Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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Spirituality: Wearin’ of the purple
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Dec. 5, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)
When people greet the morning come next March 17, a slight panic will set across the land. Hardly a soul will not remember that it is St. Patrick’s Day – and they had better be wearing something green that day! In 2003 the celebration falls on a Monday, so that means more public exposes and waiting pinches for those who do not comply. They say that on March 17 there are only two kinds of people: those who are Irish and those who wish they were!
When we Catholics greeted the morn this past Sunday, Dec. 1, I doubt very much if we stood sleepy-eyed before the clothes closets and panicked as our fingers searched for something to wear which bragged at least a splotch of purple. Dec. 1 was the first Sunday of Advent – the beginning of a new year throughout the universal Church. From Afghanistan to Zanzibar it was time for the wearin’ of the purple. Our four-week time of preparation for Christmas properly began on the Lord’s Day when God’s people gathered for prayer and worship. This year the Gospel called us to stay awake and be ready for the coming of the Savior.
I have yet to hear of anyone who got pinched or even mildly chastised last Sunday for not wearing purple. All the same, on Sunday the Church noted that there is only one kind of people: those who need yet to be called out of darkness into the wonderful light of God’s saving grace.
The very décor of our churches displays this summons to holiness. For the liturgical purist Advent can be a time of dilemma. The Irish don’t care what shade or form of green people wear on St. Patrick s Day. It just has to be green! The liturgical purist who is responsible for setting the church environment will fuss over what shade of purple is appropriate for the Advent season. A small matter, we may say, but an important one. Especially if the environment for worship and prayer are to set the tone for the season. After all, how does one chose a shade of purple that communicates redeeming Light?
Some eighth grade girls from our parish school, a parent and I delightfully recently played the role of liturgical purists. The graduating class had left our parish a much-appreciated “legacy” – money to purchase a new set of vestments in their memory. Our greatest need was to replace the aging set of purple vestments which had seen many an Advent. So off we went shopping at the local religious goods store. (We could have made a selection from a catalogue, of course, but even with the 8th graders, there is no substitute for that rush one gets from shopping - even for church vestments!)
We had a blast. And my shopping companions learned that I really was a bit of a liturgical purist. While browsing through the various vestments for sale, always the teaching pastor like the priest who mentored me in my youth, I seized the opportunity to explain the reason behind my fuss.
The focus of Advent, of course, is Christmas – when the Church celebrates, not the precise birthday of Jesus, but the marvelous, stunning fact that God’s love is so great that he has become flesh in the Child born of Mary in Bethlehem. In Jesus the brilliance of God’s light and shining love have burst into human history and the entire world rejoices in the fullness of life it has received in the birth of the very Son of God. No wonder the Church commandeered the old pagan sun-god feast which related to the rising of the sun after the winter solstice and turned it into a celebration of the rising of the only Son which gives true light. By the light of the true Son selfishness and sin are exposed for what they are. And our path to eternal life and glory is lighted in a manner far beyond our imagination or expectation.
Few people have to be taught the lessons of light and darkness. They are fundamental to our experience of nature. They are also fundamental in their figurative form to our experience of life. Because of a fundamental tug toward selfishness and the freely chosen sinful acts which are a consequence, we all know well the struggle for light that takes place in the course of our spiritual journey. Light struggling to burst out of darkness.
Now, how does one capture that awesome dynamic of saving grace in color? Black-purple won’t due. And a shade with too little darkness won’t work either. Advent isn’t exactly a joyous time, even though we know where its journey ends. It’s a time for each of us to struggle with the reality of light fighting for life. To say there is no darkness in each and every one of us makes us into liars. Selfishness and sin are an on-going reality which must be addressed or its darkness will overtake us. A Son continues to rise on the horizon of our lives Who is our hope and promise of light and life. Ironically, the more we are honest about the dark, sinful parts of our lives, the more we appreciate the supreme gift that Jesus is for us.
No easy task, this business of selecting just the right shade of purple for our use this Advent season. Tougher still, however, is the personal struggle with sin. A little wearin’ of the purple these shopping days before Christmas may not be a bad idea. It may well keep our hearts focused on the meaning for all the fuss about the Feast to come.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book Catholics
Believe is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.)
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