The Advent Path to Christ

We are in the season of Advent, preparing for Christmas. Unfortunately, as it does with every other spiritual experience, the secular world has prepared a materialist alternative for Christmas. For Advent, we have the Christmas shopping and panic season. For the Sacrament of Marriage, we have various secular parodies of marriage – living together, “friends with benefits,” same-sex relationships. Instead of prayer, we are offered “spiritual” experiences that have nothing to do with the history of redemption in Christ. For doing good, person-to-person, we have the writing of checks. The list goes on. Despite all the secular flurry of the season, we are actually preparing for the religious feast of Christmas, and the real flurry ought to be about celebrating this feast.

Of course, quite often, the only ones who know what we have really done to prepare for Christmas are our own consciences – and, of course, God. There are no concrete gifts to give or meals to prepare as external signs of our spiritual preparation. Unfortunately, for some people, that means that there is then no need to do spiritual preparation. But going to Christmas Mass without a reflective Advent is rather like going to a movie in a language we do not understand. We do not have any immediate connection to it and especially not to the earth-shattering events being celebrated. And that mean a lot to us whether we like it or not.

So we have to prepare. We have to enlighten our minds and hearts by meditating on the story and the significance of the extraordinary events of Christmas. We have a series of Advent liturgies: “beware that your hearts do not become drowsy” (First Sunday); “prepare the way of the Lord” (Second Sunday); “what should we do?” (Third Sunday); “Blessed are you among women” (Fourth Sunday).

By paying attention to these celebrations – even if we have not done this for any other event this year and might be a little rusty – we allow ourselves the possibility of discovering just how remarkable, how wondrous, how rich our souls are with relationships to the communion of saints and the people around us in Christ. In this way, we are preparing for the richness of the community of eternal life and at the same time we will inevitably become better friends, spouses, parents, parishioners.

The Feast of Christmas is a window into the prodigious beginnings of the New Jerusalem. It is the celebration of the divine light breaking into our world. Surely it would be worth limiting the buying gifts, hassling over meals and travel, so as to find enough time to prepare to participate in this profound gift of Almighty God?


Not being trapped by the material world to the point where it provides pretexts (there was no time, I had to do shopping) for avoiding the spiritual world is of vast importance. It comes up again and again throughout the year. And it is not only a concern for laypeople. Clergy and those in consecrated life face similar distractions them from the spiritual world.

Clergy and those in consecrated life have to face the fact that they are part of categorical communities with priority over their commitments to their families, or what they (the clergy and religious) would like to do. After all, their commitment is first of all to their communities, clerical and religious, as well as lay.

Being a clergyman is more than a job with accompanying time off. That is how the secular world sees it. But you cannot have time off from being someone, in this case being a clergyman. Similarly, a spiritual understanding of belonging to consecrated life means belonging to a community of fellow religious with all that implies in terms of spiritual growth and support. The secular understanding of community (a convenient arrangement food and lodging) characterizes some religious orders and congregations – and is one of the main reasons they get so few vocations. Why join a group who are as secular as everyone else?

Advent is one of those times when laity and clergy must insulate themselves, even if just a little, from being seduced by the secular frenzy around them. Some might refocus on the great mystery of the Incarnation and what it means for being a clergyman, for life with the other clergy in the house and for the laity they serve. Perhaps by discarding secular ways of filling time, those in consecrated life might rediscover the religious purpose of their communities even at Christmas. After all, part-time membership in a community of consecrated life is a contradiction in terms.

A suggestion: one of the few contemporary Catholic books that will still be read 100 years from now is Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. In the introduction, he wrote: “my hope is that this short book, despite its limitations, will be able to help many people on their path toward and alongside Jesus.” During Advent, it would be worth spending some time with that text as a way of following that path to Christ and rediscovering his presence in his Church.

Bevil Bramwell, OMI

Bevil Bramwell, OMI

Fr. Bevil Bramwell, OMI, PhD is the former Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. His books are: Laity: Beautiful, Good and True; The World of the Sacraments; Catholics Read the Scriptures: Commentary on Benedict XVI’s Verbum Domini, and, most recently, John Paul II's Ex Corde Ecclesiae: The Gift of Catholic Universities to the World.

