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Single-Hearted Advent | Catholic Life

Single-Hearted Advent

Lord our God, we praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ: he is Emmanuel, the hope of the peoples, he is the wisdom that teaches and guides us, he is the Savior of every nation.

Lord God, let your blessing come upon us as we light the candles of this wreath. May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ’s promise to bring us salvation. May he come quickly and not delay.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

–From the rite of blessing of an advent wreath

During the blessing of the advent wreath on the First Sunday of Advent I was struck by how much Advent is the season for singles. It is a season when we all focus on longing for fulfillment; we immerse ourselves in preparing for a joy which is promised rather than present. As such it is a season which heightens the state in which adults who are neither married nor consecrated religious live daily.

The longing of Advent properly bears the characteristic of pain. In hoping for that which we do not yet have, we cannot help but be agonizingly aware that we are incomplete. And yet, in the pain of the longing there is the great joy of the Beauty of that for which we long.  We yearn for a beautiful salvation. It is most fitting for the prayer “come, Lord Jesus” to be the pain-filled cry of persons who are keenly aware of the lack of perfection, the lack of God, in their lives.

In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict writes that “a distinguishing mark of Christians [is] the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness.” But knowing that one’s life will not end in emptiness requires the realization that what we have now is ultimately empty and incomplete. And in this way the fierce longing of Advent is the time in which all Christians must be aware of the truth which is revealed through the single life: we lack perfect love. While singles are urged to “be content” in their waiting, everyone knows that they have reason for discontent because their very state of life emphasizes longing for something more.

And yet, while the married life represents the great unity of Christ and the Church in the mutual self-donation of the spouses, and the consecrated life is certainly an early entrance into ultimate fulfillment in God, all married people and consecrated religious are still mere humans whose state in life is imperfect. We all need Advent as a time to remember that all is not yet well.  We groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies and all Christians join with the singles in praying for something more than our isolation and longing for communion.

This Advent we must all love and long and cling to the knowledge that fully living the suffering of our incomplete lives is essential on the path to salvation. Again, from Spe Salvi:

It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.

Contemplating our isolation and incompleteness is painful, but “it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of [God’s] love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God”.

In the past I have criticized C. S. Lewis’ hyper-focus on “longing for something more” as problematic because it  imagines a world in which it is always Advent, and never Christmas. I still passionately believe that Christians must work to bring about heaven on earth rather than merely longing for something which this world can never supply. But  Lewis’ view can at least provide a valuable contribution to our understanding of life, and the single life in particular.

During Advent we pray for the second coming of Christ, and we recognize that until that day, part of our lives will always be winter.

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4 Responses to “Single-Hearted Advent”

  1. Kacie 15. Dec, 2009 at 12:52 pm #

    I’m not single, but I do agree with that longing! I have been reading Isaiah, the sections about the suffering servant. The expectation of those chapters is just stunning. The promise, the longing, the suffering… amazing.

    • Rae 17. Dec, 2009 at 4:18 pm #

      I’m not single either, but I think that there is something about that state in life that represents a longing we all share.

  2. Deacon Todd Carter 28. Nov, 2010 at 9:48 am #

    Nice reflection! I’m impressed. :)

    • Rae 28. Nov, 2010 at 12:09 pm #

      Thanks! I see a lot that I’d change if I were writing it now, but I still hold to the underlying points.

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