One thing the Catholic Church is great on is waiting. And preparation. It is, in the end, a studied, reflective, patient faith.
In this it often stands in contract to our Protestant brethren. A friend attended the local Baptist assembly in the morning, answered an altar call and was baptized by nightfall.
By contrast, if you want to be received into the Church, you have to wait and you have to prepare. Months and months of patient study, thought, questing and questioning until finally in the evening of the Vigil of Easter, Mother Church opens her arms and embraces her new children.
It’s a pattern that is repeated in all the sacraments. We prepare ourselves for confession by an examination of conscience. We prepare ourselves for receiving the Eucharistic Lord in Holy Communion by confession, by hearing His word, proclaiming our faith and offering our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service to Him. We prepare for the baptism of our children by reminding ourselves what that grace involves and committing ourselves again to knowing, loving and serving God. We prepare for confirmation, when the time comes, by revisiting everything we think we already know and learning how boundless is the treasure of the Church and the love of Chirst.
We prepare for marriage by inviting our Mother to counsel us. Men prepare for Holy Orders for many long years, shaped and formed by the love of Church and the experience of their superiors. We prepare for sickness and death by inviting Christ to our bedside and asking to share in His suffering, and accepting His healing touch through the priest.
The liturgical year reinforces this rhythm in her liturgy, the very bones of Catholic life. Today I find myself in the long expected purple season that prepares me for the first Great Mystery, the Incarnation, the first Advent of our Lord as I wait, sometimes more patiently than others, for His second advent. As Israel waited for deliverance by the Messiah, so, too I wait.
And the question becomes: what am I waiting for? From what do I want to delivered?
I know all the school solutions. I await deliverance from sin and death, from the bondage of brokenness. But those are general terms, too easy to repeat without really understanding what they men and how they will change me. So this Advent, let me ask for deliverance, not in general terms but in particular ones.
After a weekend of family and entertaining, of changes in the mass and the music, a weekend when everything is familiar but nothing, nothing I cherish is the same because it never is even though I desperately want it to be, and everything that irritates me remains depressingly constant, I am tired of being held hostage by my preferences. This Advent, I want deliverance from them.
From the preferences that get in the way of my receiving with joy the things I am given when they are different from what I want.
From preferences that make me grasp at the things of God rather than waiting with an open hand for them to be given.
From preferences that make me forget that the gifts I have been given as as valuable as the ones I wish for but do not have.
From the preferences that separate me from my brothers and sisters when they do things differently but still to the same end.
From the preferences that set off that chain of thought in my head when things don’t go my way, making me waste all-too-precious time on consternation and regret instead of living with grace in the moment.
It is Advent. I will prepare and I will wait because I must. Mother Church will help me if only I give myself over to the rhythms of her life, accepting what comes my way this Advent as a gift, whether it is something I would prefer or not. In the discipline of the purple season, perhaps I can, in spite of my nature, still my heart and pause in my life to be, for a time, properly patient, appropriately expectant. thoroughly grateful. I will listen and I will pray and I will sit in the silence in the time before dawn and I know I will find that that which I need amid the candles and the quiet.
For, in spite of my preferences, I know I will find change, in heart and mind and attitude so that I may also find Him who comes Christmas Day to deliver me from what I too often prefer to what I truly desire.