We are well into Advent and I’m flooded with memories of childhood and growing up in a devout Polish immigrant home. My family’s life revolved around Toronto’s St. Stanislaus Kostka Church at Queen and Bathurst. I would be there several times a week for catechism classes, Polish school, youth group, Polish folk dancing, my dad’s choir practice, mom’s Legion of Mary.
During Advent there were church rehearsals for the parish Nativity play, one of the biggest Sunday afternoons of the year when we’d await the spectacular visit from St. Nicolas. Dressed like a bishop, he brought goodies for all the kids.
It is hard to describe the dignity my mother brought to the Advent season. She saw it not only as a time of waiting, but a period to fast. She stressed that Advent was a time to detach from the world, to make room for the Christ Child who really was coming on Christmas Day. To her, Advent was a special season and she talked about it with great fervour.
In our home at that time of year there was a distinct change in atmosphere that had nothing to do with tinsel, lights, elves or a funny looking man called Santa. During Advent, the spirit of our home changed. You could feel it. It was a time when we were expected to grow in holiness. We all went to reconciliation. We were expected to give. We set an extra place at the Christmas Eve dinner table to symbolically welcome someone who had no other place to celebrate. Often, my mom found a soul to fill that place. Despite our own struggles, my father insisted we send money to family members in Poland. Year after year, I participated in the Nativity play. I couldn’t imagine a Christmas without it. There was only one problem. I was always chosen to be an angel.
As an angel, I enjoyed belting out in song to herald the birth of Christ. But as a young girl I loved Mary, and with all my heart and soul I wanted to play the part of Mary. I waited year after year to be chosen but there was always another girl. Then one year I mentioned it to my beloved Sr. Archangela, a Felician sister who directed the production. I knew I could trust her with my heart’s desire because it was her lively, engaging, fun manner that got me hooked on the Catholic faith.
“You want to be Mary?”
“Oh, yes sister, yes!”
“All right then, next year, you will be Mary.”
So for a full year I counted the days and I waited. Each day I wondered: “Would Sr. Archangela remember? Would she keep her word? Would a better more popular girl come along? What if sister moved to another parish? What if the parish didn’t have a Nativity production next year?”
All year, I dared not remind sister of her promise. It was hard enough to mention it to her the first time. After months of prayerful anticipation, my hopes were realized. I can’t begin to describe the joy and the graces of that Christmas. My soul burst with wonderment, love and gratitude. My love of Mary was invigorated. Just thinking about it now has filled my heart with the love of her.
For Advent this year, I have decided to focus on Mary, the Mother of God. The process has begun with a number of questions: “What would Mother Mary do? How joyful Advent must have been for her, knowing she was carrying the Christ Child within her womb. What difficulties did she have to overcome?”
When I think of my years as a young girl, and think of the girls and mothers of today, more questions come to mind: “Would Mother Mary have carried a Coach purse? Would she have craved fine clothes and jewels? Would she have been distracted by all the tedious things that seem to plague us today during the Christmas season? What would Mother Mary think of all of the mothers that let their daughters become Lady Gaga fans? Or let their sons play violent video games like Call of Duty?
I often struggle with a temperament that, far from meek or reserved, can be enthusiastic and outspoken. I have discussed this with my spiritual director, who has done a great job counselling me. “Just like you,” he’d say, “Mary was a woman, a mother raising her son. I am sure she had all sorts of colourful days.”