At the beginning of every liturgical year is a time given over to preparation for the celebration of our Lord's birthday. During this time, it's good to ask, "What does Advent mean for you and me?"

Am I using this penitential time of preparation well? Am I using it to purify my life of things which distract me from living the Christian life? Advent is a good time to make an examination of conscience; what might this examination look like in practical terms?

For me, it is finals week at seminary. The studying and paper-writing is reaching fever pitch. My heart says, "Another paper! Yay!" Yeah, right. If I am honest, it is often with a bit of annoyance that I sit down to write or study - and this sour mood can carry over into my prayer.

I might put off praying my daily prayers until the last minute, or just read the words without meaning them. I might close my introverted self in my room and resolve to see as few people as possible.

My examen cannot end there. What do I love and how does that show in all that I do? What am I reading? What am I watching on TV, and how much time do I spend watching? What about movies? What types of conversations do I partake in around the dinner table?

All of the things that I consume with my eyes and ears have a lasting effect on me. Are they changing me to become more like Christ, or more like Satan? Do these things stir up in me a desire to encourage and praise, or a desire to discourage and mock?

If they do the latter, my preparation for Christ's coming requires that I get rid of them. If that means watching no more TV, so be it. If it means I never see another R-rated movie, so be it. If it means biting my tongue and saying nothing, or simply saying "hello" to a brother I rarely see, amen.

It is often not easy to do these things -- to cut out fleeting moments of pleasure which shrivel up my spiritual life and to fill it instead with what gives it life. But it is in these moments of frustration, tiredness and desiring things which take my eyes away from Christ that I need to refocus and redouble my efforts at the task at hand: becoming a saint.

Isn't that the whole point? We are called to be holy, and we live out our call in part by cheerfully doing what is asked of us. For me, that means applying myself to my studies, my prayer and developing good friendships. It means trying to trim away bad habits and misplaced loves.

I have to remind myself and be reminded that all this effort is for giving myself away as a priest. It is God's grace, ultimately, by which I can begin again.

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" There it is, the whole point. An honest examination of conscience reminds us that we are all sinners and we must repent of our sins, confess and be forgiven in preparation for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

What does Advent mean for us? If we take time to examine our lives and do a little spiritual housecleaning, I bet we'll find it means a lot more than a 72" flat screen on Christmas Day.

(Mr. Chichester, a native of Columbia County, is studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois.)