by the Rev. Charles Allen, S.J.
At approximately six o'clock every morning I drag myself out of bed and with minimal enthusiasm set out across the campus of Fairfield University on what only an optimist would call "a morning job." As late November becomes early December I view the first rays of sunlight with only the sad thought that for at least another month the days will continue to grow shorter and the little bit of light which now greets me when I exit my residence will soon be totally gone.
For those of us forced to live out our lives in the more northerly latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere this is a particularly difficult time of the year. Our bodies, having grown accustomed to the warm days of summer, must now adjust to the coldness of winter and our spirits, after six months of wonderful sunlight, must now cope with an abundance of darkness.
To help us through these dark, cold days of late fall I would suggest that during each of the four weeks of Advent one have a short prayer - a simple statement of faith - that one repeats and then reflects upon. My suggestion for these prayers would be: Christ is Light, Joseph is Fortitude, Mary is Openness, and God is Love.
Christ is Light: Four months from now, at the Easter Eve liturgy the deacon will sing out: "Light of Christ" and the congregation will respond: "Thanks be to God." Throughout the gospels there is the often repeated message that Christ is the light of the world come to bring brightness where in the past darkness has prevailed. The early Christians were quick to note that Christ rose from the dead at dawn, when the first light of day was appearing in the east, and that he arose in the spring, when the first warmth of the sun was touching the earth. Consequently, it was only natural that when it came time to choose a date for the celebration of Christ's birth they chose a time of year when the days are just beginning to lengthen and despite the darkness and the cold the first hope of spring enters into the soul.
Joseph is Fortitude: So many homes in the United States today are colder, darker and poorer because of the absence of a father. How wonderful it is, then, to read in the gospel accounts of Christmas about this man Joseph, who remained faithful to his wife and foster child, despite the pressures placed upon him. During the weeks before Christmas, as we prepare ourselves to enter into the spirit of the Holy Family, what a perfect moment to ask St. Joseph to bless the men of our country with the same level of fortitude which he demonstrated. We love to talk about "family values" but do we ever present our requests to that most wonderful of human fathers, St. Joseph?
Mary is Openness: Whoever would have guessed that this young woman, so relatively powerless and now living with the shame of her pregnancy would become the mother of the Savior? Mary's response to the angel: "Be it done unto me according to thy will" is for every Christian the perfect example of openness to God's providence. No matter how great the difficulties are that we face we must recognize that ultimately we are a part of God's divine plan and that in accepting our role in that plan we can further God's work on earth. It should be especially helpful to those who are going through difficult times during this season of Advent to spend time in prayer with Mary, trying to understand the problems which she faced when the angel of God first appeared to her. Mary is the model Christian and most especially in her openness she serves as an example to all of us.
God is Love: In the final week before Christmas we should each take a few moments in quiet to sit in front of the manger and very gently contemplate this vision of God's love for each one of us. God, who at times seems to be so distant, now comes among us as a flesh and blood human being. God, who at times seems so indifferent to our problems, now comes among us as one who suffers as we do. Clearly, what God is trying to say to us in this manger scene is: "I love you." Let us drink this message in and let it warm the coldness of our hearts and brighten the darkness of our minds.
Yes, it's always difficult to get up early in the morning, especially when the day is cold and dark. But if we can grasp the essence of the Christmas message, how much brighter is the world that we come to live in. During the four weeks preceding Christmas over and over again let us reflect on: Christ is Light, Joseph is Fortitude, Mary is Openness and God is Love.