Monday, November 29, 2010

Let us learn from her, the Lady of Advent, to live our daily duties with a new spirit, with the sense of a profound waiting, one only the coming of God can quench. _His Holiness, Benedict XVI

For the lyrics of the above conjoined hymns with an English translation, you may visit one of my previous posts. One of the advantages of being a Catholic, as was admitted to me even by a modern, pluralistic priest, is that we salute two new years. Two chances to make a new beginning.

It was with immense alacrity that I introduced my Advent wreath to my catechism students in our little basement sessions before Mass. I had expected them to be surprised, but not bewildered. Be they American, Polish, English, Chinese, Filipino, Italian, or French, none were familiar with the tradition. Remembering the trouble it had taken me to find appropriately coloured candles, I was hardly surprised at it being a novelty to Poles, but I was unsettled that the same was true for Americans, where Protestants also celebrate the custom. When asked to guess what the wreath was, many opined that it was a menorah.

I do have a menorah: a strikingly beautiful one given to me by an affluent Jewish couple from Memphis, Tennessee. It is not the traditional candelabra we so often see, but a golden relief of the city of Jerusalem. Eight Maccabean soldiers holding torches provide the places for the candles, while the ninth shammas holder stands above them on a street step. I love that the servant stands above the others--yet another echo in the past of what was to be fulfilled in the future. Alas, I cannot post a picture of this beautiful thing, as its weight barred me from taking it to Poland.

At the first Novus Ordo Mass of Advent, the Prayers of the Faithful caused me a little pang, as we remembered the Jews, who would be celebrating Hanukkah on Wednesday. The thought was charitable, but not charitable enough. We did not pray for the Jews' menorah to be entwined with our wreath.

As the Advent season unfolds, we observe two Sundays of sombre purple, with a third of jubilant rose, followed by another of purple. It was oddly asymmetrical to my students that rose should be third and not first or last (how children love reason and order!). I explained that the third week, commencing with Gaudete Sunday, is when we contemplate how our awaiting of the Messiah is nearly over. As when one waits for the visit of a favourite relative, or his coming to the head of the queue, or a sign on the road indicating the nearness of his destination, a wave of giddiness and vindication washes over him. Though this joy will subside into sobriety again, as he still has some way to go, this is a natural and universal experience of man. It is the delight of Wednesday's end: 'I have come to the midpoint; I can endure the rest of the week.' Or of scaling half the mountainside: 'My strength has sufficed me thus far; it shall sustain me that far again.' After walking halfway through dark Mirkwood, the sojourner knows he is walking out.

But one must know what one's destination is and where and when it is to experience this elation. Otherwise one's waiting is sheer misery. I remember shivering at the West Warsaw train station that does not mark each platform with the train coming or its destination. It does not necessarily follow the designations of the timetable either. All changes were announced in hurried Polish, and if my train did come that night I missed it. Hours and hours in the darkness, I waited. I finally comprehended the sentiment behind a proverb I had till then thought rather trite: 'That's a long wait for a train that don't come.' I am more apt to use that metaphor now.

In true charity then, a Catholic ought to remember in his prayers this Advent especially those who wait without any forseeable end to their waiting. They need not be in suspense any longer.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!


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Warsaw, Poland
Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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