Diary of a Former Pagan: Celebrating Advent as a Catholic
In honoring Mary's pregnancy, we are reminded of that most subversive of spiritual qualities: patience.
So does Mary actually function as a conduit of divine grace? That's a controversial question-even among Catholics. Christ brought grace into the world with abundance and overabundance through his birth on that first Christmas so long ago. Advent dares us to consider that maybe that grace was already in evidence, even before Christ's birth-thanks to Mary's surfeit of it. Surely some of the blessings showered upon the Mother of God in her freedom from original sin spilled over to bless all of creation!
I observed my Eucharistic obligation for the holy day by attending Mass at a Trappist monastery located about 20 miles from my home. One of the monks was making his solemn profession, lying prostrate before his abbot, making his promises, and then receiving his monastic cowl, or robe. With incense wafting through the large church and Gregorian chant-in Latin, no less-creating a sense of aural serenity, the 90 minutes of the Mass seemed to melt away into something far more timeless and eternal. Oblivious to the narcissism that dominates our world, the monks kept the focus in today's liturgy on Mary rather than on their newest member. Marveling at the austere beauty of their worship, I speculated on the theological notion that, since we are all members of the Christ's mystical body, Mary today gave birth yet again-to this newly minted monk.
It is said that Advent is not just about the anticipation of the Messiah as a historical event, but also about how we in today's world should anticipate the future coming of the reign of God. As the Queen of Heaven, Mary will "give birth" again, so it seems, with the coming of Christ at the end of time. But every time a new monk professes his vows-or, for that matter, a new baby is born-it seems to me that the Blessed Mother gives birth yet again, here and now. The first-century peasant girl and the cosmic Queen of Heaven are united here and now, whenever the feminine face of the Divine-the source of new life-is made manifest in our world.
And so with quiet chanting, the monks praised her for that unending miracle.
The short season of Advent has moved well into its second half. The change was marked on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, when the priest exchanged his vestments of penitential purple for lighter-hearted pink. The Latin word "Gaudete" means "rejoice," and the priest at our Mass got everyone laughing with his self-deprecatory comments about how he thought he looked dressed up in pink. Still, I think the tone of these last two weeks is not so much one of levity as of quiet hope. It's still Advent-it's still a time of waiting, of fasting, of contemplation. It's just a reminder not to use this introspective time merely to berate ourselves for our sins and failings, but rather to count our blessings as well.