Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Who's Expecting?

Sr. Margaret, Sr. Sophie, and some good friends load our truck.
Just as we finished the elections some weeks back, newspapers, news programs, and political journalists and commentators began telling us what we could expect from the newly elected, including from the Senate and Congress. The past six months have been exceptionally busy for me, and the way things are going I don’t expect anything to slow down. As I write this, I am driving with Sr. Margaret Edward from Philadelphia to help our new community in San Antonio. The next day we will be headed to St. Louis, our first stop; along the way, we will be looking forward to a hot meal and a warm bed.

We do live our lives expecting things. We have just begun the Church season of Advent, the Season of Expectation. But what are we expecting? For some of us, it’s the same round of extra work with its Christmas parties, card sending, gift wrapping, and shopping with its long lines. Some of us might also be looking forward to customs that have become a cherished part of the season, like the Advent calendar: We open a little door each day with its message or gift. Some of us, especially with small children, may have the custom of taking a small piece of straw and placing it in the manger for every good deed or sacrifice done, to make a soft bed for Baby Jesus. We may also look forward to the special recipes reserved for Christmas and the family get-together, the brightly lit tree, and the ornaments that hold a special meaning. We look forward to these things. We have many expectations.

The Church also lives in expectation during this time expressed in the beautiful Advent readings, but what are we encouraged to live in expectation of? The Liturgies of Advent encourage us to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. It wasn’t until I was a bit older, however, that I realized that the Church was preparing us not only for the coming of the Child born in the manger, but also and especially for his final coming at the end of time. In the Gospel of Matthew this past Sunday Jesus tells us, “Be watchful!  Be alert! You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming.” 

Help along the way—Scripture, wreath, calendar, customs

The journey to the crib and the journey of our lives are much the same: We all need spiritual assistance. As a corollary to the journey of our spiritual lives, Advent aids provide this roadside assistance. The Scripture readings of the Advent Liturgies lead us progressively up to Christmas; so does well chosen spiritual reading. The inspired Word of God is a fountain of peace, strength, and wisdom. It has built-in grace that no other book has. If you find it a bit daunting, there are many books and worship aids to help you in the reading of God’s letter to us. There are also many great spiritual classics and some more contemporary books that have helped countless people encounter God in his Word.

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The flickering Advent wreath illumines the steps along this journey. We light candles on the green wreath each week and say a prayer, indicating that the light, which is Christ, is growing closer and brighter. To me the wreath resembles the family, friends, and spiritual guides that God gives us along the path of life. As we light an additional candle each week, so too does God place in our path compassionate fellow travelers at the right time in our lives, who share their hard won wisdom and love with us.

The Church calendar marks the flow and ebb of the entire Church year, starting with Advent. It then continues with the tides of Ordinary Time, washing throughout the year between Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter. Along with this I would include the beautiful feast days, especially the Marian ones (my favorite is the Annunciation) and the saints’ days. These are wonderfully encouraging, since the saints were just as human as we are.

Finally, family customs are all those Catholic practices that give us hope, support, and strength, like the Rosary, novenas, and Eucharistic adoration. Here I just have to mention the sacrament of Reconciliation. As a sacrament it’s more than a custom, but a font of grace. The deep peace of mind and heart that comes from a thorough and good confession, as well as the hope and courage that it instills in us to continue the hard work of the spiritual life, is unsurpassed.

So what are we expecting this Christmas? Is it only the gifts, the food, and the time with family that we are looking forward to? Or are we preparing ourselves in anticipation of the most important meeting we will ever have? There is so much the Incarnate Word, born in the manger, longs to give us—not just at Christmas, but throughout the whole year and forever. Let us live with this expectation.

Photo credit: Sr. Patricia Mary Maresca, FSP
Sr. Patricia Mary Maresca, FSP, hails from Staten Island. A councilor for the US/ESC province, she has also served as provincial director of the Pauline Cooperators since 2011.

1 comment:

Maryann Toth said...

Thank you for this article, Sr. Patricia. It is a beautiful Advent reflection. Thank you also for mentioning our Catholic practices and the peace that comes from the sacrament of Reconciliation. God bless you.