I'm still waiting to get my 20 author copies of Oriens 2021, but those who pre-ordered are starting to share pictures with me of the book in their hands. Buy it now on Amazon.com or at the OSV Catholic Book Store, or ask your local Christian book store to order it for you. Please leave a review at Amazon or wherever you purchased your copy. Positive reviews from last year's readers really help new readers find the book.

How do you say that?

It's pronounce OR-ee-ens (like Oreo and Orient). It comes from a Latin word meaning "rising" or "dawn."

What is Oriens?

Oriens is one of those prayer-and-meditation books to help you get more out of Advent. Except Oriens is different in three important ways:

  1. Instead of giving you meditations, it teaches you how to meditate.
  2. Instead of ending on Christmas or Advent, it goes from the 1st Sunday of Advent until February 2nd.
  3. It contains a scripture passage, guidance for mediation, and space for journaling each day. Everything you need in one place!

So it's kind of like a Bible study?

Yes. And a retreat you can do from home. It will teach you how to pray, or how to pray better. You can do it on your own, or you can get books for your family and friends. You can meet each week in person or on Zoom and talk about your experience. You can also sign up for the free virtual Bible study led by Fr. Joel Sember.

Watch Fr. Joel's Virtual Book Release Webcast with Tracy Stewart of OSV (you have to register with an email address to see the video)

What is Oriens? Here is the Introduction to Oriens 2021

Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to pray and you feed him for a lifetime.


There are many wonderful Advent books full of moving meditations for you to choose from. This isn’t one of them. Instead of giving you medita- tions I came up with, Oriens will teach you how to meditate for yourself. If you don’t really know how to pray with Scripture, this book will teach you. If you already know how to pray, then it will help you to pray better. I left space each day for you to journal your prayer experiences. When you get to the end of the book, you will find it is full of moving meditations, but they won’t be my meditations; they’ll be yours. I hope that, as you learn to go deeper in your conversations with God, prayer becomes your favorite part of each day, and this season takes on a whole new meaning.


It was my third year of Theology at the North American College in Rome. We had two weeks of Easter vacation to go experience Europe. A classmate and I decided to walk the Camino Portugués, a shorter version of the famous medieval pilgrimage route across Spain. (It’s so famous that it’s called simply El Camino, which means “The Way” in Spanish.) I bought some shoes and borrowed a backpack, and we flew to Lisbon. We took a train to the Portuguese border and spent a week walking to the burial place of Saint James the apostle. Something special happened on the way. I started to see myself, and the ordinary world, in a whole new way. I discovered the magic of walking pilgrimages.

Three years later I was back in America as a newly ordained priest. “We don’t have to fly to Europe to walk down the road,” I thought. I scoped out a walking route to a local shrine, lined up places to stay every twelve miles or so, and found people to bring us food each night. Twen- ty-two people joined me on that pilgrimage. Their lives were changed, and I realized that the magic of walking pilgrimages isn’t limited to the plains of Spain. Every year for the past ten years, I’ve led a five-day walk- ing pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin. I never cease to come away with some new gift, blessing, or lesson learned on the way.

Walking pilgrimages are a much different experience from a bus pilgrimage. When you ride a bus to a shrine, it’s mostly about the des- tination. Pilgrims look forward to a big “Aha” moment waiting for them when they arrive. Walking pilgrims, on the other hand, learn the joy of the journey. They see familiar roads in a whole new way. They appreci- ate the beauty around them. They enter into the ebb and flow of nature. They draw closer to the people they walk with. They learn to keep their eyes open for encounters with God along the way. Most of all, they learn to put one foot in front of the other and keep walking no matter what. A walking pilgrimage is about more than the destination; it’s a journey of the heart. It changes you in ways you never expected.


So, what does this have to do with Advent and Christmas? We all struggle with Advent. The Church is telling us to slow down, but the world is tell- ing us, “Hurry up.” We rush around preparing for the birth of Jesus. We look forward to the big “Aha” moment waiting for us at Christmas. And we always seem to miss out somehow. How is it that every year Christ- mas seems less merry and bright than we were hoping it would be? Too often, Christmas seems to fly by even more quickly than Advent does!

The problem is that we keep treating Advent like the bus on the way to Christmas. We expect to step off at Bethlehem and have some kind of amazing experience. Yet Holy Mother Church designed Advent to be more like a walking pilgrimage. You take a little step every day. You learn to enjoy the journey instead of rushing to Christmas — and then you’re better prepared to enjoy the full Christmas season, rather than rushing to get the celebration over with. You connect with the people around you. You enter into a new rhythm. The ordinary things of life start to take

on a new meaning. God meets you on the road. Think of this book as a Camino guidebook. It will show you how to step off the busy Christmas bus and walk the Advent road one day at a time. You will learn that Ad- vent and Christmas are more than a destination; they involve a journey of the heart.


This book lasts nearly ten weeks, from the first Sunday of Advent on November 28 to the feast of the Presentation on February 2. The feast of the Presentation (also called Candlemas) is the traditional final day after which Christmas decorations must be taken down. That way you will get 27 days to prepare for Christmas and forty days to celebrate Christmas (kind of like the forty days of Lent followed by the fifty days of Easter). We need those extra days. None of the people who saw the Christ Child in person understood the true meaning of Christmas. It was only in the days and years afterward that the “dawn from on high” began to rise in their hearts (see Lk 1:78). The same is true for us in our ongoing jour- ney of faith. Praying with this devotional until February 2 will help you continue to see Jesus in the ordinary. Besides, it’s easier to pray in the post-Christmas lull, and we need a little help getting through the low time in January.

You don’t have to walk the whole way with me; it’s your journey and you can quit any time. But let me encourage you to plan for a longer walk. Consider putting up your Christmas tree a little later this year. Put on the lights and ornaments, but don’t plug in the lights until the Light of the World is born on December 25. Then keep your tree lit all through the twelve days until January 6. Plan to keep at least your Advent wreath and Nativity scene up until February 2. It may seem like a long way to go now, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly it passes. And you’ll really enjoy those extra days.


Even when you are too busy to pray, try to at least open this book and read the Scripture passage each day. If you end up missing a day or two (or even a week), don’t try to go back and do all the meditations you missed. Just skip ahead to the current day and pray that one well. It is not important that you do every single meditation. What matters is that you put your heart into your prayer. Prayer is experiencing how our Father looks at you with love. Holiness is learning to live in his long, loving gaze every moment of your life.

You might assume because I wrote this book that I’m great at pray- ing. Far from it! I was trained as a spiritual director through the Institute for Priestly Formation. I have taught countless numbers of people how to pray. I’ve been on pilgrimages and retreats and even a thirty-day silent retreat. But the truth is, unless I’m actually on a retreat or a pilgrimage, I usually pray badly. Most days I’m too busy, distracted, self-absorbed, or lazy to really pray well. And the problem is compounded during the busy Advent and Christmas season. I wrote this book because I need it too! I will be praying with you and for you this whole season. Please pray for me and for your fellow Oriens pilgrims. We each make our own journey, and every journey is unique, but no one walks alone. ¡Buen Camino!

Fr. Joel Sember Priest, Pastor, Pilgrim

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