Did anyone else find themselves looking forward to Lent? I sure did. As Ash Wednesday approached, my excitement only grew. I found this somewhat strange and tried to figure out why I would be more excited for Lent than I had been for Advent. After praying about this and contemplating the liturgical seasons and my reactions to them I realized it had everything to do with how they mirrored my own experiences in life at the time. To better understand, I had to step back and take a look at what Advent had been like.
Advent 2009 was a difficult time. A time of several cycles where hopes were high, only to fall abruptly. I found myself envious of the Blessed Virgin. Sure her life wasn’t easy, but at least she KNEW she was going to have a child in the near future. As the Advent prayers of the mass say, we look for him “whose coming is certain.” She was certain that a little one would enter her life in the near future. I didn’t have a little one in my life “whose coming was certain”. I didn’t have any promises. As the mass readings escalated in the excitement of the child who was to come, and we heard about the flurry of activity that preceded His birth, I fell more into sorrow and despair as my own life seemed to be going further down a road in the opposite direction of the season. The darkness of Advent became a very real reality to me and I struggled to find that light that pierced the darkness. All around me seemed to be filled with hope, and yet I was struggling to maintain any shred of hope. One of the greatest sources of pain for me was the empty manger in our crèche , as I was daily reminded that we were NOT expecting the long-awaited one in our life. And then one day I realized that I had gotten to the point of being upset with and envying Our Lady. I was angry with her for flaunting her pregnancy in my face (in the scriptures) and I was jealous of her and what she had before her. (yes, clearly I’m aware that I was not thinking of all that was before her in her life with Christ, but did I ever claim to be thinking sanely and rationally at this point?). I tried to find solace in the mass, but got tired of going to mass every day to hear about pregnant women of the bible. Even our pastor noticed this trend and came up to me one morning after mass and said that he wanted me to know that he was praying for me…he had never realized how many references to pregnant women there were during Advent and how painful that must be. Oh my goodness…just to hear him say that and to recognize this was such a comfort to my soul. But it was true…there are so many stories of barren women conceiving during Advent. (Sat, Dec 19th: Judges 13:2-7, 24-25 Manoah’s wife who was barren and yet bore Samson ~ Tues Dec 22th: Samuel 1:24-28 Hannah presenting Samuel to the Lord ~ Wed, Dec 23rd: Luke 1:57-66 Elizabeth giving birth to John)
But thank God for confession and for the grace of the Sacrament. Somehow realizing that I was jealous of Our Lady woke me up to the fact that things had gotten out of hand (d’ya think?). Going to confession, I poured out my heart to our pastor and received forgiveness for my jealousy and anger. But aside from forgiveness and grace, the greatest gift I received was my penance. It was a prayer card with an icon of Our Lady expecting the Christ Child. Father said that this image, with her bearing the Christ child in her womb, with her arms raised and hands outstretched, was showing that she was bearing Him for us….for me. She did not wish to keep Him for herself, but rather she was bringing Him to those who would need Him most…for me. I don’t know why this had such a profound effect upon me…grace perhaps…but it did. And on the back of the prayer card, these words were written:
“Eternal Father, In the psalms of David, In the words of the prophets, In the dream of Joseph, your promise is spoken. At last, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, your Word takes flesh. Teach us to welcome Jesus, the promised Emmanuel, and to preach the good news of his coming, that every age may know him as the source of redemption and grace. Grant this through him whose coming is Certain, whose day draws near: your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. God for ever and ever. Amen.”
This knocked me on my rear end spiritually. “At last, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, your Word takes flesh.” “AT LAST”…..suddenly I was struck by how long the world had had to wait for the conception of this child. How long had Israel awaited this promised little one? FAR longer than I have been waiting for the one I hope for in my womb. How painful was their wait? What suffering had they endured in the waiting? And yet just when it seemed that all was lost and hope was gone, God showed the world that He is faithful in keeping His promises. Here, at last, His spoken promise took flesh. Wow. This hit me hard. And the second aspect that struck me with this prayer was “grant this through him whose coming is certain.” Those same words that had rubbed me raw earlier in Advent because I was upset that I DID NOT have someone whose coming was certain. ..now I saw those words in an entirely different light. No…I don’t have a baby in my life whose coming is certain. I am not promised a pregnancy. I am not promised physical motherhood. But Christ’s coming IS certain. HE will not fail to come. And this, not physical motherhood, has to be the source of my hope.
With this refreshment of grace and peace that came in acceptance and understanding, I was able to fully enjoy midnight mass. My heart was at peace, and I was able to celebrate with Our Lady the birth of the child that she carried and brought to the world for us…for me. As I prayed in Thanksgiving after receiving the Eucharist, I heard the Lord speak to my heart, “You are with child.” I was startled. Was I pregnant? Was this my Annunciation? I was post-peak and in the waiting, so perhaps it was? Or was this merely Our Lord telling me that the Christ Child was brought into the world for me and was now with me? Only time would reveal that I was not biologically with child. A week and a half later I realized that I was not biologically with child and again I was tempted to anger with God for having “lied” to me. Oh Suzy….Suzy…when will you ever learn? God’s promises far exceed our greatest expectations. That night, when the Christ Child was born…He, whose coming was certain, came into the world. God does keep His promises. Gloria in Excelsis Deo!
(okay...so that background reflection on Advent took a bit longer than I thought. I'll spare you all reading more and will post on Lent tomorrow. Stay tuned!)