For centuries, the celebration of Advent has encouraged faithful Catholics to find hope, peace, joy, and love through their preparation for Jesus Christ’s birth and His second coming. Of course, as our world has evolved, traditions have also evolved — and it can be hard to slow down and truly give ourselves over to the season. That’s where we aim to help.
We recently spoke with four Minnesota priests to get their perspective and insights on honoring Advent tradition, as well as focus areas to honor each of the weekly Advent themes.
One of those gracious priests was Fr. William Baer of Transfiguration Catholic Church and School. In this piece, we learn more about how Fr. Baer found his calling, as well as his thoughts on honoring tradition and one of the most important themes throughout the Advent season: Hope.
Finding His Calling
Fr. William Baer, who was born and raised in Baltimore, MD, was Ordained to the Priesthood in 1996 at the age of 39.
“I had no desire to be a priest [in my younger years],” Fr. Baer recalled. “I had always wanted to be an architect, so I got my degree in architecture from Georgia Tech.”
But through work for 11 years in Campus Ministry in Maryland and Michigan, and through his interaction with several inspiring priests and bishops, Fr. Baer decided to come to Minnesota and enter the seminary.
Since his ordination, he has served in parishes and as Rector of Saint John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, and he’s been Pastor at Transfiguration Catholic Church and School for the last eight years.
The Meaning of Advent
Q: When you think of Advent, what’s the first word or phrase that comes to mind?
A: I immediately think of: “Walking in the dark.” When I was a teenager — and dealing with my own faith issues — I remember going out and taking a walk under the stars to think, reflect, and try to understand. So, I feel like that’s a great lesson for Advent — to take time to be quiet and thoughtful, and look to see the bigger picture when it comes to our faith and the coming of Christ.
Q: To you, what is the true meaning of Advent?
A: Advent is about keeping vigil as we pray and prepare for Lord Jesus’ birth and His return to us. And that means it’s a hushed time. A quiet time. This allows us to clear away the noise, be still, and truly prepare for His coming.
Q: “Hope” is a common Advent theme. How does your parish honor that theme? What do your sermons focus on?
A: Well, I’m famous for preaching about hope all the time. But during Advent, especially the first week, I encourage people to take inventory of hope in their lives.
Even good Catholics are strong in faith, but weak in hope; they’re battling for hope. Oftentimes when I’m taking Confession, I hear people asking: Is God capable of coming through on his promises? Is He up to the challenge? They talk as if the devil has more power over them than God himself. So, from my perspective, living without hope is to live in despair.
That said, I follow the traditional readings of the day — I think there is an absolute genius to the scriptures chosen by the Church. Of course, part of that is discussing the end of days, which I find many priests aren’t preaching about these days. But I think it is incredibly important, especially for the older people within our congregations.
As you get older, fears can start to sink in. Life is meant to be purgative, otherwise people can’t make sense of their condition. So, if we don’t line up with the souls that God gave people, we’ve created deeply discouraged people. So, it’s our job to remind people that heaven and hope lay ahead. Again, living without hope is to live in despair.
Q: During Advent, what scripture readings do you often turn to for reflection?
A: Again, I often follow many of the traditional scriptures chosen by the Church, but The Song of Simeon is also a favorite.
Q: What is one of your all-time favorite Advent traditions?
A: To close one’s day — no matter how tired or busy or how much you want to go to bed — by just turning out the lights and taking in a quiet moment of prayer. Jesus might come back tonight. I mean he can come anytime he wants, but tradition points to him coming in the night. But, to me, this such a beautiful idea that, at the end of the day, we can hand our life over to the Lord.
Q: Any final thoughts on how people can truly embrace tradition?
A: One of the distinctive things people can do during Advent is to put aside the noise. One thing that we’ve done is tech-free Fridays, where we put aside all our devices. Many people don’t realize how hooked they’ve become. But when they make the decision to fast from that, they go through a tremendous sense of withdrawal, but then come to see it as a blessed detachment. So, I suggest pulling back from all the other voices so you can make more room for listening to the Lord.
More Priest Perspectives to Come
As we move through the season of Advent, stay tuned for more priest interviews on honoring the tradition and observing the themes of Advent.