Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Wretched Advent

This will be an actual substantial post! Wow! It's a little something I wrote about Advent and being a wretch and in the middle state. If only I listened to myself more...


I am Advent. I wait in wonder and expectation; Someone is growing within me, but I cannot see Him yet. I feel gentle movements at first; He’s testing the waters. Gradually He takes up more and more space in me, and begins to make His presence undeniable. This silent growth sometimes brings discomfort and anxiety, but it is already underway and cannot be hindered without doing violence to myself. I deeply desire to give birth, but I cannot rush Him. I want to know what He looks like, see His face and hold Him in my arms, but this is a time for waiting.

I am almost twenty-five and I have not made any vows. You must admit that I am lacking something: I have not given my life away. It is still here in my small, shaky and inadequate hands. Every day I awake knowing that I have a mission to accomplish… but darned if I know what it is. Every moment is one in which I either affirm or deny His presence, and this will always be so… but I have nothing in my life to compare with a choleric infant or crotchety superior, neither of which it is possible to ignore. On the contrary, I am sure I can and do ignore plenty of opportunities to grow in grace and virtue. I cannot trust my own will for a second, and yet it is apparent that Christ does.

The fact that I am in this state of unknowing is a sign of His trust in me, His promise that even if I do not know it, He can and will accomplish something though me. My life and my mission are not on hold; they have already begun. In Baptism, I was given a new life; the vows that were spoken for me then will always be the most definitive, for I am Christ’s and there is no turning back. Even when I feel like I am just waiting around, the Holy Spirit is not. Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit and in her time of waiting only a privileged few knew of the Mystery that grew within her. In a similar way, we single persons must cultivate the Life growing within us, witnessing to the work of the Holy Spirit silent and steady in our hearts. In not yet having a home to “settle down” in, we live the reality of being pilgrims on this earth. We are called to recognize and proclaim that this is not our true Home. Even without a ring or a vow, we know Love and hope in His promise. This promise is much greater than we can imagine, and is the true end of all our human longings, even for a vocation.

I have not done an extensive sociological study, but there seem to be increasing numbers of “us”- faithful vow-less 20-and 30-somethings. This is not accidental and the whole of it is fruitful. It must be the way the Holy Spirit is working in our age. Advent is a special time to meditate on the tremendous work that God does in secret. He seems to be suggesting “Slow down,” “Be healed,” “Surrender control.” I do not mean to mitigate personal responsibility for prayerful discernment and decisive action. I am simply looking around at the many people I know who are open, prayerful and seeking to give their lives away. They want to be poor, chaste and obedient, giving all of themselves to God. They tend to congregate together and form a sort of “Catholic mafia.”

Like most young adults, my friends—particularly women in the same state as me—are my constant support and encouragement. These are friendships that are almost indescribable to anyone who has not known Christ and given all to Him. “See how they love one another.” Yes, look! I think of those words anytime I am waiting at the airport for a friend to arrive because of the joyful anticipation and ensuing silliness that inevitably bursts out when we see one another. There is an intense joy there that is born of being on this journey together. United in prayer and the Eucharist, we become ever more one though we live far apart. I was in a college study group once that turned to talking about male and female friendships. I was bewildered by the experience of these young women who said that their friendships with other women were fraught with drama, cruel words and backstabbing. I could not even imagine that. I do not think I could remain hopeful without my friends.

In light of this discovery, a few women and I began a sort of fake religious order. We call ourselves the Little Wretches of St. Joseph, and we have very few rules. Basically if you love St. Joseph, you think you are wretched (sometimes) and you are not in a vowed state, you’re in. We all have names that are connected somehow with the created world. The first four wretches were Earth, Wind, Water and Fire… yes, kind of like Captain Planet. Nature is a big part of our “charism”, but our names have also begun branching into time and seasons. There are now over seventy women who call themselves wretches, and I have never even met a number of them. Since its beginnings three years ago on the feast of St. Joseph, we have had an even split: four of our “sisters” have entered religious life while four have gotten married. It is wonderful to be in the company of so many young women who are, well, pretty normal, and yet radically seeking God’s will in their lives. We cannot become holy on our own, and every interaction I have with my sisters in wretchedness reminds me that we are all called to be saints and if I am ever to get there it will only be in the company of my friends. In watching them grow and find their homes in this world, I see truly that everything has been arranged with perfect timing. As Christ grew within them, He gradually revealed to them a place in which to see His face.

