The Renewal of Advent

I’m not going to lie—the past week has been hectic. Stressful, I’m inclined to say, though the word “stress” holds a negative connotation. It’s a good hectic, but also overwhelming. I’ve been focusing a lot on myself and forget the needs of others; my mind has short-circuited in the middle of conversations. And that’s after God has taken on a lot of the burden.

Recently, I accepted a new job to begin next week. It’s a wonderful position—I’ll be helping to create Christian children’s books. For years I’ve wondered how I could use my career skills for God, and the moment I learned of this position I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It seemed perfect for me. Apparently my future employer thought so, too, because it was only a matter of days that I received the offer. As a result, I’ve also signed a lease on a new apartment to be closer to it—which I move into in four days. Life has been little but packing boxes, running out of packing tape, and crying to my friends about how hard this is.

But this is the time it was supposed to happen.

We learned of Advent at RCIA this week. I’m fully aware what month it is, I thought, thinking of the move and the job, on top of Christmas itself. I know it’s Advent. But, to borrow a phrase from our prayer service:

It can be tempting to think that, because we may be struggling these days, we can’t enter into Advent without a big change in our mood or without distancing ourselves from our real experience. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, I’m busy right now. I’m constantly distracted. I don’t feel prepared for anything. But that’s okay. This season isn’t about our being perfect—it’s about God revealing Himself to us, just as we are. And wherever we are in our life’s journey.

If there is struggle in our lives, then we want to acknowledge that before God and let that struggle be the door into Advent’s graces.

I may not prefer uprooting my life during December. And, yes, it’s all happening just when God intended for it to happen. But this year, it’s more than that. It’s not only a new beginning for my career, but it’s also a new beginning for my faith. Last week we celebrated the Rite of Welcome, in which the Church formally acknowledged my journey to become one of its own. It’s no coincidence that it’s the same time as my career shift, and my life shift, and of Advent itself.

Sometimes I get nervous. It’s a lot of change at once. But I know the Spirit is guiding me, because I’m not nearly as scared as I thought I would be. Now, in the midst of of the “stress,” is the perfect time for Advent to begin.

Thanksgiving

And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name; make known his deeds among the nations, proclaim that his name is exalted.” —Isaiah 12:4

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. And it can be argued that we shouldn’t celebrate it. What are we celebrating, after all? A bunch of white guys taking over land that wasn’t theirs to claim? The forceful removal of Native Americans from their homes? It’s not exactly the happy co-existence of “pilgrims and Indians” that we depict in our school plays.

But “giving thanks” isn’t a uniquely American concept. During Mass on Thanksgiving morning, we were asked to write down something we’re thankful for and drop it in a communal basket. And of all the blessings I’ve received, and all the wonderful people in my life… the only thing I could think to write down was God. Because in His infinite patience, He’s allowed me to remain in this life long enough to finally turn to Him, and to stop relying on my own stubborn human nature.

This has been a year of change for me. I’m thankful, first and foremost, to God, for never giving up on me (especially in my most stubborn moments). I’m thankful for the people he’s put in my life over the years, who helped guide me through this journey. I’m thankful that I do live in a country where I can express that faith publicly, even if we don’t have the most pristine history.

I’m thankful that God had brought me this far, that on Thanksgiving Day, the first thing I think to be thankful for… is Him.

Sacrament: Eucharist

the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from. —John 2:9

As I read of Jesus’s first miracle—turning water into wine—the footnotes of my Bible offered a little more than I’d noticed before. Yes, this was his first miracle, and it shows his awesome power. And it shows that you should offer your best to God. (He did turn the water into the best wine, after all.) But wait, there’s more.

In the recollection of this miracle, there’s no talk of the wine running out. The servants filled jar after jar full of water, and there was more than enough of the good, new wine to go around. As stated in the footnotes:

[The second lesson is] the prefigurement of the Eucharist, in which wine is changed into the true Body and Blood of Christ, the “new wine” of the heavenly wedding feast.

The Eucharist, you say? In that case, let’s consider another miracle Jesus performed that includes multiplying nourishment:

and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds… and those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. —Matthew 14:19,21

Twice during Jesus’s ministry the disciples had said, “How are we going to feed all these people with so little bread?” (Did you not get it the first time, guys?) But they fed them all. With bread leftover. They could have fed more.

The two instances of Jesus multiplying nourishment for the people during his ministry, when there was an abundance to go around… was bread and wine. Just like the Eucharist.

Like any good non-Catholic, I questioned the Real Presence. It sure tastes like bread and wine to me, after all (or grape juice, as the case may be). But from the very beginning of Christianity, it was accepted that the holy communion becomes Jesus’s flesh itself. That it’s transformed within us. The moment you start to understand that is the moment you understand just how beautiful it is.

“I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible.” —St. Ignatius, 110 A.D.

I didn’t get why I couldn’t take communion. I’ve done it before, in different churches. But this isn’t merely a tasteless cracker and a shot of grape juice. This is Jesus Christ himself. It’s when that realization hits that you feel unworthy. That you feel you’re neither ready nor pure enough to accept him. And at this point in time… I’m not ready. But that only means that I’m beginning to understand. I’m preparing myself for the moment I can truly accept him.