Advent wreath
Photo provided by: 
Johan van Parys

A Season of Beauty. Old and New

My early years in Minneapolis were not always easy as I greatly missed my family in Belgium and my friends at Notre Dame. Christmas time was particularly difficult. I was very glad that my late parents came to Minneapolis for my first Christmas here in 1995 and my dear friend, the late Fr. André Laurier joined me in 1998. My parents had the pleasure of lots of cold and snow which they had not experienced before. And Fr. André taught me an important lesson which I treasure to this day.

André arrived the Friday before Christmas. On Saturday, we spent the day decorating the Christmas tree. It was a lovely robust and fragrant blue spruce. Carefully unpacking each ornament, I told its story. Many stories resonated with André as he knew the Belgian people and places I was talking about. When we were all finished, we went into the kitchen to prepare dinner. From the kitchen, a terrific noise called us back to the living room where we found the tree on the floor surrounded by shattered glass.  André quietly cleaned up, carefully gathering the surviving ornaments while collecting the pieces of those that shattered. I was very upset. Those Christmas ornaments were a tangible reminder of so many cherished memories and of so much love. I excused myself and spent some quiet time in my room.  When I finally re-emerged, I found the tree back in place, the surviving ornaments ready to be hung, and the table set for dinner. We had a quiet dinner that night and we talked of all things Belgian.

The next day, when I returned home from Sunday liturgies, I found the tree decorated with the surviving ornaments and some new ones ready to be hung. Cleverly, André had bought some clear glass ornaments which he filled with the remnants of the broken ornaments. 

Later that day, as we sat down to admire the tree, André mused that perhaps the many memories  had proven too much for the tree and that maybe it was time to let go of some old memories in order to make room for new ones.“ It is not that you have to let go completely” he said, “you can hold on to bits and pieces, but you need to make room for more.” And so, I did! I let go of the old and I welcomed the new.

The season of Advent invites us to let go of all that we unnecessarily cling to, to take stock of our spiritual life, and to approach the future with joy and anticipation, discovering the potential for beauty in that which seems broken, unimportant or insignificant.

Our world often seems on the brink of collapse with relentless wars; global warming; divisive rhetoric; fear mongering… There is so much brokenness and such division. Yet, as Christians we are called to continue to see the potential for beauty and to work toward it. After all, God did not come to us as an imperial ruler but rather as a vulnerable baby. He was not born in a palace but in a stable to a family on the move. He did not live in Rome but in a small country occupied by the Romans.

In the words of Pope Francis given at the Mass for the sixth World Day of the Poor on November 13: “a disciple of the Lord should not yield to resignation or give in to discouragement, even in the most difficult situations, for our God is the God of resurrection and hope, who always raises up. With Him we can lift up our gaze and begin anew.”

I am looking forward to preparing my home for Christmas, this year. It will again be adorned with many ornaments. Some of them are old, reminding me of my family in Belgium, but most of them are new, bearing the memories of my travels, my friends, and my Basilica life. And, still to this day, I treasure the clear glass ornaments filled with the bits and pieces of old and treasured memories for they continue to teach me to let go and to look for the potential of beauty even in the most broken times and places.

This Advent, rather than resigning ourselves or losing hope, let us look for the potential of all that is beautiful and good in the brokenness of our world and our hearts and thus help to build the world which God has imagined for us.



Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
13 + 4 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.