Sunday, December 18, 2011

Waiting...and Waiting...and Waiting: The Essence of Advent

Like every year, the many pre-Christmas festivities of Advent have nearly worn me out. I’ve decided implement a cookie-fast for the last week of Advent just to regain a taste for cookies, which is pretty drastic, considering that the cookie is one of my all-time favorite edible things. Last weekend, however, I was blessed with a very long wait that helped me get re-focused on what Advent is all about. For the first time here in Europe, I experienced a confession line that would rival any I’ve sat through in college. (That is saying something, as any UD people reading this will know.)
It all began amid colored spotlights, lively music, hazy smoke and people walking around carrying trays of cups filled with fiery goodness. No, I wasn’t in a bar, I was at Mass, followed by Adoration. Every second Saturday of the month, a group of young people gathers in the Church of the Holy Spirit on the Viktualienmarkt (literally the victual market—they still sell food) here in Munich for the event “Stay and Pray.” They have Mass at 7:30 pm followed by Adoration until midnight. All passersby are welcome to come in to pray, sing, talk to a priest, or just take a moment of silence. Last weekend the group happened to be celebrating their 40th anniversary—there must have been at least 200 people at Mass. I saw at least five confession stations, possibly six. I saw lines forming and knew I was in for a wait.
I found a nice short line with three people in it. Can’t be that bad, right? The woman who happened to be confessing at the time seemed to be taking forever, though. After a while, the other women in line began to ask the typical question—what could she be confessing that takes so long to say? After a little longer while, one of them left to find another line. Now, by a while I mean about 45 minutes. By a longer while I mean an hour. Eventually another woman left, leaving only one person between me and the confessional. I decided to stick it out. When it got to be almost 11 (I’d been there since a little before 10, roughly) I realized I was going to be sitting there until midnight. I decided to say a rosary. By the time I was done, I think the next person had finally gotten to go. It would all be faster now, right?
Wrong. The girl in front of me, who had just wanted to go to Confession, not spill her life’s story to the priest, ended up taking at least as long as the last one. I was left on the hard wooden bench, near the open door through which the December air was blowing. I sent my friends on home without me, telling them it would be a while. I started to get existential thoughts running through my head. Why am I here? Do I really mean all this? This existential angst was only heightened by what I heard the priest say about 45 minutes into the confession (they weren’t actually in confessional boxes, just on chairs a little ways away). He asked the girl, “What do you want? When you first came, you said to wanted to go to confession. What do you want now?” Uh-oh, thought I. It was entirely too late at night for this kind of thinking. I don’t remember the results of my existential soul-searching, but I remember that it was a very good mid-Advent mini-retreat. Waiting. What do you want? What are you waiting for? Why are you waiting?
...Ten minutes before midnight, it was finally my turn. I actually had a lady try from another line try and beat me to the spot I’d been waiting nearly two hours for. With a small twinge of conscience, I thought, no way, and sat down quickly to finally confess my sins, if I could remember them after all this time. Apparently the priest realized that time was tight and listened quietly, only asking me at the end what I would ask from Jesus. Closer friendship with Him, and clarity for my life’s path were my answers (good thing I’d had time to think about it beforehand). Since the hour had struck and Benediction was beginning, the priest let me go without much further soul-searching. All in all, the experience was a very good way to crystalize the meaning of Advent for me.
In case anyone is wondering, the aforementioned fiery goodness was tea lights in plastic cups! J

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