Advent: What do we desire?

| November 23, 2015 | 0 Comments

It was the first Sunday of Advent. In the assembly were two visitors, an 11-year-old boy and his mother. As Mass was about to begin, the cantor stepped before the assembly and announced, with a big smile, “Today, we’re going to sing Christmas carols!”

The boy, son of a diocesan-certified liturgist, could not have been more alarmed had all his presents been stolen from underneath the tree. “Mom,” he whispered anxiously, “they can’t do that! It’s Advent!”

His mom, mindful of her role as responsible adult and visitor, calmed him down as best she could. “They must do things differently here,” she said quietly, though not without a good glare in the cantor’s direction.

Such is the ongoing struggle experienced by many Catholics in Advent: trying to celebrate the season at hand amid a society that insists we play their game.

No, it’s not easy, battling retailers who decree that Christmas shopping should begin on the Fourth of July (or, at the very latest, Labor Day). Or newspapers, TV and online ads that bombard us to “Buy now! Buy more!” before autumn even begins. Or Christmas music — sacred and secular — pumped through sound systems in shopping malls and grocery stores, in elevators and restaurants.

One radio station in Los Angeles has for years played nonstop Christmas music from Thanksgiving Day (or earlier) through Dec. 26. And they get the ratings to justify it (at least in their profit-driven world).

So what’s our response, as Catholics wishing to celebrate Advent? Not shop? Not read the papers, watch TV or listen to the radio? Not go anywhere?

At the risk of sounding like Scrooge, I would suggest that we Catholics don’t help the situation when we flood our parish calendars with too many events. As well-intentioned as these events may be, they all entail work on the part of someone (and in parishes, it’s usually the same people doing most of the work).

My wife calls Advent her favorite season of the year. And yet, she has not enjoyed a truly spiritual Advent in more than 20 years. She has plenty of work as the parish liturgist and musician — planning and rehearsing the music, overseeing the liturgical environment, scheduling and preparing various ministers, writing scripts for celebrants and emcees, etc., etc., while doing her Christmas shopping, holiday baking and the regular day-to-day of running a household.

All of it she does amazingly well. But when is there time for her — or anyone in liturgical ministry, including priests — to really enjoy Advent?

Advent is a season of anticipation, but it might also be described as a season of desire. And what, above all, do we desire?

As liturgical musicians, my wife and I find comfort and nourishment in Advent’s rich supply of music that speaks to our desire and longing for the Lord. Among my favorites is Bernadette Farrell’s gentle “Litany of the Word,” and its pleading refrain, “Maranatha,” the Aramaic word that means “The Lord is coming” or, simply, “Come, Lord.”

John the Baptist anticipates our desire, I think, in one of the season’s most familiar Gospel readings: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Mk 1:3).

The way of the Lord, it seems to me, is the way that leads directly to our hearts. But how straight — how uncluttered, actually — is our path?

“Where your treasure is,” Jesus tells us, “there also will your heart be.” Amid our seasonal “treasure hunts” in stores and online, it is worth our time to reflect during Advent on the kind of treasure that never fades, never breaks, never wears out and is impossible to return.

Amid the commotion and promotion of Christmas, let us make room in our hearts during Advent by focusing on God’s greatest gift to us — the presence of Jesus — so that we fully receive, cherish and, yes, sing about it always.

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Category: Advent