By SISTER MARGARET MCANOY, Commentary | Published December 22, 2011
Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. Summer and hot temperatures are over and the cold of January and February hasn’t arrived yet. It’s a time of Jesse trees and Advent wreaths. Yes, the Christmas trees come up after Halloween and the Christmas carols begin before Thanksgiving. For me, however, everything kind of slows down. The second week of Advent brought a wake-call for me. I was pretty much taking Advent for granted. I wasn’t excited about it or even glad it was Advent; then I heard a homily and a presentation on a retreat that brought me back to the reality of what Advent is all about.
During the last six years Archbishop Gregory has invited leaders or representatives of all the religious communities serving in the archdiocese to a time of sharing and Eucharist during the second week of Advent. The first reading was from Isaiah and had that wonderful phrase, “Comfort my people,” which always makes me stop and think of a comforting God. In the homily the archbishop was searching for a word to follow “comfort” and Sister Patty Caraher, OP, suggested it might be chocolate. He laughed and said chocolate can be comforting, but that wasn’t the word he wanted. Another person suggested “comfort food” and that was the word.
The archbishop talked about how our mothers raised us on comfort food and it was always good. Now we have Eucharist and that food is both comforting and challenging. The Eucharist gives us the strength we need to have to work for justice and peace. The Eucharist gives us the strength and energy to minister to the poor and the weary. The Eucharist gives us the comfort to rest in the arms of Christ and be comforted when all around us seems to be chaotic. The Eucharist comforts us when there is mourning in our lives and the way seems hopeless. For me, Advent always brings me to Eucharist.
The other occasion that was a wake-up call for me was a retreat I participated in at St. Paul of the Cross Parish. The theme was “Open the Door of Your Heart.” Father Jerome, the pastor, gave the morning talk and he talked about the painting of Christ standing at the door knocking on it. Many versions have no handle on the door so for Christ to enter we have to open it from the inside. Father Jerome said that the “heart” was mentioned over 800 times in Scripture and rarely was it the human heart.
Advent is a time to look at how we sometimes choose to open the door of our heart to Christ and how, sometimes, we choose not to open the door. Sometimes we don’t open it because we’re just too busy and that happens a lot during December, doesn’t it? We had such good discussions at the table about our “doors” and how sometimes we open them and sometimes we don’t. So Advent is a wake-up call to “open wide the doors of our heart.”
I had the privilege of spending time with the group in the afternoon about the journey we’re all on to the Christmas season. We talked about how Mary and Joseph made the trek to Bethlehem and what they had to leave behind and what they took with them. The question for all of us was what we were going to take with us to Christmas and what we were leaving during the last two weeks of Advent. We all decided we might not have done anything much during the first two weeks of Advent, but we still had a half of Advent left to continue more determinedly on the journey and open our hearts to each other and to the Christ.
I pray these last days of Advent will be a wonderful prelude to a delightful Christmas season for all of us. Trust me, the doors of our hearts will be wide open.
Sister Margaret McAnoy, a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, is vicar for religious in the Atlanta Archdiocese and also a Cursillo spiritual director and pastoral care worker at Saint Joseph Hospital, Atlanta.