  • BFB

    I can but echo the recommendation for the Infancy Narratives part of Benedict’s trio of Jesus of Nazareth books having dusted down my own electronic copy earlier in the week.

    A minor word of caution though, like all of his work it is very dense with thought and not easy to read in translation. This is typical of his work which is very much that of a University teacher expecting much from the student and more from himself. Perhaps that is to do with his German background and formation-my very limited experience is that German theologians are best read in German although perhaps that shows that I have enough German to derive the main ideas and miss the subtleties.

    However perhaps we should do the thing not because it is easy but because it is difficult as one of your Presidents nearly said a long time ago.

  • Chris in Maryland

    Thank you Father Bramwell. Pope Benedict is a superlative Bishop, because he is a superlative teacher…by the grace of God…a towering intellect…with a humble heart…a clear, strong and beautiful light…by which any little boat can steer toward Christ.

  • Veritas

    I hope someone here will help me. After doing some reading (I don’t know if one would call it research), I am not sure if Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Who have I read on this?

    Pope Benedict XVI
    John P Maier
    Scott Hahn
    Raymond Brown
    Dominic Crossan (my apologies)
    John MacKenzie, SJ
    A few others

    Thank you.

    • absconde_me

      Try St. Matthew and St. Luke.

      In Christus Veritas

      • Veritas

        I guess I can’t win on this site. I mean, most of the time people engage in academic discussions; when I attempt to do just that, I get a response that makes me feel like an idiot.

        • absconde_me

          I gave you another response as well v… But I am simply saying that u r not going to find tha Magic 3rd way or whatever u imagine resolves btw the pov of an apostate who needs to insist on dissolving the testimony of St Matthew…who went to his red death professing Christ Jesus…vs great believers and scholars who have given u and me reason sufficient to believe the testimony of the Gospel…rather than the testimony of men like Crossan who outright deny Jesus.

          Why on earth would u expect Catholic people to lean to Crossan…who testified against Christ…who has answered Christ’s question “who do say I am?” With the answer…”I say u r a magician.”

          • Veritas

            Not feeling all that good today about things going on in the world, the shootings nearby in San Bernardino, Obama’s response for gun control, etc., I did what I do best: I got mad and lashed out. Only after my initial reply did I see your follow up. So, I am sorry.

            And, Crossan could not sway me, but when I read “A Marginal Jew,” book 1, and read Brown’s “101 Questions on the Bible,” I saw people agreeing with Crossan on whether Jesus could possibly be born in Bethlehem. That seemed to be devastating: could it be that the books of the Bible were adjusted to make the prophecy of the OT true? I raised this in my Bible study class and nobody could answer that, so I dropped out of the class.

            It’s been bothering me for six months. I’ll recover, I always do. I plan on dropping out of the blogosphere, just read the Bible and the Catechism. Fr. Kloster gave me some early Church fathers to read. That will be a first for me. Also, you have provided a new name, a different “John Robinson” than the one I heard of. So, thanks for that too.

            I appreciate you, Fr. K, and Dave giving me the input I asked for. Merry Christmas to you and all the good Catholics who write here.

          • Chris in Maryland

            Don’t lose heart V…the storm is great, and the waves are fearful…but Christ is in the boat…and though he may be sleeping…it is good news for us…that the wind and the sea obey his command.
            A blessed Advent to you V…and a Merry Christmas.

            Your friend in Christ.

            PS – if you read Pope B’s Jesus of Nazareth…you will find the testimony of B’s friend the Jewish theologian Rabbi N (I forget his name), who when reading the Sermon on the Mount, concluded that he had to reject Jesus’ on account of his words…because he could see that Jesus was claiming to be God.

          • Veritas

            Oh, I just saw your message. Thanks for the lift by reminding me Jesus is in the boat. I needed that.

        • absconde_me

          So since u value scholarship V…here is the scholarship of John Robinson: since none of the New Testament writers mention the destruction of the temple…it is quite clear that they all wrote before 70 ad…and more so…Robinson found that the assertions of the H-C Method were in the main rooted in assumptions against the Gospel itself…and amounted not to scholarship…but outright bias against Christianity…in other words…the new persecution via the “progressive” faculty lounge.

        • Dave Fladlien

          Well, I think you and I have engaged in some very good exchanges on this site, so I’m sorry you feel that way. I haven’t said anything about your question today because, frankly, I didn’t realize that the birthplace of Jesus was a question, among believers or non-believers, except for a few “flat earth” kind of minority who contend He never existed.

