The priest at St. Dominic’s a couple of weeks ago observed that Advent is a penitential season and never have I felt the truth of that more keenly. In particular, I refer to the penance of bearing with my own shortcomings, chief among them trying to be all things to all people and sometimes ending up not being very much to myself or others. In order to be the right kind of martyr (which means “witness”), you have to stop being the wrong kind of martyr and I, for one, constantly have to discern between stretching myself as far as I can go, which I believe we are called to do, and contorting myself, which I don’t think we’re called to do.
This has everything to do with the suffering of the world at large. Because we are called to love one another as he loved us, and Christ himself was always but always the right kind of martyr and never but never the wrong kind. He frequently told people who wanted to follow him, No, go along back home, you’ll bear more fruit there. He frequently ducked away from the crowds to go to a lonely place to pray. My spiritual director tells me “You are never the person of last resort,” and that is as sure a guide to “being of service” as I can imagine.
With all that, I have not, thank the Lord, "overdone" Christmas. My holiday activities to date have comprised a Messiah sing-along, a tamale-making party, and a play—an experience, really—called Bob’s Holiday Office Party. Other than that, I have steeped myself in Advent liturgy and prayer, trudged in the dark and the cold to Mass, and spent large parts it seems of every night awake on my bed , pondering the birth of Christ.
Wednesday afternoon I’m going to my friend Julia’s for tea and cookies, Christmas day I’m cooking for my friends, and other than that, I intend to spend the Fourth Week of Advent in as much silence and solitude as I can muster.
The Holy Family was born into darkness and exile and so—though we are called as well to joy—it remains. I can never thank you all enough for the light you bring to me.