I went to mass last night, for the vigil of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, by myself. I wasn’t going to make it today with work, Scouts for Gabriel and Basketball practice for Alex in the evening. The boys had school mass for today and Alex was an altar server.
I sat in the usual pew, but moved in a little, to make room for my family that wasn’t with me. Funny, that I noticed that. The mass was lovely, and the parishioners present were louder than usual with their responses and prayers. Or maybe I hadn’t noticed before. It felt more full than the usual 10AM Sunday mass but with less people. My eyes were fixed on the large crucifix above. I mean, truly fixed. I don’t know what made me think that the more I bore my eyes into His, he would be more likely to turn His crowned head and smile at me. That’s all I wanted. I knew it was silly, and as I write this, I know it’s a little ridiculous.
We’re in the thick of Advent, and just like last year, it’s been spoiled for me by external factors. Right before Advent begins, I am left with a fake, plastic smile whenever I leave my house. Maybe that’s why I wanted His smile, to know that He knew (even though I know in my heart He knows) and that at least He was with me.
Last week, I left the first candle burning too long (it won’t last the next two weeks), I forgot to move the little wooden Christmas tree on my Advent calendar, and my Jesse Tree? I’ve got two ornaments up and I am sure they’re the wrong ones. I stopped reading the Advent reflections from the booklet that I bought for myself and Tiffany back in October. I’m just deflated, if I’m really being honest with you, and I know I can be. It’s not spiritual dryness so much as a disappointment in certain people, of late. I pray for others that ask me to, and I pray for my family every day.
It’s more about being let down by others in my Catholic community. I expect slightly more compassion from them. Maybe that’s not the word. I expect more love, in the agape sense. I get that you never know what cross people are carrying, so you can’t always assume that the response you are getting is not intended to hurt you. Believe me, I get that. You could also argue that to get, you gotta give. And maybe I haven’t with every, single person. I’ve learned that I don’t need to allow negativity and disrespectful behavior regardless of whether they are Catholic, Christian, Purple or Unicorn. Those unicorns are shifty.
A friend came by Saturday night to drop off a little present for me, and to see how I was doing (neck spasms, remember?) and we all got to talking about friendships. She didn’t have friends from elementary school that she was connected to now, whereas Mike and I have one each from Elementary school. I noted how the close circle of friends that I have, I’ve made in the past 4 years. Most of those are online friendships and I treasure them. I pray for them. My boys pray for them. My husband knows them because I talk about them as if I just had coffee with them and “oh Honey, wait till you hear what happened with so-and-so”. I love them all dearly.
It’s easier to see the darker side of the coin though, isn’t it? When I talk about these disappointments in my Catholic (real life) community with my husband, he says “Honey, it’s like you always tell me, it’s not the Catholic Church, it’s the people, and they aren’t perfect”. I remember looking at him thinking I said that? And even more than that, he remembered? Isn’t that a blessing? I remember my mouth hanging open as he said that, and thinking to myself, He’s right. Of course. I can’t keep my Catholic community on a pedestal. They are no different than anyone else. And hey, Cristina, guess what? They will probably feel the same way about you at some point. Because you, for sure, aren’t perfect. You are bound to mess up and let someone down that you didn’t mean to. And just like that, I remembered this verse:
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to put confidence in man.
Maybe that’s what I was doing last night as I focused on Jesus, I was taking refuge in His face, turned to the side, grieved and pained. Sure, I may not be lighting my candles, or putting ornaments on the tree, But I am reminded of where my refuge is, and the blessings I do have in my husband, children and those wonderful women that have become like family to me. Their virtual presence is felt more than the multitudes of people I encounter every day.
Isn’t that something for Advent? Nice one, God. Thanks for looking at me, without looking at me, and telling me, in your way, that it’s all ok.
How’s your Advent shaping up? Tell me. I want to hear all about it, especially if you went and got that wine advent calendar!