As a self-described melancholic temperament, I am not a naturally joyful person. In fact, I’ve struggled with discovering joy my entire life, mostly because I battle negative thinking and impossibly high expectations (which are never met, of course). Life always has a way of disappointing, or at least that was how I was inclined to believe for so long.
This Advent, I am learning about expectant faith – the spiritual pregnancy, or pause, that happens to coincide with a very special gift I’ve been given, a third baby.
Ben and I have been longing and praying for another child for a very long time, and recently I had come to the conclusion that we likely wouldn’t have another biological child. Yet as we prayed together, we didn’t feel a strong call to adoption. So we waited.
Waiting can be very painful for a number of reasons, but mainly because we cannot see what God is doing in our lives. Advent reminds us of the beauty and the opportunity that may be hidden in periods of latency or even rest, seasons of life that offer us more than the busyness of our modern culture.
Now that I am joyfully carrying another baby – an unexpected, but very welcome, gift – I have pondered more on how the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary provide great spiritual insight for all of us as we journey through Advent with that expectant faith, that joyful hope, that pregnant pause.
1. The Annunciation: Growing in Humility
Many saints eloquently explained in one way or another that humility is often born of humiliation. The times in our lives when we feel most broken and helpless are often opportunities for us to become humble, that is, small. Only when we acknowledge our weaknesses and become empty can God fill us with Himself.
Advent prepares us to welcome Jesus in our hearts, so that He may be born in and through us. If only we would consider our souls as sanctuaries that house a beautiful tabernacle where Jesus can dwell in us, then the humility of Our Lady would become our fruitful and prevailing prayer, not just during Advent, but every day.
Let us give God our “fiat” with the expectation that He will give us the gift of Himself this Christmas.
2. The Visitation: Growing in Charity
We all know that Advent is a season of generosity, and we interpret that to mean giving to various charities or placing some coins in a Salvation Army bucket on our way out of retail stores. While these are certainly good acts, they are not enough. Charity is more than giving extra money to those in need during two liturgical seasons, Advent and Lent.
St. Teresa of Calcutta famously said, “We must do small acts with great love.” Perhaps charity for most of us involves those dreaded, menial tasks of everyday life – but offering them to God in love. As a mother of two girls with special needs, charity includes wiping noses and faces, dealing with whining and crying, feeding hungry mouths, quelling impatience with calm responses, among other rather undesirable but necessary activities.
When we choose to live charitably, joy inevitably follows. Think of the generosity that the Blessed Mother exhibited when she “went in haste” to visit her cousin, Elizabeth after discovering that Elizabeth was with child. Both women were pregnant, but they both rejoiced at the sight of the other. Even St. John the Baptist leapt with expectation when he recognized the presence of the Messiah in Mary’s womb. So must we eagerly await the fulfillment of God’s promises in our own lives by giving more than we take, and doing hidden acts of love every day.
3. The Nativity: Growing in Evangelical Poverty
Nothing moves me as deeply as worshiping the Infant Jesus. As a mother, I know how vulnerable babies are, how they are totally dependent on adults to care for their every need, how they have no pretenses or walls. The first year I was a new mother, this particularly hit me hard. I’d heard the Christmas story hundreds of times in my lifetime, yet somehow the poverty into which Jesus was born – God-made-flesh as a little baby – became a reality.
What does it mean for us to grow in the virtue of poverty? For some, this is a vowed way of living, especially as a religious brother, sister, or priest. But for those of us who are of the laity, how can poverty become more manifested in our lives this Advent and beyond? For our family, poverty includes simplifying. It’s a sort of house cleaning – both literally and figuratively – in which we periodically rid of the excess we’ve somehow accumulated over time.
Interior poverty can be far more difficult to achieve than merely organizing our homes. In fact, it requires radical detachment from worldly things, which is why the members of our family always begin by getting rid of stuff. When we do this, we are spiritually liberated in a sense, because we begin to see more clearly what should occupy the space in which we live and the time we spend. Sometimes exterior detachment is the greatest means by which we can interiorly detach from all that detracts us from living as the Infant Jesus did – peacefully, unpretentiously, fully alive and fully dependent on His Mother, foster father, and heavenly Father for all things.
4. The Presentation: Growing in Sacrifice
Our daughters understand sacrifice to mean giving something up or doing a little something extra. In their case, that usually involves helping mom make lunch or dinner without being asked, doing an extra chore cheerfully and willingly, or allowing a sibling to play with a beloved toy. St. Thomas Aquinas described sacrifice in terms of mortification, or doing that which is “difficult and arduous.”
We must think of this not only during Advent, but always. Am I really mortifying myself? True mortification means dying to oneself, which means our senses are often in agony. We don’t give in to what’s comfortable or easy; instead, we choose what is “difficult and arduous.” This doesn’t necessarily mean we have to wear a hair shirt or flog ourselves as some saints were called to do, but mortification can include fasting (from food, television, gaming, the internet, etc.) and other means of placing “the Spirit above the flesh.”
5. The Finding of Jesus in the Temple: Growing in Wisdom
As we follow Jesus from His infancy to adolescence, we are met with the question He asked his parents: “Did you not know I would be in my Father’s house?” It’s ironic and yet entirely appropriate that Advent forces us to slow down and contemplate – to enter into the cell of our hearts and spend more time with God in His house – during the most frenzied part of the calendar year.
I love how Advent begins a new liturgical year, because it reminds us that we are actually starting anew sooner than January 1st. We’re given this incredible gift of tossing our old habits aside, refraining from the “anxieties of daily life” and worldly affairs, and learning to grow in wisdom instead.
Bishop Fulton Sheen once said that “wisdom is born of suffering.” Do we consider Advent to be a time of suffering in our lives? Most of us don’t. It’s a season of joy and hope, but what’s beautiful is that the suffering of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and Magi, were hidden but present during the Incarnation.
Our suffering, too, leads us to the manger and ultimately to the Cross. What we learn through the school of suffering allows us to understand spiritual truths that may not be evident to us otherwise. And then we can truly go out and live the beauty of Advent every day.