A lit candle is seen on a wreath for the first Sunday of Advent in this illustration photo. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The Best Advent Ever

Embracing patience and humble reverence

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Bonnar (new)When I was a kid, I remember an article that would periodically appear in the local newspaper. The title of the article was, “Whatever became of …?” The article would ask what became of a certain person, place or thing. It is only human, I suppose, to wonder about someone or something we have not seen in a long time.

With the holy season of Advent, we begin a new liturgical year, and we enter an intentional time of quiet wonder and eager longing for the coming of Jesus Christ. As you stand on the threshold of this wonderful time, what do you find yourself wondering about? I don’t know about you, but I find myself wondering, even after 61 Advent experiences, how I can stand up to the demands and expectations of this time with all its distractions and hustle and bustle and make this truly a time of joyous wonder and eager longing. In other words, I wonder how I can make this Advent the best ever.

In my prayerful wonder of this time, I find myself looking into the mirror and asking myself, “Whatever became of patience?” The saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day,” and yet I want things done yesterday. It does not help that the world creates this illusion that everything can happen instantly, without waiting. Fast food. Quick oil change. Instant messaging. Immediate check out. But there are no quick fixes or instants when it comes to the spiritual life and spiritual journey, despite what the world says. Instead of asking, “Are we there yet?” we need to simply embrace the mystery of waiting and patiently live in the moment. I am speaking to myself here, but perhaps it applies to you. The journey, with all its twists, turns and surprises, can be just as exciting as reaching the destination. But every journey contains elements of waiting, which often yield frustration and even sin.

Why is it so hard for us to wait? Why is patience so easy to lose? I believe that the answer is in the mirror. I have found that, when I am impatient about someone or something, it inevitably goes back to a gnawing impatience with something about myself that I tend to disregard or ignore. I suppose it is much easier to see the splinter in my neighbor’s eye than the beam in my own eye. The beauty of our personal private prayer is that it enables us to be still and acknowledge our impatience before God. Moreover, prayer becomes a great exercise in waiting patiently. In prayer, we echo the words of the psalmist: “I wait for the LORD, / my soul waits / and I hope for his word. / My soul looks for the Lord / more than sentinels for daybreak” (Ps 130:5-6).

Our prayer falls short without reverence. In our busy haste, the reverence in our prayer can become diminished or even lost. And so, I ask myself, “Whatever became of reverence?” Reverence is often defined as deep respect for someone or something. The word respect means, essentially, “to look again.” In other words, reverence is a long-extended gaze. Busyness, fatigue, preoccupation and sheer repetition can compromise this look and make reverence simply an empty motion rather than an expression of profound respect.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, we see that the prayer of the great high priest was “heard because of his reverence” (5:7). As we begin this new liturgical season, perhaps we might want to, in our preparations for holy Mass and the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours and celebration of penance as priest and penitent, intentionally pray for the graces of patience and reverence.

The wonder of prayer hinges on the keys of patience and reverence. The holy season of Advent is an opportune time to hit the reset on patience and reverence in our prayer. If we aspire to be more patient and reverent in our prayer, imagine the impact this can have on how we view others, not to mention ourselves. The waiting and watching of our prayer can become seeds of joy, hope and peace for the whole world. I wish you the best Advent ever with overflowing patience and humble reverence! 

BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.

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