By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

Face it, the idea that Advent is not just a time to serially light four pretty candles but a season of prayer and preparation is foreign to a good many people. At West Philadelphia Catholic High School, where 85 percent of the student population is not Catholic, it is especially challenging to present the real reason for the season.

This year school minister Father Michael Marrone put together a program to help the students discover what Advent, and for that matter Christmas, is all about. {{more}}

To kick it off, Jesuit Father J. Glenn Murray, a nationally known preacher, opened the Advent season with a Nov. 30 prayer service and introduced the theme, “So whose birthday is it anyway?”

“The purpose of this theme is for students to look at Advent as a time to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth on Christmas and for our students to realize that it is all about Jesus receiving gifts through our faithfulness and service to others,” Father Marrone said. “It is my hope that our students who are less fortunate and do not receive as many gifts at Christmas as their peers will change their belief to the real purpose of Christmas.”

Each day of the week during Advent student prayer focused on a specific intention:

* Mondays for all Christians who believe that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior;

* Tuesdays for the country and leaders both local and national;

* Wednesdays for the good of the world despite the challenges we face;

* Thursday for the concerns of the local community at West;

* Fridays for those who suffer and are most in need.

Also, the blue books from the Michigan Diocese of Saginaw that many parishes distribute during Advent were given to every student. Meditations from the books were read and discussed by the various classes.

Students in all the theology classes were asked to pledge a dime a week to assist poor children in Haiti.

The lesson was well received by many of the students, for example senior Devante Ford, who said, “Advent is not just about shopping but it is about celebrating a greater gift given to us in the birth of Jesus.”

Amber Mitchell, one of the 15 West students who are either catechumens or candidates preparing for reception into the Church this coming Easter, said, “As a member of RCIA I feel that the celebration of Advent in our school has helped me to realize that Christmas is truly about Jesus. By helping those most in need we are truly celebrating the birthday of Jesus.”

That of course, is the whole intent of the program.

“I see a difference in the students’ attitude during this season of Advent,” Father Marrone said. “They understand through the various parts of our Advent program that the season is about living your life like Christ.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.