Last October, Pope Benedict XVI officially launched the Year of the faith – a year in which Catholics are challenged to a “New Evangelization.” For some of us, it simply means a return to doctrine class. Truth be told, for many of us doctrine beyond the preparatory lessons for the sacraments is far fetched – one for parents and God parents when we were baptized (for those baptized as infants), one before we received the sacrament of Holy Communion and one before confirmation. There is some added value to those who were fortunate to attend Catholic schools.
Little wonder then that bible-wielding “Born-Agains” bamboozle and confound us.
The Church gives us an opportunity this year to put on some weight in our faith as Catholics. What better opportunity to begin than this season of advent.
Advent is the shortest of the Church’s liturgical seasons – Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Ordinary time. Advent has four Sundays and lasts between three to four weeks. At the heart of advent is a waiting, a preparation for Christmas. But what does it mean to wait? And how are we to prepare?
Let us first of all acknowledge that we live in a world that has lost its sense of “wait”. The most obvious example that comes to mind is fast food restaurants. We want it now and on the fly. Or if this example is too banal try out the more serious “true love waits…” meant to be a celebration of the fact that sexual intimacy as the climatic expression of true love finds its true meaning in marriage. Old school and out of touch with reality, one can hear some saying. Add to this mix the fact that for some people it is often said when they ask you to wait just start running for they will not show up or will show up late. Clearly, contemporary man has lost the sense of wait.
But let us clarify what Advent means as a time of waiting. The most obvious image that this conjures in our minds is the waiting room of the hospital. It is a terrifying experience especially when waiting for diagnosis, waiting to get lab results. Closest approximation I can think of is waiting for an HIV test result for those who muster the courage to get tested. I remember the experience when seminarians went to Shisong hospital every year for this test. Pressures are quite high and the silence in the room deafening. Or waiting outside while a loved one undergoes surgery. There is anxiety that raises stress sensors. This is not the kind of waiting Advent invites us to.
The kind of waiting, Advent beckons us to, is that of the labor room. Even though again because of the fright of waiting long, caesarean sections have become popular, the sublime action of giving birth captures in essence what Advent calls us to. There is the pain, which we shall return to later but even more so is the restlessness that comes with labor – a restlessness that yearns for another even though writhing in pain. There is the joy that comes when the mother beholds her newborn baby. The joy of motherhood that radiates and the mother’s face glows as a result compensates for the pain. The restlessness seems to find fulfillment with the birth of the child but before long there is need for another child. St Augustine so rightly affirms that: Our hearts are restless till they rest in God. Like the mother who wails awaiting the birth of her child restlessly so too are Christians. We await the birth of Him in whom we find true rest.
The birth of a child requires a lot of preparations. How are we to prepare during this season for the birth of Christ? Before we delve into this, it is instructive to pause a minute and see what the liturgy tells us about Advent. Any keen observer of liturgical colors will notice that there is an inner harmony between Advent and Lent. The vestments for Advent like Lent are purple. This is the same color worn at funerals. Advent is as much a penitential season like Lent. We also do not sing that great hymn of praise – Gloria during Advent and Lent. Advent is not just about preparing for the birth of Christ but even more so for the second coming of Christ. We wait for the second coming of our savior Jesus Christ.
To wait is to acknowledge some dependency. It is not accidental that wait as expectation is intimately related to wait as service such as a waitress in a bar. We wait for the coming of our Lord by waiting on him in service. It is not by stargazing and reading horoscopes.
We wait not in anxiety but in hope for the joyful coming of our savior Jesus Christ. Mary is the epitome of waiting. St Luke tells us: Mary treasured these things and kept them and pondered them in her heart. (Lk. 2:19) In this Year of Faith, the Church calls us to ponder our faith. Our faith is a reasonable faith. Let us not remain “babies” in the faith but grow to adulthood especially this year.
The Church puts before us two Marian feasts to celebrate: Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (Dec 8) and Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Dec 12). After the annunciation, Mary left in haste “to wait” on her kinswoman Elizabeth who was six months pregnant. She waits to bring forth the savior of the world by “waiting” on Elizabeth.
Our “waiting” this advent must be active and not passive. It is not the passive waiting in the hospital room but the active waiting in the labor room. The words of the angel to Mary: Do not be afraid ring out to us too. We wait not in anxiety and fright but with hope and joy. We wait by becoming waiters.