In Advent, while the world is bustling around buying trinkets, Christians turn their eyes toward the Lord and beg Him to come back. On December 25th we recall His birth in the stable, and how He deigned to walk among us. We think about His tiny hands and feet, the same ones that would one day be pierced, and think of the joy of His mother Mary before the sword of the Cross. We do all this in a spirit of waiting for Jesus to return. Advent is the season in which the Church recognizes that she is still pregnant and that she must carry Jesus faithfully until the end of time. Those of us in the middle state are given the tremendous gift of experiencing this waiting in a special way. Our lives must proclaim the hope that He is coming again. By being joyful “in the meantime” we proclaim that this world is not all there is. If we are in the hands of the Father, trusting in the Son and led by the Holy Spirit, then our waiting is that of Advent: hoping in the promise of the One who will never disappoint.


Paul said...

"...there seem to be increasing numbers of “us”- faithful vow-less 20-and 30-somethings. This is not accidental and the whole of it is fruitful. It must be the way the Holy Spirit is working in our age."

Interesting. It's a topic I've often revisited and wondered about. What then, with this 'catholic mafia', is the Holy Spirit doing in this age?

I tend to view the phenomenon of so many faithful 20- and 30-somethings not having found vocations not as a good thing, but as ultimately the influence of a wayward culture which scorns commitment and sacrifice. It's not that Catholic A scorns commitment, but that the world's influence has provoked in him certain habits that inhibit the requisite openness. And neither is it that Catholic B is afraid of sacrifice, but she’s believed too many lies about who she is and, more importantly, who God is.

In a word—-vanity. Faithful Catholics have not been left unscathed by the vanity of our age, by its idolatrous confusion. Perhaps we faithful Catholics need to get over ourselves and embrace radically a Gospel which demands everything of us. Perhaps, would not be vow-less if we were not so attached to the status quo of this age—-an age which is certainly passing away in any event.

On the other hand, there is your suggestion that “the whole of it is fruitful.” But what fruit are we to bear through our baptized post-modern isolation?—-what fruit, though our vow-lessness? Is suffering quietly, awaiting the new advent, the patience that this must teach us… is this fruit? Is all our open possibility the very horizon of this advent? I wonder, because I have no explanation for it.

But I ramble--good post. Thanks for provoking.

earthie said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Paul!

I did not mean to suggest that this is a great thing and should be encouraged. But neither can you, I think, attribute it all to vanity or being overly influenced by the world. Again I'm not saying that isn't also present, I certainly experience that in myself, but to say that it is all due to sin really seems to question a lot more than you might think. Namely, whether Baptism is the most definitive vow (The Christian State of Life) or if the Holy Spirit is truly the guiding force of the Church. (I love being dramatic, it's true, but statements really do have big implications)

There are some gifts that a vow-less person has to offer the Church in a unique way. In secular settings they witness to chastity before marriage- something I don't have to tell you is rare. They have tremendous availability to volunteer their time and efforts to various charitable causes without neglecting any primary responsibilities. They are able to devote themselves entirely to study and developing friendships. I do not think these are things to set aside as if they were unimportant or fruitless, even if they are not the most important.

What fruit do we bear? God only knows. And I mean that sincerely! "Realize, O Christian, your dignity"... we carry the world with us to Christ no less than any other person (well, in proportion to our response) DeLubac wrote in Catholicism that no one is Catholic for himself alone. If we could comprehend the hugeness of Who it is we carry, of the task entrusted to us, we'd probably be paralyzed by it.

Basically, I'm saying that in our age no less than any other, everything matters. I can't believe that it is inconsequential to have faithful vowless people running around, and even if some of it is the result of misplaced priorities, I trust that the Lord makes good use of it for His own purposes. The tremendousness of grace, and of having people in the state of grace, praying and waiting in this middle state, is not to be discounted!

Paul said...

"and even if some of it is the result of misplaced priorities, I trust that the Lord makes good use of it for His own purposes."

Amen to that.