From stress to holiness: young adults get seasonal advice at first “Fourth Watch”

Father Adam Cesarek offers suggestions on how to lessen pre-Christmas stress by keeping the focus on Christ during Advent. He was the featured speaker at the Diocese of Peoria's first "Fourth Watch" gathering on Dec. 4 that drew more than 60 young adults to the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Overwhelmed by the approach of Christmas? Father Adam Cesarek suggests making a different kind of list during Advent to “change your season of stress into a season of holiness.”

“It’s hard to keep our eyes on the things that are most important as we prepare for Christmas,” said Father Cesarek, the featured speaker Dec. 4 at the Diocese of Peoria’s first “Fourth Watch” gathering of Catholic young adults. The debut monthly event, coordinated by the Office of Evangelization and Faith Formation, drew more than 60 persons in their 20s and 30s to the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria.

To keep the focus on Christ, Father Cesarek — ordained in 2015 and parochial vicar of parishes in Pontiac, Odell, Flanagan and Cullom — recommended the young adults choose from a list of proven daily, weekly, and seasonal spiritual practices.

Daily suggestions included taking a minute or two to offer your day to Jesus as the first thing done upon waking, and then making an examination of conscience at bedtime. During the day, he urged reserving 15 minutes to spend with God through prayer, Scripture, or the reading of devotional or spiritual books.

Pointing out each day can be divided into 96 segments of 15 minutes, Father Cesarek said that devoting just one of those to God means offering about one percent of our day. “If I can’t do that, there’s something drastically wrong” with my spiritual life, said Father Cesarek.

On a weekly basis during Advent, Father Cesarek called on Catholics to “do more than the bare minimum” by attending an extra Mass. He also challenged the young adults, in a time of year known for feasting, to discover the beauty of fasting and practice it one day a week “somehow or another.”

Finally, noting the penitential nature of Advent, he recommended the sacrament of reconciliation as well as Advent traditions such as the Jesse Tree, Christmas Novena, or the Advent wreath.


Father Cesarek also had a specific suggestion for gift giving — have a Mass offered for a family member.

“It’s crazy what we try to do with buying presents,” said Father Cesarek. “Everybody that we’re buying presents for pretty much has everything they could possibly want and most everything they need.

“Save yourself the chaos and craziness. The best Christmas gift costs $10,” he told the group, referring to the traditional Mass stipend. “Tell your parish you want to have a Mass offered for your mother and father, grandparents, sister or brother. There’s no greater gift you can give someone and it is literally a gift that goes into eternity.”

Father Cesarek punctuated his presentation by showing scenes from popular Christmas movies such as “Elf,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” “The Santa Clause,” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

“We can get caught up in just watching Christmas movies and entering into the excitement of the season, and that’s OK,” he said. “But we have to do the most important thing — to make sure it is a season of holiness.”

Father Cesarek offered the same encouragement that the prophet Isaiah, whom he called an “eternal optimist,” gave to Israel in a time of chaos 700 years before Jesus’ birth.

“Isaiah says ‘It’s going to be OK. There’s good news coming. God promised a savior who will come into the world,’” said Father Cesarek, adding that Advent speaks the same message in the chaos we experience today.


The young adults were welcomed to the evening by Karley Bates, programs coordinator for the diocesan Office of Evangelization and Faith Formation. She explained the name “Fourth Watch” comes from the 14th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, in which during the “fourth watch” of a stormy night in a boat the apostles saw Jesus walking on the water toward them. She said the theme is especially appropriate during Advent when the church calls us to “be watchful, be ready.”

Those attending received gift bags that included a booklet of “Advent Meditations with Fulton J. Sheen,” a Fourth Watch ornament, and a description of various Advent traditions.

The program name also refers to the fact that “Fourth Watch” gatherings are planned on the fourth of every month. Bates announced the next evening will be hosted by St. Jude Parish in Peoria on Thursday evening, Jan. 4, and will feature a “brunch for dinner” theme with a waffle and coffee bar.

Saying the turnout at the first event demonstrated the importance and need for young adult ministry, Bates added that “we hope to see Fourth Watch grow not only in our community but throughout all the diocese.”

More information is available at sites on Facebook (@CDOPfourthwatch) and Instagram (@PeoriaCatholic) or by emailing

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