Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. I enjoy the simplicity and solemnity of this holy season. While Advent is a penitential season, it does not have the same nature as that of Lent. A priest blogger calls Advent the season of "joyful penitence."
But, Advent tends to bring with it some challenges, especially where Christmas is concerned. While the malls, city streets and other places are decked with Christmas decorations (some having been put up even earlier than Thanksgiving) and the radio stations (even our own local Catholic one) are blaring with holiday tunes, we need to remember that we are in Advent. I know that in my case, I struggle with Advent, not so much because of the encroachment of Christmas, but because this time of the year tends to be most trying.
I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4AM this past Friday. Like a zombie, I made my way to the local mall to cash in on some massive sales. It was cold. My patience was trying, especially with the long lines. A few stores away from me, one poor woman was involved in some altercation that resulted with her being rushed to the hospital by EMS because her head was split open. Over the weekend, my patience grew very thin with parking issues, eternal waiting periods and frustrations with coupons. Even though I love Advent, it just tends to bring out the worst in me.
This morning's Mass, though, gave me some much needed respite. We chanted O Come, O Come Emmanuel for the entrance procession. Although I jumped the gun and started the hymn ahead of everyone, it still felt good belting it out. It was just what I needed. The homily carried over from last week's theme on judgment and how in the end, we are the ones who must make that choice of whether to go into eternal life or be locked up in the dreaded place of perpetual torment. The celebrant also reminded the faithful that we are in Advent, not Christmas, explaining to us that Christmas begins on the evening of December 24th. But, he also noted that this is not to say that we should all be crumudgeons about it. We could go to the office parties and get-togethers; however, we should be mindful that these gatherings are merely the appetizers for the real feast. Of course, he also reminded us of something that keeps plaguing me every Advent: the issue of sharing myself with others. Acts of charity don't always involve handing money out. Acts of charity involve yelling at the guy in the massive Ford Excursion who is taking up two valuable spaces at the mall parking lot or getting mad at the woman in front of me at the check-out line who still can't make up her mind if the fuschia lipstick or the pale pink is a better choice as she is standing in front of the cash register.
During the offertory, we chanted Creator of the Stars of Night, the same hymn that was used the night before at the Vatican during the First Vespers for the First Sunday of Advent. I have always loved both of the hymns and it really meant a lot to me to sing them this morning. I felt the joy that had been sorely lacking this weekend. It gave me hope that I won't be a total washout this Advent.
I am grateful that the Church, in her holy wisdom, grants us this season of joyful penitence, even though, at times, it seems as though Advent brings out the worst in me. But, as one version of the forthcoming Prayer after Communion for Tuesday of the First Week of Advent reminds us:
Replenished by the food of spiritual nourishment,A blessed Advent to all!
we humbly beseech you, O Lord,
that through our partaking in this mystery,
you may teach us to judge wisely the things of earth
and hold frim to the things of heaven.