”

People, look east.
The time is near

Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,

Trim the hearth and set the table.

In the familiar Advent hymn, “People Look East,” Eleanor Farjeon wrote about looking east, referencing the journey of the three Magi who traveled to visit the Christ child, “for we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). As I reflect upon my Advent season thus far, I am flooded with the overwhelming busyness in schools. As the semester draws to a close, grades are due, preparations for Advent liturgies are abounding, items for charitable drives are collected. Amidst endless to-do lists, I often feel exactly how my mom and aunts did. How can I get tasks finished quickly and efficiently?
At times, we get so busy as leaders in our Catholic schools that we forget to consult others for direction and guidance, as we feel the crunch to move our schools from point A to point B. When the to-do lists overwhelm us, it is easy to forget that our jobs are about journeying with and providing direction for the precious children entrusted to our care. The beauty of the spiritual life reflected so perfectly in the lyrics of “People Look East” is that it is not about how quickly we are moving towards God’s call to holiness, but about constantly changing or reaffirming our direction. It is a loving nudge, a gentle tilting of the heart toward the direction of Christ that we are invited to throughout the Advent season.

Stars, keep the watch.
When night is dim.
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.

As teachers and leaders in schools, we often feel like we are fumbling through the darkness trying to meet the myriad needs of our students and their families. The image of the star as a guiding light toward the Christ child makes me think of those in my own life who have lit the path on my spiritual journey. I think of friends, neighbors, and family members who have helped my bowl to brim this Advent seasonWho in your life has brought you closer to Christ this Advent season? As my aunts navigated the different routes to destinations on Long Island, I am struck by the fact that there is not one particular route that brings us closer to Christ each Christmas. However, the Church provides us with communities and sacraments that help us along the journey. Perhaps on this fourth Sunday of Advent as we near these final days of school, we might pay extra attention to the opportunities that we have to meet Jesus in the Eucharist, through communal prayer and song, or through quiet reflection with Scripture.
Set every peak and valley humming,
With the word, the Lord is coming.
Once we are oriented towards Christ, how do we live? I think immediately of the joy of my kindergarten students preparing to be angels in our Christmas pageants. The purity with which they seek and know God is something I want to emulate on my own Advent journey. Our schools are living and breathing communities, and they certainly are humming with preparations for Christmas. I think the answer is simple: We live in love. We lead with love. We are open to encountering love. My Advent prayer for our ACE community in this final week of Advent is that we might experience Christ’s peace amidst the bustle. Because regardless of our sense of direction or perceived readiness, Love the Guest, the Rose, the Bird, the Star, the LORD is on the way.

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December 1, 2022

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