Diocese of Knoxville’s young adult ministry and Office of Christian Formation join to present a seasonal retreat
By Gabrielle Nolan
As Christians, we know that the liturgical season of Advent is a preparation for welcoming the Christ child on Christmas day, ushering in a season of light, joy, hope, and salvation.
But how do we prepare for the season of preparation?
The Diocese of Knoxville’s young adult ministry collaborated with the Office of Christian Formation to provide a one-day retreat to discuss just that.
“We want to make sure that we’ve provided space for all of our Catholic young adults and Christian young adults to really prepare for the meaning of Christmas, preparing for the coming of Christ,” said Paola Wolaver, coordinator of young adult ministry for the diocese.
“This retreat was really developed in a way to help us live out the season of Advent… liturgically at home and in your prayer life,” she said.
The daylong retreat, called “Ready Your Home, Ready Your Heart,” took place at the Chancery on Nov. 20.
The first talk, “Ready Your Home,” was presented by Stephanie and Rick Grinstead,. Mr Grinstead serves as the director of youth and young adult ministry at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Grinsteads shared how they individually experienced Advent as kids, and how they now want to celebrate Advent with their family of eight children.
“I was a cradle Catholic, grew up, raised as a Catholic my whole life,” said Mrs. Grinstead. “We had an Advent wreath centered on our dining room table with the four candles that we would light each week, and I don’t know that I really understood what each one meant or anything like that.”
“We grew up what we call ultra-Catholic,” Mr. Grinstead recalled. “However, when it comes to Advent, honestly I don’t remember a whole lot of preparation for Christmas. What I do remember is the Advent wreath at church and wanting every candle to be lit on the first week, not having to wait.”
After the couple was married and started having children, they realized their Advent was more focused on presents for Christmas day.
“We kind of looked at the tree I think one year, and we realized two things,” said Mr. Grinstead. “Number one, that’s way too many gifts, and the focus is all on the gifts. But number two, they don’t care about the gifts, they care about the box that it comes in… It made us re-evaluate what this whole thing was even all about.”
“A lack of preparation is what leads us to failure. For me, I felt like there was such a lack of preparation in our early, early years of the Christmas season,” Mr. Grinstead said. “Yet, little did we remember, the Church built in a preparation time that we were just trying to get through. Advent is not something to get through; it’s something to experience and enjoy.”
They encouraged the young adults to avoid the temptation of trying to do too much for Advent.
“There’s only so many things you can do well. You have to be focused,” Mr. Grinstead said. “It’s not about how many you can do; it’s about how many you can do really well, and that might only be one.”
To better understand the season of Advent, the Grinsteads highlighted some of the liturgical basics, such as Advent begins the Church calendar year; the season lasts four weeks and ends on Christmas Eve; and the roots of Advent began in the fourth century.
They also focused on the symbolism of the Advent wreath and encouraged the young adults to keep it in a central part of their homes to reflect on during the season.
The evergreen branches represent God’s constancy and everlasting love; the circular shape of the wreath represents eternal life; prickly holly leaves represent the crown of thorns; holly berries or red ribbons represent the blood of Christ.
The four candles that surround the wreath, three of which are purple and one is rose, represent the four weeks of Advent. The candles represent hope, faith and love, joy, and peace.
Many families, including the Grinsteads, also add a white Christ candle in the center of the wreath on Christmas day after the season of preparation ends.
After the presentation, the young adults were invited to create their own Advent wreath from provided supplies of garland, white poinsettias, ribbons, and candles.
Father Christopher Floersh, the associate pastor at St. John Neumann Parish in Farragut and chaplain for Knoxville Catholic High School, blessed the Advent wreaths, and each participant received a copy of the “Blessing of an Advent Wreath for the Home.”
Father Floersh presented the second talk of the day, called “Ready Your Heart.”
He discussed the “spiritual things we can do in order to complement our Advent season,” especially in relation to gift-giving, which is often done out of expectation of love.
Love from one person to another — I care about you, I know that this is an important day, and I want to give something from myself that means something for you,” he said. “If we think of it in that sense, the reason that we give gifts, we’re actually celebrating, we’re taking in part, the generosity of Christ.”
He emphasized the importance of not only giving physical gifts to our friends and family but also spiritual gifts to Christ in the form of different types of prayer.
“[Advent is] a preparation time for uniting ourselves to the generosity and love of Christ.,” Father Floersh said. “And so, with that, what is there to give? Once again, we can’t outdo Christ, but there are plenty of things.”
“I loved what Father Floersh said about… spiritual gifts that we can give to Jesus, and so that we can be praying for other people,” Mrs. Wolaver said. “I think personally, it could be making more time for Him, whether it’s going to Mass, going to confession, going to adoration more frequently.”
“That really struck me because I guess I’ve never heard about it that way,” she continued. “But if we are preparing for the birth of Jesus, when we prepare for someone’s birthday we usually buy them a present, right, and so we can’t buy Jesus anything but we can give Him, certainly, spiritual gifts.”
The retreat also included an ice-breaker activity for fellowship, group discussions, lunch, and a raffle drawing. Three young adults received a free Advent devotional from the raffle.
Mrs. Wolaver led the group in an Advent Examen, a meditation based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola that were oriented toward the birth of the Messiah. The young adults were invited into silence to reflect on how they saw God moving in their lives the past week.
The retreat concluded with an hour of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and participants had the opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
Retreatants drew names to select a prayer partner for whom they would pray throughout the Advent season.
Mrs. Wolaver expressed the importance of community among young adults.
“There were different parishes that were represented today, so I think it’s important for us to also be united as a diocesan community and not just as individual parishes,” she said.
“I also hope that they learned a little bit more about the season of Advent, which we know a lot of times can get lost in the trenches of the craziness of Christmas,” Mrs. Wolaver said. “Christmas is really beautiful, but Advent can be really beautiful and really fruitful, as well.”