Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent Reflections, Part 1: Chastity and Waiting


Happy Advent!  I love, love, love this season for its sense of anticipation, and of course, I love its culmination in our Savior's birth!  During my engagement, I can remember feeling so many similarities between preparing for Christmas and preparing for marriage--both are times of waiting, both can overwhelm you now and then, and both end in a gift of purest love.

There's a passage from Romans that I love.  "We know," says Saint Paul, "all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved..." (8:22-24).  At first glance, it might not seem like the sunniest verse (hello, he's talking about labor), but I can identify so deeply with the sense of longing that Paul expresses.

In the last few years, I've been incredibly blessed to develop a more in-depth understanding of the Theology of the Body.  Attending a TOB retreat taught by Christopher West himself was such a gift to me.  The retreat consisted of a 30-hour course entitled "Head and Heart Immersion," and I don't think it could be titled more aptly.  During the retreat, I learned so much about the Theology of the Body beyond my very basic understanding, which certainly satisfied the "head" aspect, but it's been letting all that knowledge sink into me that's borne such amazing fruit.

The best thing I took away from the course was a greater awareness of the longings we all feel and what they indicate.  Do you ever experience an ache so deep, for love or for belonging or for Heaven, that you can barely keep it together?  Those are our labor pains; our desire for adoption as God's children.  Everyone feels it, and when I consider the Ache in light of TOB, it makes so much sense.  Of course we long for perfect love, long for something more, because it's what we're meant for.  We're restless, just like Augustine says, because we won't rest completely until this life ends and our heavenly one begins.  Every fulfillment on earth is just a taste of how the Father satisfies.  It's something I love to think about, and I notice it everywhere, especially in music (Mumford and Son's "Awake My Soul?'  King's of Leon's "Use Somebody?"  My favorite, Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes?"  Even Taylor Swift's "Love Story?"  In the lyrics and vocals, you can hear them aching!).

I remember so clearly the particular aches of engagement.  Every vocation brings the greatest fulfillment on earth to those whom it calls, but to me it seems that marriage does so in the most tangible way.  Specifically, the love, forgiveness, and affirmation of your spouse has the power to bear the Father's love to us in such a real way--through another human being, body and soul.  I so badly wanted physical proximity to Andrew while we dated long-distance, wanted to know what my life in a new town, in a new role as a wife, would be like, and wanted every part of a shared life.  I'm sure I wasn't the only one.  Having a chaste relationship was such a struggle sometimes.  Lying in wait, full of longing...sounds like a season of Advent to me.  Grace and mercy will carry you through.

Know this: that every desire you feel for your husband-to-be, emotional, rational, and yes, sexual, is so good and so holy.  Chastity isn't about suppressing our desires, but orienting them in the right, most loving way at the right time.  Abstinence ends in marriage (with the exception of periodic abstinence when practicing NFP), but chastity doesn't.  All through your Advent, embrace the groaning.  Give yourself permission to feel, to hope, and to be purified.

"In hope we were saved."  Jesus' birth brings a thrill of hope; our ultimate hope, the perfect fulfillment of our desires, and new life.

I hope your first week of Advent is full of grace.  Also, I'd love to start a few little traditions for the season, starting with a wreath, now that Andrew and I are our own little family (as in, just the two of us for now; this is not a baby announcement!)--what are yours?

P.S. The photo at the top is of a wonderful Nativity sculpture on my college campus--don't you love how peaceful Our Lady looks lying next to her son, and what a protector Joseph is?

13 comments:

  1. Joe and I will have our third married Christmas this year. The first was in Jamaica on our honeymoon and last year's was our more traditional one.

    Our traditions thus far:
    Setting up the Christmas tree on the First Sunday of Advent. I know it's kind of early, but we keep it up through Epiphany and there's something about having this beautiful, live, wonderful-smelling tree in our home that creates peace, anticipation. It's a focal point for my quiet moments.

    As is ... the Advent wreath! Also set up on the First Sunday of Advent. And the creche set (sans Baby Jesus - he's in hiding till Christmas Day).

    Also, I found a Hanukkah menorah last year, and we lit the right number of candles each day and said some prayers out of a book for Messianic Jews (http://www.amazon.com/Dedicate-Celebrate-Messianic-Jewish-Hanukkah/dp/1880226839/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1354553537&sr=1-1&keywords=Dedicate+and+Celebrate%21%3A+A+Messianic+Jewish+Guide+to+Hanukkah). I enjoyed learning a bit more about the celebration, and also making and eating latkes. They are so easy, and pretty tasty as well.

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    1. Love, love, love all your traditions! We set up our tree this Sunday, too, and spent the day making our first Advent wreath and some ornaments. I can't wait to get a Nativity set!

      The Hanukkah prayers sound so neat--thanks for sharing! My friends and I made latkes and played dreidl one year in college, but we never looked as much into the spiritual aspects; I'll have to do some investigating!

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  2. What a thoughtful, beautiful post!

    I've never connected the longing of engagement to the longing of Advent (even though I was an Advent bride!), but you are so astute to point out the similarities! The bride-to-be longs for her groom just like we, the Church, long for the coming of Christ. I love it!

    (Also, life goal: have a Christmas baby. How awesome would it be to go through pregnancy with Mary during Advent? Woah.)

    Love the blog!

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    1. Thanks so much, Erica! Ohh, I would love to have an Advent pregnancy, too! I'm sure that's the closest (closest as in still so, so far off) I'll ever get to uniting myself with Our Lady =)

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    2. Have you ever heard of Total Consecration to Mary? Total Consecration to Mary, explains St. Louis, "consists in surrendering oneself in the manner of a slave to Mary, and to Jesus through her, and then performing all our actions with Mary, in Mary, through Mary, and for Mary". It is also known as "True Devotion to Mary," "Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary," and "Holy Slavery."

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    3. I made St. Maximillian Kolbe's consecration to Our Lady my freshman year of college, but I've always meant to read some of de Montfort's writing, especially True Devotion. Thanks for the recommendation, Mike!

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    4. I have not read it yet, but Father Michael Gaitley, director of the Assocation of Marian Helpers, has a book called 33 Days to Morning Glory that sounds awesome. He summarizes the teachings of the four giants of Marian Spirituality - St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Blessed Pope John Paul II

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    5. Holy smokes, that does sound awesome. Thanks!

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  3. Beautiful! I'm so glad that you got to attend a course with TOBI. You must have gone either before or after I was interning there. I know for myself I gained a lot of healing through it.

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    1. You're right; there is so, so much healing to be found. I had no idea you interned with them! I bet we know a lot of the same people besides Dave! I went on the course in Spring of 2011.

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  4. Thank you for this beautiful post! It spoke right to me and . I commented a couple weeks back asking how you might recommend dealing with the STRESS of engagement, particularly for lost distance couples, but deleted it because it was kind of embarrassed by it! I'm blessed to be in grad school and I'll be taking a Theology of the Body course next semester. I'm looking forward to learning more. I will continue praying and asking for the grace to grow more in love with Christ and my fiance during this blessed time of Advent!

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    1. Hi Mary! Nope, not embarrassing at all...I can definitely identify with your wedding-planning stress, and my husband and I had a long-distance engagement, too. I'm sure we aren't the only two to have felt that way! I think it's a great idea for a future post.

      What a gift that you get to take a TOB course soon; that's so exciting! Know that I'll be praying for you and your fiance!

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    2. Mary, I hope you enjoy today's post on dealing with stress!

      http://captivetheheart.blogspot.com/2012/12/advent-reflections-part-2-sacred-silence.html

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