The beauty of waiting and a time for preparation

The Church year ended a week ago, with the celebration of Christ the King. The end was marked by the celebration of youngsters receiving First Holy Communion in our parish. This reminded me of the day when I had my First Holy Communion. All our eyes watched the youngsters who were dressed up beautifully as they lined up to receive Christ Our Lord for the first time. The youngsters were truly excited and overjoyed by the event – as were their families. Who wouldn’t be happy on such a special occasion?

The Church’s calendar is, in many ways, profound as we start a new year this Sunday with the liturgical season called ‘Advent’. What is important about this season? It is a time of spiritual preparation which is marked by eager waiting and longing for the Lord. The beautiful culture of ‘waiting’ in preparation is one that we experience in family life as we await milestones – like First Holy Communions! In the early days before the birth of technology, letters were written and people made personal visits to others to pass on messages. They would write to those relatives and friends who were far away, letting them know of the good news – the bundle of joy, for example, whose birth they awaited. During times of waiting different cultures perform different rituals, the Church too has rituals in Advent. Can you notice what is different this week at mass, something that signals this season of waiting has begun?

The thought of looking through names for an expected baby is important. People ask what name they should give a baby and what the significance of that name might be. The mother-to-be is also prepared, during her pregnancy, psychologically, spiritually and emotionally for the baby. African culture sees birth in a family as a sign of wealth and of the family growing stronger. People see the arrival of a new baby as the fruit of their own growth and maturity. Experienced mothers will guide the mother-to-be in the best form they can; they will pass on their accumulated wisdom.

I am always amazed at how Christian communities value this time as we await the celebration of  the birth of Christ. The secular world can detract from this and have, unfortunately, turned this period of waiting to their favour by making Advent a commercial season. Sadly, we have lost much of the meaning of Advent. Perhaps we can ask ourselves what we can do to reclaim Advent this year. The Scriptures today focus on the core of this season: the joy of two pregnant mothers – Mary and Elizabeth. This birth of Christ should be a source of deep joy to us. The visitation of Mary to Elizabeth in an encounter of joyful words and gestures. How can we make this Advent a joyful encounter with God so that something new begins in us?

Ms Puleng Matsaneng
B.A. (Johannesburg)

Puleng works in Spirituality and researches Ignatian Spirituality in an African context. Her area of speciality is in exploring how African themes and practices of spirituality dialogue with the Western traditions, and how that is understood in relation to Ignatian Spirituality. She has looked at how Ignatian Spirituality can be integrated into the African worldview. Most especially, how the use of song and storytelling can be part of the prayer process. She is currently managing retreats in daily life and training prayer guides. Puleng is also involved in ongoing Spiritual Direction, giving 8-day and 30-day retreats. Her latest venture is a pilot programme of healing workshops that use the principles of Ignatian Spirituality.
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