Shifting from Ordinary Time to Advent gives us
to Ordinary Time
a chance to review the past
First in an Advent series
By Tom Rinkoski
Whenever the Rinkoski family travels, we have a ritual when we cross state lines. As the official state line sign comes into full windshield view, we all intone, sotto voce, "Goodbye Wisconsin, Hello Illinois" (substitute the name of the pertinent states). It is a family ritual so binding that my wife and I find ourselves repeating it even though our kids are no longer in the car with us.
By the time signs of Advent arrive in the windshield, most of us are focused on Christmas. Advent is a short wintery day, an open and quickly shut case, an orphan season. Bucking that trend, Advent wreaths are Catholic alarm clocks that bid us to "Stay Awake" as Sunday's Gospel implores. Advent will probably never welcome you home with wagging tail and friendly barking like my dog Izzi. This year, my inability to properly say "Hello" to Advent is due to lack of proper "Goodbye" to Ordinary Time.
Goodbyes are sacraments. This autumn we dropped our youngest off at Boston University and thus began a career as an empty nest couple. Saying goodbye to him was reminiscent of the parental tugs you feel when you send the first off to school. My wife said goodbye to her mother who died while attending Mass one morning. That gave birth to a new season of family connections and storytelling. When my Dad had a heart attack and my mother cancer, I was "forced" to say goodbye to assumptions about my parents' health. That gave birth to new subjects to talk about between us.
Goodbyes can be tough, but it's life
In my daughter's senior year of college, we sold her our Saturn, and had just enough time to say goodbye as she gained the "freedom" of the American road. Goodbyes can be tough, precarious, tear producing, but are part of what life is about. In closing one door, we look more carefully at doors yet to be opened. What goodbyes have salt and peppered your family life?
In the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent, Jesus says we too easily miss the exits and entries in life. Lack of attention to living fully in the present, may be because we dwell in the past, or focus too much on the future, but I believe it is also because we are generally poor at saying good goodbyes. The Gospel hints that goodbyes can be like floods wiping out your past, smelling up your basement with unfulfilled dreams, trashing what you have stored there. Take some quality time this week to say "Goodbye" to departing ordinary time so you can say "Hello!" to Advent.
I will miss the rainbows of fall colors and the sounds of walking through autumn leaves. It was tough to see the colorful wardrobe of summer give way to the drab colors of winter dress. I will especially miss the fireworks of the Fourth of July, sizzling some "extra" into the ordinary time. Our August trip through the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire is etched in my mind. We heard a fiddlin' contest in Pembroke, Ontario, that brought sounds from all over the world. Then, there was Sept. 11, a date so extraordinary that we only have to pronounce it and pictures, feelings, and music race into our thoughts. There was nothing ordinary about the Ordinary Time that just went by. Like St. Peter, part of me wants to set up tents there, but Advent pushes its way in like Moses and Elijah proclaiming its time to move on.
We are called, like parents whose children keep getting older, to change our focus, realign our priorities and spend our energies differently. No longer do we change diapers, instead we install safety latches on cupboard doors. Seasons change, and so do we. Isaiah says in the first reading, "Let us climb the Lord's mountain." We put on our shoes, start the car, and drive into Advent as surely as we have driven the kids to soccer, mowed the grass, and done dishes.
Tape a sheet of blank paper on a forward facing wall this week. Every day, write on that paper the names of two events that happened in Ordinary Time that you need to say "Goodbye" to. It is like counting your blessings, but what happened does not always seem like a blessing. Pronounce rich and full good byes this week to the you that has arrived at the door of Advent.
(Rinkoski is the Green Bay Diocese's Family Life director.)