Of Arbitrary, Otters, & Advent

I know people who would say that was an excellent choice of words for some of my not-infrequent behavior. Most of them live in the same house…the one where I live.
For example, my mother and sisters just roll their eyes at me when I ask which of two outfits I should wear. “Whatever,” they huff, “You’ll just wear the one I DON’T pick.”
Despite my protestations, it usually turns out to be true.
Or, for instance, between the ages of about 9 and 13, it was some sort of trend with girls my age to “love” dolphins.
I honestly never really understood the appeal there. I don’t hate dolphins, but I definitely don’t “love” them either. Whenever dolphins came up my response was usually, “Actually, I prefer otters.”
What? Otters are WAY cuter. See?

Moving on…
I would argue this isn’t technically arbitrary, there IS a system…I apparently like whatever everybody else doesn’t.
And no, I am not a hipster.
There was also the time in First Communion class when our sweet teacher asked us all what our favorite season on the Liturgical Calendar was.
(Do not even tell me you were never asked that as a 6-year-old. I don’t want to hear it.)
So, as a 6-year-old, I said Advent. And I remember quite clearly that there were three reasons:
1.     All the other kids were saying “Christmas” or “Easter,” so CLEARLY those were not MY favorites.
2.     My teacher also happened to be one of my mother’s best friends, and I was pretty sure my excellent behavior and obvious genius were frequently reported on, and “Advent” sounded WAY more sophisticated than Christmas or Easter. Duh.
3.     I actually (believe it or not after #1 and #2) DID love Advent the best.
In fact, as far as I can remember I have always loved Advent best.
This is easily explained. It is hereditary. From my mother’s side.
Mostly just from my mother, actually.
I grew up with a Jesse Tree, a little cradle that was put out at the beginning of Advent and remained empty until Christmas (except for the cotton balls we got to put in for our “good deeds,” and make a soft place for Baby Jesus to sleep when He arrived), and a faithfully lit Advent wreath. We have had, ever since I was little, an Advent Calendar where we counted down to Christmas by adding Nativity figures.

Advent…it’s a Big Stinkin’ Deal ‘round these here parts.
As my momma likes to say, “Anticipation is half the fun!”
Normally I agree with her, but not on that. If Advent is the “anticipation” of Christmas, I have WAY more than just half the fun with it.
My theory about why is this: we’re always waiting for something. Always. My single gal friends and I, waiting on husbands and families. Married couples I know, waiting on babies. Parents with babies, waiting on them to grow up so the parents can reclaim something which apparently becomes more elusive with every kid, (I think they call it “sleep”). People waiting on better jobs, bigger houses, more stable health, kinder friends…you name it. Waiting, all of us, on something.
And during Advent, the Church swells up around us in solidarity, all of us waiting for the same thing.
But we’re reminded, because the Church is a good Mother, that we don’t just wait with impatience, with ingratitude, with a blindness to what we already hold in our hands. We are taught to wait in joyful hope.
That’s why I love Advent, I think – because every year God in His goodness gives me yet another chance to cooperate with His desire to transform my heart. Every year He sets aside practically an entire month to sit me down, look me in the eye, and ask, “Do you trust Me?”
Unfortunately, too often my response to that question from the Heart of God is something like: “Uhm…well…sure.”
The enthusiasm is inspiring, right?
But during Advent, I get another chance. I get a fresh start.
Literally. After all, it’s the beginning of a new liturgical year!
Ya’ll knew that, right? Advent IS the Catholic New Year. So, this year, with the help of a few new (and some old) friends, I’m working on my Catholic Nerd Skills and making some New Year’s Resolutions.
First, I just have to throw out there that I am tremendously excited, because this coming Friday, the 23rd, is the feast of….*drumroll, please*….Blessed Miguel Pro!

Bet you didn’t see THAT one coming. 😉
Seriously though, if you’d like you can look at an old blog post in which I explained howthis man, priest and martyr, lived with that joyful hope that is the trademark of our saints. A lifestyle referred to by another beautiful Jesuit as “the Advent of the Heart.” That phrase was coined by Fr. Alfred Delp, who died in 1944 at the hands of the Third Reich. Father Delp is my official Advent buddy this year, thanks to Ignatius Press.
In December of 1944, days before he was executed, he wrote (with his hands cuffed together, I might add):
“Advent is a time of being deeply shaken, so that man will wake up to himself. The prerequisites for a fulfilled Advent is a renunciation of the arrogant gestures and tempting dreams with which, and in which, man is always deceiving himself. Thus he compels reality to use violence to bring him around…But at the same time there is much more to Advent than this. The shaking is what sets up the secret blessedness of this season and enkindles the inner light in our hearts, so Advent will be blessed with the promises of the Lord…It is precisely in the severity of this awakening…in the wretchedness of experiencing our limitations that the golden threads running between Heaven and earth during this season reach us; the threads that give the world a hint of the abundance to which it is called, the abundance of which it is capable.”
If we were sitting next to each other, we could read that again, and look at each other silently with awe in our eyes, and not need to speak for a little while.
Padre Pro, Father Delp, and the Church Herself point the way to a fruitful Advent. An Advent where we come face-to-face with our own inadequacies and are filled, not with despair, but with the childlike confidence that meets the Father’s gaze and is able to answer positively His question of “Do you trust Me?”
Advent helps us learn to give the answer of the martyrs, the answer of the Patriarchs and Prophets we will soon be hearing in our Mass readings, the answer of Our Lady at Nazareth and Cana and Golgotha…the answer of a hopeful heart.
“’I believe, Lord – help my unbelief.’
 I love – help my fear.
‘My soul waits upon the Lord, 
more than sentinels wait for the dawn’…
I wait, in joyful hope.”


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