Q&A with Fr. John Paul Erickson: Honoring Advent Tradition & the Theme of Joy

For centuries, the Advent celebration 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 observe the themes of Advent.

One of those priests who graciously took the time to chat with us was Fr. John Paul Erickson, Director of Worship at the Archdiocese of Saint Paul & Minneapolis. In this piece, we learn more about how Fr. Erickson came to find his calling, as well as his thoughts on honoring an important theme throughout the Advent season: Joy.

Finding His Calling

Catholic Priest John Paul Erickson

Fr. Erickson was born and raised in St. Paul, MN, attending Catholic parochial schools throughout his elementary and secondary education. Upon graduation, he headed to Thomas Aquinas College, a small liberal arts school in California

“Between my experience at home with my very devoted parents and my education, it really opened my eyes to serving the Lord and becoming a priest,” Fr. Erickson said.

After graduating from college in 2002, he entered the St. Paul Seminary and was ordained by Archbishop Harry Flynn in 2006.

After serving at a handful of different parishes, Fr. Erickson has been serving as worship director for the Archdiocese since 2008.

The Meaning of Advent

Q: When you think of Advent, what’s the first word or phrase that comes to mind?

A: “Coming.” That is absolutely the one word that immediately comes to mind. Something is on the way. Something is arising. Something is coming toward us. Who is coming? Well, of course, the answer is Jesus.

Now, of course, the coming refers to the birth of our Lord—but it also signals the coming of the Lord of the End of Time. The final coming of the Messiah. We are waiting for the coming of the Messiah of the Clouds. So, this time is not only time of waiting and preparing for Christmas, but also for our judgement.

Q: To you, what is the true meaning of Advent? Why is it important to our faith?

A: Advent encourages us to be quiet and for us to wait. This is so important because we, as Christians, need to recapture silence. Our culture is so frantic. We’re constantly on the move. Advent calls us to slow down and to wait. Think of the Advent wreath and looking at the burning candles. It’s mesmerizing. I encourage everyone to embrace those quiet activities of contemplation. This is all very important not only in preparing for the coming of the Messiah, but also to our own spiritual well-being.

Finding Joy

Q: “Joy” is a common theme through the Advent season, particularly during the third week. How does your parish honor that theme? What do your sermons focus on?

A: We absolutely follow a lot of the traditions of the Church, but one of the common features here is the use of rose vestments—the image of the rising sun; the color of the horizon. I’ve seen some striking sunrises in my life, and they’re often accompanied by that striking rose color. So, my homily will often focus on: Christmas is coming; just as the sun begins to bleed to red so does the coming of the Messiah.

As we celebrate the theme of joy, the music will often be more exuberant that third Sunday. We usually have a Festival of Carols, which isn’t so much a Catholic tradition, but something we’ve added over the years. But that’s one way for us to add some extra joy to that day; commemorating the rose day.

Q: During Advent, what scripture readings do you often turn to for reflection?

A: All of the Luke and infancy narratives are very powerful—you know, all of the traditional Hallmark card passages. I often focus much of my time there. But the Magnificat is perhaps my favorite. It’s a powerful hymn of joy. It’s a powerful hymn of seeing expectations being realized. And Mary our Mother begins to take a powerful focus in these weeks, and it’s so appropriate that her hymn be focused on.

Honoring Traditions

Q: What is one of your all-time favorite Advent traditions?

A: I try—not always successfully—to give up listening to music, particularly the radio. It sounds strange because music can be so meditative. I really enjoy listening to talk radio. I’m thrilled by music. But I also realize that the love I have for these things can overpower the mediation it should lead me to.

As I said, Advent is a time to be quiet and to slow down. It’s almost like going on one of the crazy cleanse diets. But it also serves as a renewal of appreciation for speech and music.

Q: Any final thoughts on how people can truly embrace tradition?

A: There are two things I’d really like to hammer home. No. 1: The remembrance of judgement. Christ the Lord is on his way. One day we will go to the Bethlehem of our judgement and we will give Him the gifts of our lives. We’ll have to give an account. No. 2: Quiet and slowing down. There’s so little opportunity for quiet these days, and Advent is just the perfect time to recapture that.

More Priest Perspectives to Come

As we move through the season of Advent, stay tuned for our final interview in this series on honoring the tradition and observing the common themes of Advent.

Advent Gift Ideas

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