Friday, December 17, 2021

December 2021

My Dear Graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,

What I am about to tell you is crazy. I mean it. On a scale of one to ten, this is about a seven or eight in craziness. The only reason it ranks at seven or eight and not ten is because it is not philosophically or theologically crazy. But, on a practical level, it is really crazy. Read on to see why.

When I was growing up, there were no Christmas decorations in our house until after all of us children had gone to bed on Christmas Eve. You read that correctly. No Christmas decorations. We had strung the trees with lights, hung up a wreath, and even illuminated the wreath with a flood light --but that was all on the outside. But, inside, nothing. Oh, for Christmas Eve dinner, my Mom set the table with a Christmas tablecloth, red candles, and a yuletide centerpiece. Other than that, however, there was nothing.

The next morning, when my three siblings and I awoke, Christmas had arrived: the Christmas tree, decorated with heirloom glass ornaments and draped with hundreds of strands of tinsel; the evergreen roping on the banister; the stockings over the fireplace; the eclectic train set circling the base of the tree; scores of presents wrapped with holly wrapping paper and bright red bows; and, of course, the Fontanini Nativity creche passed down from my paternal grandparents. It was enchanting, and Santa Claus had done it all. Somehow, through the miracle of Christmas, Santa had been able to work his overnight Christmas magic in our home and in millions of households around the globe.

Or so we thought. Later, as we grew older, we realized that my parents transformed our house
overnight. They also hosted the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner of the seven fishes, attended
Christmas Midnight Mass, and returned home for juice and breakfast pastries before turning into bed
for little more than four hours of sleep. (By the way, the secret for getting this seemingly unimaginable
amount of work done was to impress all the Christmas Eve guests into service once we had all gone to

My parents were devoted, that’s for sure, and maybe even a little bit crazy. But they were determined to make Christmas morning special for us, and that they did. Crazy. Crazy in love. (My younger proofreaders and editors alerted me that “Crazy in Love” is the title of a popular 2003 release by the pop star BeyoncĂ©. Who knew? Well, obviously, I didn’t, but I am guessing that some of you do.)

Crazy in love. That’s a phrase that aptly describes our Heavenly Parent -- our Heavenly Father -- as well. So crazy in love that He sent His only begotten Son to become one of us, to walk among us, to
die for the remission of our sins, and to heal the breach between God and man. On a scale of one to
ten, that’s a crazy eleven.

My parents’ crazy Christmas Eve tradition not only taught us something about Christmas; it also
taught us something about Advent. You see, Advent is about waiting, about waiting for something
stupendous that is on its way but not yet here. This waiting, this expectancy, is precisely what the
liturgical season of Advent draws us into. We await the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel. We
await the coming of the Savior. We watch for the long-awaited Messiah.

Advent, of course, is more than a liturgical season reminding us about the long period of waiting so
poetically described by Isaiah and the prophets and fulfilled in history by the birth of the Messiah in
Bethlehem. Advent is also about the very real waiting that we experience in our own lives. Advent
draws us into the mystery of not-yet-fulfilled longings. It corresponds with our lived experience that
God is indeed among us, but oftentimes, to be candid, we experience His absence more than His

Advent is about expectancy. In some regards, it resembles the expectancy of little children as they
wait for Christmas morning and all the splendid, exciting, telltale signs of Santa’s visitation the night
before. But Advent expectancy is more complicated than that, just as adulthood is way more
complicated that childhood.

Expectancy. That word summarizes a good part of our adult lives. Even when we have achieved
much -- a fulfilling career, a happy marriage, a meaningful family life -- we are always looking for
more. And for some, setbacks in our careers; strains in our relationships; and problems in our families
-- problems big and small -- haunt us for many years, rendering the dream of personal happiness more
elusive than we would like. 

Perhaps we want a connection with the Lord, but we find ourselves distant
from the Church, or unable to sustain a meaningful prayer life, or perhaps disappointed with both
ourselves and God. In so many areas of our lives, we have tasted some success but experience as well
disappointment, struggle, stress, and emptiness. The promises of God. They have been fulfilled
already -- partially. But completely? Not yet. It was this duality -- this dynamic tension between
fulfillment and disappointment -- that led St. Augustine of Hippo to observe, “You have made us for
Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

Advent is a time to embrace that restlessness, that expectancy. It is in this expectancy that we find
God. It is in this waiting that we slowly come to realize our true happiness and look to heaven as our
true home. We know that today’s joys are a foretaste of the joys of heaven. And we know that today’s
disappointments are an intimation that there is something more. “You have made us for Yourself, O
Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

At the end of the day, I’m not advising that you wait until Christmas Eve to put up the Christmas
tree and hang the Christmas stockings. (As an interesting sidebar, I learned just the other day from one
of my students that it’s part of the Filipino culture to put up the Christmas tree shortly after Halloween.)
Here’s what I am suggesting: Embrace expectancy. Embrace Advent, because it provides us with a
poignant parallel to our own experience of already/not yet. We already know the enormous love that
our God has for us. But we live in a fallen world; not infrequently, our human experience falls short of
the divine reality. Advent gives us the hope, however, that the best is yet to come. Advent is the faith
that eye has not seen, and ear has not heard what our crazy-in-love God has in store for us. Advent is
the necessary precursor to Christmas. If we embrace our expectancy in faith and trust, we will surely
find the Christ Child, God’s only son, who seeks us with all of His heart.

On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,

Bro. Stephen