One of the reasons I find the season of Advent so compelling is its central symbol of light growing in the darkness, as simple as it is powerful. The fifth of the O antiphons always strikes me as particularly poignant:
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Mid-December also coincides with a slight lull in the crush of tourists here; between the Immaculate Conception and Christmas the streets are a tad calmer and one can get out and enjoy the decorations. In the northern hemisphere it is one of the darkest times of the year, but that only makes the lights all the more delightful.
In Italy the pre-Christmas countdown begins in earnest after the Immaculate Conception on December 8. One of the country’s less-known charms is that Holy Days of Obligation are national holidays, so the Immaculate Conception means a day off, and if, like this year, it falls on a Thursday, this means a long-weekend for many, rather like Thanksgiving.
Advent is one of my favorite seasons, and, as the lights go up and manger scenes come out, I find it one of Italy’s most charming as well. (Christmas lights, fireworks, and outdoor summer operas are among the ways Italians take delight in being delightful.) Unfortunately, this year I was not among those to get last Friday off and the end of the semester is keeping me at my desk–so for this Gaudete Sunday , I rummaged through pictures of Advent trips past. Here’s a handful from Orvieto and Viterbo, the sort of small towns that are charming any time, but especially decked out for the season.
Happy Gaudete Sunday!
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.
Yesterday’s reading from the Office, the last of the liturgical year, is also one of the best, St. Augustine at his most eloquent. Like this time of year in the liturgy itself, it’s as much about beginning as it is about ending. It captures that joyful hope that so characterizes the Advent season and which I think is much in need these days — that flicker of unfailing light to guide us through the winter darkness.
There’s nothing saccharine in Augustine — Rome was crumbling as he wrote, and his honesty about his own failings and man’s sinfulness is unflinching — but that’s what makes his alleluia really count. Despite his own weakness and wrongheadedness, he knew God’s pursuit was unfailing. And he knew — something I feel acutely today given the state of the Church and the world — that there is still so much work before us…
“Let us sing alleluia here on earth, while we still live in anxiety, so that we may sing it one day in heaven in full security… Even here amidst trials and temptations let us, let all men, sing alleluia. God is faithful, says holy Scripture, and he will not allow you to be tried beyond your strength. So let us sing alleluia, even here on earth. Man is still a debtor, but God is faithful…
“O the happiness of the heavenly alleluia, sung in security, in fear of no adversity! We shall have no enemies in heaven, we shall never lose a friend. God’s praises are sung both there and here, but here they are sung in anxiety, there, in security; here they are sung by those destined to die, there, by those destined to live forever; here they are sung in hope, there, in hope’s fulfillment; here they are sung by wayfarers, there, by those living in their own country.
“So, then, my brothers, let us sing now, not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labors. You should sing as wayfarers do — sing, but continue your journey. Do not be lazy, but sing to make your journey more enjoyable. Sing, but keep going…”