Advent: to hurry or to wait

This week's reflection for the Philippine Duchesne year of prayer focuses on her patient (though persistent) waiting, in hope and faith, for the fulfilment of her dreams. My first reaction, on seeing it, was a wry smile: Philippine, waiting and I have a bit of a history. When I applied to join the Society, back in autumn 1993, the Provincial timed her letter of acceptance to reach me on Philippine's feast. In it she explained that while the Team had been delighted to accept my application, they couldn't tell me when or where I might be able to begin my formation (the most suitable communities didn't have any space for an extra member), and so it seemed I would have to wait, maybe several months. In adding that I was receiving this letter on the feast of Philippine, Mary then wrote May she be with you in your waiting. She had to wait years to go to America. 

Fine... But... But I don't want to wait! I declared emphatically to the novice director - I'm ready to enter NOW! And God clearly decided to take me at my word, because a solution was found and I was able to begin my candidacy less than two months later.

Twenty-four years on I'm still in a hurry about many things; and so this reflection is especially appropriate as we enter Advent, a time of waiting, in hope and faith, for the Word to become flesh, in and among us. It invites me to consider how accustomed I have become to rushing and hurrying and instant everything. Certainly, as I zoom along the A40 on my way to work, switching lanes to avoid any sort of congestion or slow lorries, I sometimes ask myself why I'm in such a hurry, as five or seven minutes more or less really makes little difference unless I have an appointment. But still I zoom, just as I opt for quicker seeming queues in shops, and tap keys impatiently when the internet is slow. Those days of waiting for letters to arrive in the post and photos to be developed (after a whole roll of film has been used) truly belong to another era.

But there are some things we shouldn't wait for. Hurry to be holy, Sophie Barat advised a sister, by which she clearly meant don't wait. Don't hang around, waiting for the conditions to be favourable; don't wait for someone to start loving you before you start to love them or others; don't wait to be asked to be generous, selfless, a peacemaker. Just do it, be it, NOW. Hurry, and do all in your power to quicken your step on the road to holiness - don't dawdle, making excuses about the need to smell the flowers and admire the view.

And I rather fancy she'd say similar things to those discerning religious life. Yes, discernment is a process, and at times it needs to go slowly; and yes, commitments need to be fulfilled, debts paid, study completed... but when readiness comes, I'm sure Sophie would say don't wait. Don't wait for a special sign, or for 110% certainty; don't want to wait, if waiting is not required of you. And don't confuse inaction with waiting - plenty can happen and be accomplished whilst waiting, but not during inaction.

Maybe this Advent, time of waiting, of stillness, but also of growing in readiness, we can seek to discern when and how to wait, and when and for what we need to hurry...

(And here, for those with limited time, is a lovely two minute video from Busted Halo, reminding us that Advent is a time of expectant waiting, hopeful anticipation and joyful preparation for the arrival of a very special guest...)