BY Rebecca Rigg | November 29 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

Advent, a season of joyful expectation before Christmas, begins Nov. 29 this year. The Advent wreath, with a candle marking each week of the season, is a traditional symbol of the liturgical period. (CNS photo/Lisa A. Johnston, St. Louis Review)

There is value in slowing down this Advent to notice the coming of Christ

By Fr Jamie McMorrin

During my time in the seminary, the fridge in the student common room had a remarkable collection of magnets: souvenirs from day trips, weekend breaks and summer holidays. The tackier the better, was the rule of thumb. A crab with wobbly legs, picked up in Amalfi, was a particular favourite of mine.

There was another one that stands out in my memory at this time of year. It depicted not a brightly coloured crustacean but our Lord and Saviour Himself. He wore a rather stern expression on His face, and had the accompanying caption: “Jesus is Coming: Look Busy!”

Busyness

I don’t think it had been placed there by the formation staff as a pithy motto for priestly life. But yet ‘looking busy,’ perhaps especially in the season of preparation for the Lord’s coming, is something we all end up doing, whether we like it or not.

For most of us, it’s not an illusion: we really are busy at this time of year. And people know it. With a forgiving, sympathetic smile they acknowledge that this is ‘coming up to your busy time, father.’ Even my mum, in town on a Christmas shopping trip, prefaced an invitation to lunch with the get-out clause: ‘I know you’re probably too busy but…’ As it happens, I was.

We’re not the only ones for whom this time of year feels a little bit like being on a merry-go-round spinning at break-neck speed. But I wonder if busyness can be a particular problem for priests and a real barrier to our ministry. So often people hesitate to approach us out of fear of adding another burden to our schedule. Our friends and families stop including us in invitations because, like my mum, they know what the answer will almost certainly be.

Time-consuming

It’s true that there are many time-consuming tasks carried out by priests that definitely don’t require the Sacrament of Holy Orders for their effective completion. Sometimes quite the contrary, I know that there are lots of jobs for which I lack the aptitude and the training that I muddle incompetently through without asking for help.

Even the work of ministry could be better shared with the gifted lay faithful, who are often only waiting to be asked. I also know that I, at least, could improve on scheduling and prioritising and making more time available for the things that really matter. I could learn to say ‘no’ to some requests so as to do well the things to which I really feel called.

I think, in admiring envy, of the chaplain to the Polish community here in Edinburgh who has a regular ‘surgery’ every day. His people know that if they want to speak to him, they can dependably find him in the church for an hour every morning and an hour every evening: same time, same place, right down to the pew he usually sits in.

During this time, he hears confessions, arranges baptisms and weddings and meets informally with people who want to talk. If no one comes, he sits quietly and talks to the Lord.

Responsibility

But that’s not exactly what I mean. I think that there is an attitude to the unavoidable busy-ness that I could learn to cultivate.

One of my spiritual directors in the seminary modelled this well. He was an exceptionally busy man, and occupied a position of great responsibility. But I only realised this after many years. He made a slot for me every time I asked to meet. And he never once rushed late into our appointments with breathless apologies and an appointments diary overflowing with post-it notes. He never complained about how many e-mails he received, how little sleep he got last night and I’m fairly certain he didn’t snap impatiently at his colleagues as he left the office to meet me.

Maybe my resolution this Advent, as we begin our preparations for the Lord’s coming, would be to ignore the advice of the seminary fridge and try hard not to look busy.

Task at hand

I could try to ‘waste time’ with the people I’m called to serve, beginning with the Lord Himself. I could follow that old piece of spiritual wisdom, ‘age quod agis’ which translates roughly as ‘focus on the task at hand,’ and do it to the best of my ability. I’m sure I could try to smile more, that most difficult of penances in moments of stress.

Advent is a wonderful season, rich in spiritual significance and full of opportunities to grow in holiness. It would be a shame if, once again, I was too busy to notice that the coming Lord is already here in our midst, speaking to us in the Scriptures, truly present in the Sacraments and disguised in our brothers and sisters in need of our help.

Come, let us adore him!

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