By CAROLYN WOO, Commentary | Published December 20, 2012
Through the hospitality of Trocaire—a Catholic humanitarian relief agency of Ireland—I began Advent in the stunningly beautiful chapel of St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, the pontifical university and national seminary of Ireland.
Built in the mid-1800s, the chapel’s woodwork, stained glass and paintings conveyed a powerful sense of the love for God that enabled human hands to make such magnificence possible. In this quiet and holy enclave, a simple melody drifted from the choir loft where a student was practicing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
The simplicity hit a chord that brought the Christmas season into view.
I smiled knowing that our older son would be able to join us after his absence last year as a new medical intern without holiday privileges. I look forward to the gatherings at Christmas in Indiana: the concert at Purdue University, Christmas Eve Mass celebrated by our good friend Father Bill, our annual (since 1999) Chinese hot pot dinner, sojourns to Chicago.
I always take a deep breath when I open the box and peel back the tissues that hold the Christmas ornaments made by our now-grown sons in their toddler and boyhood days. I put on my Susan Bristol sweater. It was a favorite brand of my mother-in-law. My father-in-law bought it for me when his health was failing.
Christmas Day concludes with the wonderfully calm hours when I gather all of the cards and sit in front of the fire to catch up on the updates on life, losses, celebrations and triumphs from friends who are so dear but sometimes so far away.
Christmas is special, despite the hubbub and the criticism of commercialism, as people make a place in their hearts for those they love.
Yet, in the chapel at St. Patrick’s, I was struck many times when I sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” that somehow our proclamation is so limp compared to the profound message of Advent and Christmas.
Again, it is the simplicity that hits a chord. Pope Benedict XVI during his homily on the first Sunday of Advent 2006 noted that the church’s proclamation can be summed up in two words: God comes.
He continued, “It is not used in the past tense—God has come—nor in the future—God will come—but in the present—God comes. At a closer look, this is a continuous present, that is, an ever-continuous action: It happened, it is happening now and it will happen again.”
In that spirit, St. Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century wrote about three advents: the first and third are familiar—Christ coming into the world and Christ’s final coming, raising all in the revelation of his glory and truth. It is the middle Advent, as Trappist Father Thomas Merton reflected, that is “the most important for us. The ‘Second Advent’ by which Christ is present in our souls now depends on our present recognition of his pascha or transitus, the passage of Christ through our world, through our own lives.”
God is moving through our lives, God is with us. God is in us. Do we really comprehend? We are in the greatest love story of our lives. We are lifted up beyond our wildest imagination. The good we do is multiplied by God’s unlimited bounty and power. Are we excited beyond words? Are we filled with awe that this is happening to us? Can we clear the clutter in our lives so that we can really enjoy this? Do we really comprehend?
No wonder one of the most common exhortations in this season is “awaken.”