Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Advent: loathing or hope?

I am traveling this week for work. This morning my lovely wife sent me via email a post from the blog "Dappled Things" entitled "The Advent Curmudgeon." She wrote, "When I started reading this, I thought you had written it!!" While I did not write it (Michael Rennier did), it is a piece that sums up my attitude towards this time of year very well. Like Rennier, I am inclined to be one of those "emotionally warped anti-Christmas crusaders [who] maintain a penitential Advent with nary a wisp of mistletoe in sight." I'll readily admit that there were years I attempted to observe Advent in such a puritanical spirit. But experience has taught me to that the best way to observe Advent is to do what Rennier suggests and simply observe the Church's calendar. This is an antidote to my seasonal loathing my lovely wife seized upon years ago.

In Western culture, which, at least in my view, has been correctly characterized as The Burnout Society, we don't know how to wait. Christians are often caught up in impatient behavior, which is wholly antithetical to our faith. But a lot of life and most of history consists of waiting. What does it mean to wait in joyful hope? This is the question I am pondering over the course of this Advent season.

With Dr Tim O'Malley, Director of Notre Dame University's Center for Liturgy, I grow suspicious of promotions like "Best Advent Ever," which strike me as attempts to Osteenify U.S. Catholicism. I think Tim's reason for rejecting these kinds of things quite sound: "It seems to play into an American spiritual assumption that it is the best that matters. That liturgical seasons are about self-improvement rather than keeping alive the memory of Christ anew." So the last thing I need is to load up on "Advent resources." What do I need to do? Shut-up and sit down. Stop, be quiet, and wait in joyful hope, keeping memory of Christ anew.

I hope it isn't either maudlin or pedantic to point out that Advent is about holy waiting for the light to dawn anew in our hearts: "What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:3b-5). In a word, Advent is about hope, which is the least understood of the theological virtues. While faith is discussed to the point that it begins to fold back on itself, while love, like Christmas, is often reduced to mere sentiment, more than anything hope, the flower of faith, is an experience.

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