So, as my last article was about the Romani and how they live on the margins (and that isn't even getting into how Romani were victims of the Holocaust, or, as they call it, the "Porajmos"What is the Church doing for the Romani?) , you may think I planned to write something happier this week. Actually, this article was planned well in advance.
Advent is a very important time for me. On the first Sunday of Advent, 2008 (well, Saturday Vigil, but still, it's Advent), I walked the four miles from my house (something I am physically incapable of at the moment, due to injury), to the closest Catholic church. You see, I'd been having a discussion with a friend of mine about Catholicism. She was baptized Catholic, but, never really practicing (and, to the best of my knowledge, still isn't, though, I pray for her eventual reversion). But, I didn't become Catholic for her. I became Catholic for God. I had gotten into reading the Bible, and knew that, if I was ever going to be Christian, I'd have to be Catholic. The thought of being Eastern Orthodox never crossed my mine. I eventually discovered that Eastern Catholics, you know, exist (I was first invited to St. Ignatios of Antioch Melkite Catholic church in Augusta, Georgia in 2010), so, I also have a great desire to end the schism between the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches. I'll write more about that a different time. But for now, I want y'all to understand coming to faith, especially Christian faith, was not easy for me. Let's just say, one of my gods was one mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. If you're curious what my religious background was before that, Buddhist. And since I'm western, by "Buddhist", I mean "New Age". I mean, I probably wouldn't have thought of it as being New Age at the time. But, this is pretty much how westerners treat Eastern religion. It's really easy to get sucked into New Age as a teenager. You start to think you know it all anyway. But, see, I DON'T know it all. And, while I have not always been the best Catholic (some sins are really hard to stop, this is why I am very grateful for confession), I know that with God's grace and mercy, I can overcome all of life's difficulties. This doesn't mean I won't suffer (indeed, suffering is a major part of life), but, it means I can overcome it. To be honest, I know more about Buddhism now than I did as a Buddhist.
So, what does this have to do with Advent? Quite a bit. Not just because we're waiting for the Advent of Christ. I think we each have our own Advent. Because what is Advent? According to the USCCB) (https://www.usccb.org/prayer-worship/liturgical-year/advent), "Beginning the Church's liturgical year, Advent (from, "ad-venire" in Latin or "to come to") is the season encompassing the four Sundays (and weekdays) leading up to the celebration of Christmas." So, we all have our own coming to faith. Our own "Advent" if you will. Whether we make a personal decision to follow Christ as an adult (as I did), or, to live out or baptism as a child (as many others have done), or, to take our faith more seriously after confirmation (which, sadly, isn't very common). I actually think the second reading of the first Sunday of Advent nails it this year, because this is exactly how we should be thinking about Advent.
I was trying to tie this to this Sunday's readings, and I find myself being really interested in the second reading.
I'm going to use the Douay Rheims version, because why not?
"Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you, for the for the grace of God that is given you in Christ Jesus, That in all things you are made rich in him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; as the the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that nothing is wanting to you in any grace, waiting for the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who also will confirm you unto the end without crime, in the day of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful: by whom you are called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord".
Okay, so, it feels like there should be more punctuation there. Anyway, so, the NABRE has "so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift"(or, at least the USCCB readings say that), but, either way, this is of important note to a former Buddhist. In Buddhism, you don't really have the idea of grace, and you most certainly don't have the idea of God's grace. Buddhism, is, at its core, agnostic (some people mistakenly think Buddha was an atheist, actually, he wasn't, he just thought the idea of a creator of a creator god wasn't important). So, in Buddhism, while there may be gods in some forms of, your salvation isn't dependent on God's grace. So, you don't so much hear (or at least you didn't, maybe things have changed), about "grace" and "spiritual gifts". Not to say that Buddhists don't believe those in some form, but, Buddhism, if I were to compare it to some form of Christianity, it is rather Pelagian. In Christianity, what you do matters, but, you are dependent on God's grace. There's really nothing quite comparable in Buddhism. Now, some forms to have something similar to intercession of the Saints, but, it's not quite the same.
This Advent, may we learn to rely on God, and not on ourselves.