          What is the source of the question?

          BTW, I think Ray Brown was an outstanding Scripture Scholar, but my familiarity with his work is much more from the standpoint of his Christology than his book on the infancy narratives, though I do have that book somewhere here.

        • absconde_me


          I was not trying to belittle u…but since u cited the apostate Crossan…I assumed that u held that the legitimate q was about Jesus himself.

          So…I mean you no harm…but u must understand that no amount of scholarship matters if the scholar begins with the belief in rejecting CHrist…which is what Crossan makes his living doing. Being “innovative” doesn’t really assign inherent value to the voice…right?

          In any case…I am not a scholar…but I read scholars who begin from faith. That said…it has long been debunked that Christ was not born in Bethlehem. That untruth was asserted by the H-C Method ideology…who believe along the trajectory of Crossan.

          So here is a bit about the purposeful debunking of Luke and Matthew…it was anchored in the empty assertion that since there was no record of a worldwide tax by Caesar Augustus…except in Luke…therefor we are free to conclude it was part of the myth-making conspiracy of the Evangelists. Then…unfortunately for the H-C scholars…an archeologist found a stone engraved in Palestine recording the worldwide tax declared by Augustus.

          But the H-C ideology will not admit to that evidence…because it hurts book sales at the progressive theology house…besides ruining their reputation for “scholarship” which, as Robinson concluded, was not scholarship at all, but, in his words “arbitrary, even wanton…the offspring not of any argument that can be presented, but rather of the critic’s prejudice.”

          In the end, we have the testimony of Men like Matthew who emptied himself for Christ…versus men like Crossan, who made his living testifying against Christ.

          A stark choice.

          • Veritas

            Do you mean world wide census? If so, I will need to read about the archaeological find which debunked the scholars. Not that I don’t want to do some research, but can you tell me the name of this archaeological discovery?

          • absconde_me

            Yes, v…the census was to assess for the tax…I believe that some translations (KJV ?) say outright that “all the world should be taxed.”

            And I saw the story about the archeology find some 5-10 yrs ago. I am sure you might find easily…esp this time of yr.

          • absconde_me

            I think in fact the find may have been relayed by Scott Hahn.

    • Fr Kloster

      Justin Martyr: Dialogue with Trypho 34.1 & 78.6

      Origen: Apology against Celsus 1.51

      Then too, absconde_me has it exactly correct because the gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke are about as authoritative as an investigator will get.

      • Veritas

        I suppose after reading Raymond Brown and Maier I concluded the Gospel accounts were wrong–I didn’t want to, but the historical facts seemed overwhelming. I hoped Benedict XVI would save the day, but his discussion in the book cited above, didn’t refute the more historical arguments, and he didn’t really try to. If I can recall from my reading him, he seemed to make more of a literary or metaphorical case for Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. It was interesting, but didn’t sway me. Not being highly literate, I often struggle with the esoteric.

        I will look online for the sources you’ve provided. Thank you for taking the time to do this.

    • absconde_me

      Also…I Have read a good deal of some of these…others I know nothing of.

      But what I know of Crossan is that his scholarship is refuted…even by the progressive Anglican scholar and bishop John Robinson…who began his study with the same hypothesis asserted by Crossan…and concluded that the evidence was for early dating of Gospels and against the Crossan-type scholars.

      and of course Crossan has testified against Jesus as The Christ…being a product of Maynooth Seminary in Ireland…the HQ for the collapse of the Catholic Faith in Ireland…having been run by the homo-sex predator and former priest Michael Ledwith…who when exposed after doing some 25 hrs of damage to the priesthood, left the Church, and now lectures worldwide in The Ramtha School of Enlightenment…that is how serious his “scholarship” is.

      Btw…Crossan is also an ex-priest…

      • Veritas

        I have learned to distrust the man. It didn’t help that the former pastor at the former parish I attended, was a disciple of The Jesus Seminar and Crossan. I was basically dismissed there. But, the pastor’s parting words, “The gospel writers put that (Bethlehem) in there for the benefit of the faith community so it would not conflict with old testament scripture….He was born in Nazareth.”

        Yes, it seems like the smoke is quite suffocating these days.