My Advent Plans

It’s that time. The liturgical year of the Church is drawing to a close, and we start again. Advent. This is perhaps the most difficult season in which to live intentionally, at least at first. But I find, being a convert to Catholicism, that as the years go by and liturgical habits take deeper root, the resting/waiting/reorienting becomes second-nature. I thought I would share some of my (*planned*) habits for this Advent season, and perhaps they will spark ideas for your life and family rhythms.

What I’m reading/contemplating/praying…

Here’s what’s in my book stack:

  • The Liturgy of the Hours — I don’t think that we can pick better for ourselves than what the Church has already selected for us to be praying and reading together. I’m excited about the Psalms, prayers and antiphons that await me during Morning Prayer and the selections from the Office Of Readings that I will be reading and praying with my husband.
  • Grounded in Hope Bible study — I lead a Walking With Purpose (WWP) study in my home (I’m also the co-ordinator for the program at my parish if you are local and want to join a study!), and this year my group is working through Grounded in Hope: A Study of the Letter to the Hebrews. As always, the topic for the lesson we are currently on seems perfectly timed: REST! There is so much good Scripture and truth on this topic to apply during my Advent journey.
  • Be Still — Lisa Brenninkmeyer, the founder of WWP, just released a beautiful devotional for women that is full of reflections on Scripture and catechism passages. My husband surprise-gifted it to me (just ’cause he’s awesome), and I’m excited to have it in my reading stack. And yes…God’s clearly echoing this theme of “resting” in Him.
  • Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany — I’m so excited to jump into this one! This year I resolved to always be in a book of poetry, reading at least one poem a day. At the beginning of the year I discovered Malcolm Guite’s poetry compilations. He has a book for Lent as well, which was my Lenten poetry, and it was wonderful. If poetry isn’t part of your life, I encourage you to adopt the practice of “a poem a day”. This book during the season of Advent would be a great way to start this habit…and kick off the new liturgical year!

What I’m listening to…

Last year I revamped and shared my Spotify Advent playlists — traditional and contemporary — that I play aloud in our house throughout the days of Advent. So I have those; but our friend Fr. Matt Fish has shared his curated Advent playlist on Twitter, and it is fantastic. It will be on repeat around here! I think that intentional music selections are such a wonderful way to set the liturgical tone in the home, helping us to all enter into the message and waiting of Advent and then into the message and celebration of Christmas. The thing is, there is more amazing Advent-themed music out there than you have time to listen to through all of Advent; you just need to have it ready to go. So just click, “follow,” and you are all set!

What I’m doing with my family…

We continue our meaningful family traditions from years past:

  • Dinner Table Advent Candles — We have a tradition of rolling our own beeswax Advent candles with the kids (who love it!). It sounds fancier and more time consuming than it is. We usually get this kit (which makes three sets) and invite friends to make them with us. Throughout the Advent season we light the candle(s) and sing the first verse of “O Come Emmanuel” before we say the blessing for our dinner meal.
  • Jesse Tree — When my oldest was a baby, I made this quilted/felt Jesse Tree Advent Calendar. I decoupaged ornaments that correspond to passages in the Jesus Story Book Bible (there are lots of options on Etsy for these ornaments). The selected stories with corresponding ornament symbols unfold the story of salvation history. We read one story each morning from December 1 to 24. This is definitely my kids favorite part of Advent…and mine too. I’ve been know to get choked up at Sally Lloyd-Jones’s beautiful diction.
  • St. Nicholas Day — The kids “put out their shoes” before bed on December 5th, and when they wake up on the Feast of St. Nicholas they have been filled with clementines and chocolate coins. And each child gets a Christmas book to add to our collection.
  • O Antiphons — I have shared here about how we incorporate O Antiphons in evening family prayer time from December 17-23.
  • Distinct Decor — We like to wait on Christmas decorations so that they are fresh for the Christmas season, and we like to let Advent have it’s own progression of decor to usher in Christmas. Decorations in the home are great signifiers of the liturgical season for the whole family. In our home, there’s usually a purple cloth on the prayer table, the Advent wreath on the kitchen table, and a gradual nativity scene (baby Jesus gets hidden somewhere in the house until Christmas morning!). Around the final week of Advent, we put up our Christmas tree with a simple purple ribbon around it and most of the other more time-consuming decorations for the house. But we wait to put all the ornaments on the tree until December 24th.

