Stuck between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’

Mark my words
Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

Il “già” e il “non ancora.”

That phrase was burned into my brain during five-and-a-half years of theology classes at the Gregorian University in Rome. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time I heard it, I’d be a millionaire..l “già” e il “non ancora.”

But what does it mean? Translated, the Italian “già” means “already”; “non ancora” means “not yet.” When applied to faith, it signifies that we live in a tension: We’ve already been redeemed by Jesus, but our salvation is not yet fully realized. In other words, while we see glimpses of eternity while here on earth, it will only be fully complete in heaven.

No other time of year is this more apparent than the season of Advent. While we’re singing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” the music outside of church ranges from “Silver Bells” to “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” Our churches display an Advent wreath, while stores, towns and shopping areas have already held “lighting ceremonies” for their Christmas trees. Our parishes hold reconciliation services, while our workplaces host Christmas parties.

So, while we Catholics say “not yet” to the “Christmas season,” the world acts as if it’s “already” here.

Now, we could be Advent purists and look down our noses at all the “already Christmas” revelers, but that’s not very charitable. We need to rediscover what Father Ed Hays called the intersection between Bethlehem (the “non ancora”) and Broadway (the “già”). So, we keep our Advent preparation strong, but also look for God in the signs of Christmas that already surround us.

There’s great wisdom in this creation story of the Cherokees:

When the plants and trees were first made, the Great Mystery set up a contest to determine which gift would be most useful to whom.

“I want you to stay awake and keep watch over the earth for seven nights,” he told them.

The young trees and plants were so excited to be entrusted with such an important job that the first night they didn’t find it difficult to stay awake. However, the second night was not so easy, and just before dawn, a few fell asleep. On the third night, the trees and plants whispered among themselves in the wind, trying to keep from dropping off, but it was too much work for some of them. Even more fell asleep on the fourth night.

By the time the seventh night came, the only trees and plants still awake were the cedar, pine, spruce, fir, holly and laurel.

“What wonderful endurance you have,” said the Great Mystery. “You shall be given the gift of remaining green forever. You will be the guardians of the forest. Even in the seeming dead of winter, your brother and sister creatures will find life protected in your branches.”

Ever since then, all the other trees and plants lose their leaves and sleep all winter, while the evergreens stay awake. (Adapted from William J. Bausch’s “A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers.”)

Father Bausch sees this as a perfect Advent tale because it reminds us to stay “green” and “awake” in the midst of the barrenness and sleepiness around us. He’s right.

Many people sleepwalk through these days. They celebrate the ties of family and friends, good memories and good food, and gift giving. But a lot of it seems empty because they’ve forgotten the best thing about Christmas: Jesus, the God who loves us so much he became one of us to lead us to a fuller, more meaningful, true and eternal life.

As Christians, we’re to wake people up to see: the Light behind all the sparkling lights, the Gift beyond those under the tree, the Song underpinning all the harmonious carols of the season, the Shepherd leading the shepherds, and the Child without whom there would be no reason to celebrate.

This big task has to come from prayer. The U.S. bishops’ website (www.usccb.org) has a marvelous, interactive Advent calendar filled with seasonal prayers and ideas. Visit it each day, or at least make this simple prayer by Father Henri Nouwen part of your go-to Advent routine:

“Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.”

AMEN!

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