Seek the light during busy Advent season, advises university chaplain

Advent candles and a wreath help bring focus to the time before the coming of our Lord. Each candle represents a week of Advent. The rose candle is for Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, a special time of joyous celebration as Christmas nears. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

By Nancy Wiechec Catholic News Service

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Advent is the season of waiting and anticipating the coming light.

“Advent means dawn coming. It’s like a new beginning,” said Father Matthew Lowry, chaplain at Holy Trinity Newman Center on the Flagstaff campus of Northern Arizona University.

“The Lord is always trying to break into our lives,” the priest said, adding that Christ, the light, can work through any darkness we encounter at school or elsewhere.

For university students, December brings the end of a semester. That means final papers, projects and exams and the worry that goes with them. The anxious time seems to draw university students to the Newman center in increasing numbers.

“It’s always a busy time.” Father Lowry said. “Before finals, church is pretty full.”

The weeks before Christmas can make people feel overwhelmed. Busy schedules become even more packed with shopping, travel, family gatherings and parties. The university chaplain said anxieties could compound for students with exams and visits home.

“It’s stressful. Home is not always a pleasant place anymore. Sometimes it’s divided, and we’re visiting multiple houses, and it’s not always peaceful.”

The season of Advent creates space in our lives to be able to receive something, the priest said in an interview for Catholic News Service. “When (Christ) came into the manger, when he came into our world, he came into our mess. And even today, I might feel like a mess, but that’s exactly where he wants to come.”

Father Lowry gives these tips to help students and others focus on the light — on Christ coming and being in our world:

— Take a few minutes each morning in the darkness and think about how “we want the light to come. We need the light of the Lord to come into our lives.”

— Walk with the church in Advent by reflecting on the daily readings or Gospel. Find the daily readings at

— Take time to thank God for three things every day “to be reminded of how much we’ve been given.”

— Set up and use an Advent wreath or candles. “As the light increases, it’s like the Lord wants to increase in our life. He wants to break into the darkness.”

— Listen to music, not just Christmas music, but Christian songs that speak of joy. “They remind us we have a reason for joy because of Jesus Christ.” Spotify has a Catholic Advent playlist that includes 85 songs that range in styles from the classical “O Come O Come Emmanuel” to music by British singer-songwriter Nick Lowe.

After 11 years of working with college students, Father Lowry said he is seeing among them more depression, anxiety and even suicidal tendencies than ever before.

“There could be a lot of causes for that,” he said. “But I know what the answer is … In addition to good mental health and resources for ourselves, Christ is the reason for our hope. He’s the light that wants to break in and show me that I’m not alone and that I have someone I can bring all my difficulties and challenges to.”

Holy Trinity at Northern Arizona University is among some 2,000 Newman centers in the United States serving students and staff at secular colleges and universities. The first was established in 1893 at the University of Pennsylvania and named for theologian St. John Henry Newman.

Catholic News Service
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