Why Advent is significant for me…

When we first became Catholic (about six years ago), I didn’t really understand the distinctness of the Advent season. I have a chapter on the liturgical seasons in my forthcoming book, and in it I describe my journey to understanding the significance of Advent, particularly as an antidote to our commercialized inculturation of Christmas. Living fully in the Advent season, as with living fully in any season of the life of the Church, ultimately focuses us on the meaning and consequence of the Incarnation. Living the liturgical year with intention helps us to conceive of our own lives in the story of salvation history, to meditate on the life of Christ, and to contemplate and live expectantly for our final home with Him in heaven.

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey

Renewing the Domestic Church – Part 3

In continuing this summer series on renewing our domestic churches, I am writing today about the isolating and dehumanizing nature of technology in our lives. We think of ourselves as extremely connected to friends, family, and various social circles with all of our online touch points; but the truth is that these many connections actually create distance within our relationships and inhibit our human flourishing in private life, which–as G. K. Chesterton rightly observes–is the life and self that matters far more than the public one.1 We often hear a lot of talk about protecting our children in guarding what they have access to online (or what has access to them). While we certainly need to monitor our children’s media use, I would say that our own media habits are the ones that need primary attention, for they are the ones that are going to have the greatest impact on our children in the long term.

Here is the reality that we must face: whatever habits and behaviors we are modeling are the ones that our children are mostly likely to adopt for themselves. We see this evidenced in research. Studies have found that children grow up to be readers not so much because their parents want them to read or created a reward system for reading, but because the parents themselves were readers and modeled reading for pleasure as a habit. Our children do what we do much more than they do what we say. If our faith and values are not consistently lived out in our daily rhythms, if we don’t practice them with integrity and intention, then they likely won’t either.

That means that we are the trend-setters, the culture shapers, in our domestic churches. We cannot look to anyone else or lay too much blame at another’s feet before we have examined our own habits. What do our media/technology habits model for our children? What atmosphere do they establish in the home, and what kind of life do they set up to be imitated?

When our children observe our use of technology, are they seeing intentionality or fragmented attention? If the statistics on average media use are close to accurate (and I wouldn’t be surprised if the tech habits of Catholic adults and parents are in line with the general population), then we need to take an introspective look at what type of life and culture our behaviors are modeling to our children and promoting within our homes.

Let’s operate from the assumption that our children will do as we do, and consider what behaviors they are likely to adopt:

  • Will our children be more likely to live contentedly in the private moments of beauty in their lives, or will every beautiful and meaningful experience automatically be shared for public consumption or voyeuristic interest?
  • Will our children intentionally create quiet moments in their days and embrace the gift of solitude, or will a still moment be met with the anxious impulse for exterior stimulus?
  • Will our children regularly seek live conversations with friends and peers, or will they be more likely to communicate via channels that allow them to edit themselves and keep people at arms-length?
  • Will our children be more likely to let a blinking device steal their attention at any moment, or will they use their technological devices strategically, as tools that aid the rhythms and behaviors of an intentional, rich life?
  • Will they be likely to have their lives run at the pace of incessant digital interruptions and the “tyranny of the urgent,” or will they command purposeful lives where time designated for spiritual activities, family life, work, leisure, and friendships is guarded and not interrupted at any given moment?

Well? How’s it looking? Do we like the answers that are coming to the surface? I think that it is possible that this might be one of those posts (one of those blog series, for that matter) that feels like a downer, like we are being shown all the flaws at once without any relief. But I would encourage a different perspective. It is true that seeing our flaws is unpleasant, because we have a lot of activity and effort logged away there. Our hearts can easily think: waste. failure. But I would encourage us to hear the word: freedom. When we are given a clear vision of how to stop living, then we have the freedom to choose with intention the better option. If we are oblivious to how we are living, how can we change? To recognize error is the first and necessary step toward discovering a different way to be human, a way that leads to flourishing in our private lives and in our domestic churches. It is a way that offers those we love most a path worthy of imitation. If asking these questions reveals things that we don’t like about how we’ve been living and the patterns that we’ve been modeling in our homes, then let’s be encouraged: this is the first step down a better path, toward a hopeful renewal in our domestic churches.


1Chesterton, G. K. “Turning Inside Out.” In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G. K. Chesterton. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011: 163. 

Copyright 2019 Jessica Ptomey