Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Anticipating Advent...

This is going to be one of those lengthy, roundabout, Catholic Librarian stories, so settle in :)

Advent has become particularly meaningful to me as an adult. As a child, I don't recall doing much special for Advent - it was just the time before Christmas. I do remember the Advent wreath in church, and I always wanted my own candles, but we did not attend Mass with any regularity back then, and we didn't pray or engage in any traditions as a family, so it really didn't think too much of it. Christmas Eve was one of the two occasions per year on which we attended Mass, and I remember enjoying it, for the most part. Mainly, I remember feeling squeezed in the pew, because there were so many people that attended the Christmas Eve vigil at our parish.

As a young adult, in law school, I went into a very difficult time in my life with a very thin faith foundation. I attended Mass occasionally with my good friend Irena, but honestly, it was never at my initiation. I'm so grateful to her for getting the Church back onto my radar screen. As an undergraduate, I had attended Mass regularly, including daily Mass, but I just fell away from that closeness, because it just really had not taken root.

In the fall of my second year in law school (after a summer in which I seriously examined my goals in life and wondered whether I should continue my studies in that particular field, as I didn't like it very much) I went through a particularly painful couple of months. I was unhappy, I wasn't acting like myself, and I was making bad choices. One Saturday in late November, Irena and I ventured to Barnes & Noble - we're both readers, so we easily spent an afternoon browsing, and then bringing our prizes up to the cafe to examine over tea and scones. I was browsing away, and happened upon the religion section. Because this was a giant Barnes & Noble, their religion section was so large it actually had it's own Catholic subdivision, something I've never seen at any other branch I've been to. I started looking at a few titles...

Thirty minutes later, I limped up to the cafe weighed down with close to ten books. I was particularly taken with a title that focused on Marian apparitions. In high school and college, my family had come back to the faith via a prayer group that was inspired by a particular Marian apparition. It evoked a deep emotion in me that I hadn't felt in quite some time, and I bought the book. I also picked up a title about the history of the Church and a memoir about the lives of a group of men studying for the priesthood - a book I still love to this day and re-read every couple of years called The New Men, by Brian Murphy.

The following Monday, I was in class and contemplating whether I should check out the daily student Mass held in the campus chapel that I had seen a sign for. I remember thinking it over, knowing it would mean putting lunch off for another half hour as well as having to be around people I didn't know - all that introvert anxiety stuff. After class, I hovered near the building exit, trying to make up my mind...and I went. And my life has never been the same.

You're probably wondering what the heck Advent has to do with any of this, right? :) Well, I went home that day and turned on the tv. As I flipped, I passed by EWTN. It was the first week of Advent, and in the corner of the screen, they had placed a little Advent wreath icon with one of the candles burning. I don't know why that had such an effect on me, but it did. I kept turning the tv on to EWTN just to glimpse that little icon. Something about it evoked a childlike openness to reexamine my childhood faith in fuller detail; and I've been an EWTN devotee ever since :)

That was 11 years ago this Advent. Holy S*!@, that makes me feel old :) Ah well. After that Advent, I often got my hot little hands on an Advent devotional, and since I was then attending Sunday Mass, I looked forward to Advent homilies focusing on the season. My Confirmation saint is St. Cecelia, whose feast day is in November, and whom I've blogged about in the past. This November, I've been thinking alot about my grandmother, who passed away this summer, and whose name I wrote in our parish's book of names, in honor of the Feast of All Souls. November is a pretty big installment in my faith life each year.

Now that I have a child, Advent has inspired a creative kick in me that I'm really enjoying. This year, the Catholic Librarian's home will feature:

1.) Two Advent calendars. One is a chocolate Advent calendar that Henry drools over every year. Each day, the child opens a window to reveal a seasonal piece of chocolate. This is the secular installment to our Advent traditions :) The other is a beautiful wood Advent calendar that I received from the Catholic Company. Each day, Hank and I will open one of the boxes and take out a tiny ornament to hang on the featured nativity scene.

2.) Advent wreaths. We have a traditional, plain Advent wreath with taper candles, very much like the one in the picture at the top of this post. We light the candle(s) each Sunday evening between dinner and bedtime. The other is a special child's felt Advent wreath that I got for Hank this year. It's *adorable*. He can velcro the appropriate candle on each week.

3.) The Giving Tree. Our parish is going to featuring a giving tree, starting on Thanksgiving. Hank and I can go up and select an ornament detailing a child in need that we can buy a Christmas gift for. I'm going to have him assist in selecting a gift, and we can wrap it together so that he can place it under the tree at church. I want to start some lessons on charity and gratitude with him.

4.) Nativity scene. I have a small nativity scene I add to our dining room buffet each year, but Hank has the Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set, and we're going to set it up this Sunday. It's a really nice set, and my friend Sarah bought him a bunch of cool add-ons, like the three wise men and some extra shephards and animals.

5.) Advent devotional. This one, I still haven't finalized. I do have the In Conversation with God volume for Advent and Christmas, so I can use that for myself. I may stop at my local Catholic store to see if I can find anything that would be appropriate for Hank and I to read together.

So, I'm very excited :) I'm looking forward to truly sharing the season with Henry this year. Life is good...

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