Oh, glorious third week of Advent! Where did you come from? How did you get here? I STILL HAVE A WHOLE LIST OF THINGS TO DO!
Oh, Advent, you are the bane of my existence. How is it that I fail, seemingly before I even start? How is it that I cannot manage even the simplest of Advent devotions, the easiest of Advent family activities, the most basic of Advent observations?
And yet, here we are. We’re on the pink candle of the wreath that I haven’t even found yet.
But that pink candle is Gaudete, “rejoice.” It seems ill-suited for my frame of mind this year (and, if I’m honest, most years). The kids know this means we’ll probably finally decorate, and my husband knows this is when we get down to the brass tacks of finally finishing the shopping.
Soon, it will be over. Another Advent in the books. And I’ll think (loudly), “Thank you, Jesus,” and the dripping sarcasm will be countered by the real relief I have that not only have I survived, but somehow there’s a seed of something in me.
What is that?
This year especially, I find that Advent is a theory. I’ve faced some challenges that were both unexpected and different from years past — change in job situation, different (and more) outside activities for my kids. I’ve clung to my morning rosary like the lifeline it is, but the Advent wreath is safely tucked into the closet and my four-year-old is completely unaware that this is anything other than the Christmas season.
And you know what? That’s okay
There’s a temptation for many of us to see failure and to run from it. We want things to be right and as close to perfect as possible. Perfect is things done, things right, things as expected.
Perfect is not reality, not even close.
Turning to Mary in the Rosary
As I pray my rosary each morning, trying to pay attention — and failing there, too — I find myself journeying through Advent with Mary in a way that’s uncomfortable. “I should have time — make time — for more,” I can’t help but groan. “It’s Advent. I’m failing my kids, I’m failing myself. I’m failing, failing, failing.”
And Mary, holding my hand ever so gently, reminds me that it’s not easy. She smiles at me and points out that failure isn’t the end of the world and may, in fact, be the point of growth I need to help my family to heaven. It may be just the ticket to my own salvation.
The Joyful Mysteries are perfect this time of year, but it’s been in the Sorrowful Mysteries that I find myself most reflective in this season — this Advent — of perceived failure. In the Garden of Gethsemane, I hear Jesus ask to have the cup of suffering pass him by. He didn’t want the hard thing. He wasn’t looking forward to what was ahead. He didn’t not ask. And Mary reminds me, as I pray and consider, that the suffering isn’t the enemy. She shows me, through her Son, that there is strength in me, that there is hope ahead, that there the suffering is not the end.
And this week, I need that. I need to feel that comforting hand on my shoulder as I try to just live in the moment, not worrying about what needs done, not fretting about the shopping days left.
Christmas comes. Time passes. The baby is born, whether we’re ready or not. We are not human doings, and the presents we most need — to give and to receive — is our presence.
The Advent of Scourging
In the second Sorrowful Mystery, I find myself torn: Am I scourged myself, with the demands I place on myself and the expectations I’ve set for this season of waiting and preparation? Or, rather, am I standing by Mary, watching my dearly beloved carry the heavy burden and not quite die under the infliction it places upon him?
Advent isn’t an easy season for so many, and here I sit, moaning and bewailing my own lack of preparation, my full life and First World problems. Who do I know who has lost a loved one this year? Who is facing a financial crisis? Who is just lonely and depressed? Mary gently urges me to turn my attention away from myself and my “failings,” turning me toward the real purpose of Advent. It’s not about me. It never was, it never has been, it never will be.
It’s about a baby in a manger, and it’s about why he came.
Finding Advent and Thorns
My rosary lands next on the Crowning with Thorns, that mocking and painful event that stands in stark contrast to the gifts the Magi bring the infant Jesus. As a child, he received the most expansive gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh. They told a story of his divinity, of his kingship, of his importance.
And yet, here we find him crowned, not with jewels and gold but with thorns that dug into his skull. Pain on pain, so many levels of suffering and shame. What was it like to watch that? What was it like to know who Jesus was and to stand there, helplessly? What did Mary pray? How did she turn to God in that moment?
And what does this mean for my limping Advent? Does it point me to the ways I may — inadvertently, unconsciously — mock the season, belittle its meaning, give up before I get started? Does it remind me that even here, in the third week of Advent, it’s not over yet?
Because it’s not. Christmas is still X days away. And Christmas isn’t about all the things that need done — and I can live that reality. I can. I CAN.
Maybe this means I’m sliding into the next mystery without even noticing, thinking of getting to Christmas as a cross I must carry, as a burden I bear, as a challenge to face. Could it be that I’ve turned Gaudete into Poor Busy Me?
The Worst Part of Advent at the End of the Sorrowful Mysteries
As Jesus carries his cross in the fourth Sorrowful Mystery, there’s a part of me that, truthfully, is blocking it out. I don’t want to think about the grit and grime and pain of it. I don’t want to picture Mary following on the sidelines, dying inside, experiencing it and embracing it.
This. Is. Not. Easy.
Did she just smile at me across the crowded way, over Jesus’s cross-carrying shoulders? “It’s NOT easy,” she nods. “No one ever said it would be.”
From her, this doesn’t seem a reproach, and I don’t feel the sarcastic triumph those words would carry from other voices. From her, there’s encouragement in that reminder. From her, there’s the reality that we were not made for this. Growing toward what we are made for involves pain.
Advent, though it can be a cross (and often feels like it, if I’m honest), is here to get me ready. It’s here as a training ground, because the excitement and celebration of Christmas is a whole season.
The cross leads to Golgotha, and there the unthinkable happens: God dies. And we did it.
Reflecting on this fifth and final Sorrowful Mystery, how can I not be horrified? He was just born. We’re here to celebrate him. What is going on?
And it is there, in the moment of mass confusion, when the reality strikes me and Mary smiles understandingly though the ages and beads. He is born to die. And so are we all.
I’m no Jesus. I’m no Mary. And yet, they are here for me. They remain with me, walking not just in the joy and not just in the midst of sorrow, but always.
It is here, in the Sorrowful Mysteries, in this habit I’ve struggled with for years — of praying the rosary, mostly badly and mostly daily — that I find the redemption of my failed Advent.
“Is it really a failure?” Mary whispers. “Or is it that you are so caught up in what you expect and what you want that you can’t see what my son really wants for this time, for you, for your family?”
As usual, Mama has my back. As usual, I have much to learn. As usual, my Advent failures are part of the path to heaven.
A Short List of Ideas
How might you turn to Mary in these final days of Advent? I can’t help but put together a list, a reminder to myself as much as anything. Here are some ways to turn to Mary in the waning days of Advent.
- Pray the rosary, and whether you pray it slowly or distractedly, just commit to it — or to as much of it as you can.
- Pause at noon and pray the Angelus. It’s three little versicle/antiphons and three Hail Marys, with a closing prayer. The break in your day will give you a boost, whether you feel it or not.
- At bedtime, stop and turn to Mary with a Memorare or Hail Mary. It’s a one-minute commitment that will bless the end of your day and leave you closer to Jesus in the meantime.
Choosing the Joy
Joy is a choice, an opportunity we have. It’s not a happy-slappy feeling, despite what the holiday songs would have you believe.
And therein lies some of the cognitive dissonance I can’t be alone in experiencing this time of year.
Whether you’re with me or wondering what planet I inhabit, let’s pray for each other. Let’s grip our rosaries and let Mama Mary guide us closer to her Son, wherever we may find him, in the manger or at the cross.