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Love Is Coming: Preparing the Manger of Your Heart This Advent

As the church enters a new liturgical year, She also marks the beginning of Advent. This is made evident by the color purple, which adorns the worship space and also the priests’ vestments. Each Sunday, a candle is lit, illuminating a path that leads us to hope, love, joy (represented by the rose-colored candle on Gaudete Sunday), and peace. 

These lit signs are intentional and meant to draw us ever deeper into acts of prayer, penance, and preparation for the One who is to come. As we enter into sacred Scripture through both the Old and New Testaments, we search for ourselves in the living word of God and we long to be more fully united to Him in our thoughts, words, and actions. 

In humble recognition, we admit our sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is a most precious gift to ourselves, those we have wronged, and, most importantly, to God! When we receive pardon and peace, His grace is restored in us and we are no longer prisoners but free children of God. 

We are fed by His body and blood in the Eucharist and we hunger to share Him and our newfound way of life with others without cost or reservation. We give everything we have and we give some more. We give until it hurts. This is true love. This is what Jesus did and still does if we ask and trust in His most holy will.

It didn’t always used to be this way for me, though. I can remember many sober years when I was desperately trying to fix, manage, and control everything and everyone. Christmas time was especially troublesome. I got caught up in the maddening frenzy of the secular world and all its empty promises. It would begin the day after Thanksgiving with the buying and decorating the tree, house, and yard. Endless hours of time and money spent shopping and wrapping gifts, mailing Christmas cards, cleaning the house from top to bottom, and, finally, buying and preparing all of the food. 

I was cranky, tired, and miserable to be around. Even though I had all of this, I still felt alone, empty, and hollow. I took my eyes of the manger and He who is to come. To be honest, I never had my eyes on the manger other than to use it as a backdrop for family pictures after Christmas Eve Mass. My vision was blurred by the stuff that didn’t matter: the material. My true peace, joy, and contentment came when I turned my focus to the eternal manger of my heart and He who was to occupy it.

It was also during this time that I felt the pangs of sadness and loneliness that all of us in sobriety struggle with from time to time, especially during the holidays. The year 2014 was hard, as I had lost my mother in July of that summer. As Christmas arrived, I avoided decorating the tree at all costs. It sat in its stand, bare for over a week. My husband and daughter hounded me until finally on one Sunday afternoon, I mustered up the courage to start decorating it.

As I pulled out each ornament, I felt a tug on my heartstrings and memories of decorating the tree as a child with my mom and family washed over me. By no coincidence, Silent Night, one of my and my mom’s favorite carols, began to play on the TV music station. I wept like a child who was longing for the touch, voice, and love of a mother. 

I call this moment a “sweet sorrow,” and I have had many along the path as I journey in my recovery. Mother Mary had many of these during her life, and I cling to her and the life, death, and resurrection of her son as I pray my daily rosary which always brings comfort and peace. I also stayed very close to my recovery meetings and sponsor during this time. Fortunately, many places have meetings over the holidays that stay open 24 hours (since it can be a really tough time for many). So, do the opposite of what you think you should do and go to a meeting during this season! It worked for me.

Advent is a time of joyful anticipation. It is a time of longing, a knowing that something—Someone—is coming. How are you preparing spiritually during this time of waiting? Is the manger of your heart ready for He who is to occupy it? Be ready, for Love is coming!

Kathleen Ann, by God’s grace, has been clean and sober since June 1, 2006. She is an active member of AA, CIR, and works part-time as the Project Rachel Coordinator in the Life office at the Diocese of Rockford, where she helps gently and confidentially guide those wounded by abortion to hope and healing in Christ Jesus. On most days you can find her at daily Mass, the gym, or caring for the needs of her family, young and old alike.

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