Saturday, December 16, 2017
In his chapter on “The Keeping of Lent,” Benedict says “The life of a monk ought always to be a little Lent.” In the past week I've been reflecting on the idea that “the life of a Christian ought always to be a little Advent.”
Advent is not a time of sitting around in a state of passive waiting while singing “Come Lord Jesus!” That would not be a state of hope, but an invitation to boredom. Blaise Pascal once complained that the problem with Christians is that they spend all their time waiting for something.
The fact is, however, that we humans seem to be “Advent people” by our very nature. Eric Hoffer once observed that, while one can imagine a perfect butterfly or a perfect pine tree, one can’t imagine a perfect human being: We are by our nature perpetually unfinished, always striving toward completion but never achieving it.
This is our uniquely human characteristic. It is this perpetual unfinishedness, this constant longing, that gives us our thirst for knowledge, our curiosity about the world, our impulse to create, to climb mountain peaks. We have this innate feeling that there’s always more to do, to learn, to accomplish.
Some humans try to satisfy this built-in longing with created things: a bigger house, more popularity, a larger bank account. But these always leave us unsatisfied -- perpetually unfinished.
Our faith gives to this state of constant longing a religious dimension, its true meaning: This is our Advent condition -- constantly longing for fulfilment, but also preparing for the Lord’s coming, and making room for Him in our lives.
Early this week when I attended the funeral of my 79-year-old cousin, Peggy. Left a widow at a young age, she raised four children, providing them with a good home and a good education. I knew this part of her story. But I was surprised when I learned, by listening to her fellow parishioners and then to her pastor in his homily, that there was a whole other side of Peggy that I really didn't know about. It seems that she was deeply involved in several parish activities and associations, offering her time and effort and talents to help anyone she could. The more I heard, the more I marveled at how much good she did with her charity.
I don’t imagine that she thought of her life as “a little Advent,” but that’s what it was. As a widow, she must have known a lot about that human feeling of longing and incompleteness and unfinishedness, but her response was to spend her life as an Advent, a time of fruitful waiting. Instead of spending her life trying to fill up her perpetual unfinishedness with the pursuit of earthly things that don’t last, she spent it in loving her family, and in doing good for the poor and needy, and serving her church.
When she died during the first week of Advent, her period of longing was over, and her unfinishedness disappeared in a blaze of glory. St. Paul advises us not to try too hard to imagine what God has in store for those who love the Lord, but whatever that may be, Peggy got to spend the last weeks of Advent in heaven.
I thank her for teaching me and so many others, that “the life of a Christian ought always to be a little Advent.”