Within this Advent season of preparation and pause, I consider seasons of my personal life when we must wait, practice patience, and enter into the longing for more.
I was recently reflecting back on an old journal I kept during my engagement and found an excerpt I copied from the book Letters of St. Therese, Volume 1. This letter, in particular, was written to St. Therese of Lisieux from Sr. Agnes on November 8, 1887. At the time, St. Therese is longing to profess her vows and enter Carmel; she wants what she wants when she wants it, and is tested by the ache of passing time.
Even the saints agonized through delayed gratification!
Sr. Agnes writes, “To suffer a little before the nuptials is not asking too much! In order to enter the House of the heavenly spouse, you must have some trials, you must knock several times, you must weep, knock, and weep again.”
Whew! Is Sr. Agnes writing to Therese or to me? Therese, like any young, modern, engaged woman, is betrothed to her love. Vocational details aside, the ache of her heart is the shared experience of a woman in pursuit of a covenant to love.
Sr. Agnes continues, “Then there will come a moment when the door will finally open, and what has opened the door if not desire, suffering, and love?”
It is precisely the ache, suffering, and perseverance for love that births new life of a new covenant.
“In order to merit the suffering of the cloister, you must bear the suffering of waiting.”
Sr. Agnes affirms that the suffering of waiting yields to the suffering of love. In other words, she affirms that professing I do at the altar is not a promise to be free of longing or to be perpetually filled with joy, but the vows are a commitment to serve another unto our own death. As we gaze at the crucifix, we are affirmed that there is no love without suffering.
“Oh, darling little dove, courage, the flood will pass away, soon the window will open and you will escape into the desert, into the oasis of Carmel."
The end of waiting for a new vocation is promised a relief. Yet, that joyful yes of a covenant is fulfilled in the suffering for another. This oasis embraces the tension between having what we desired and beginning again at our heart’s longing for more. There’s always more.
Whether you are dating and waiting for a proposal, engaged and aching for your wedding day, temporarily separated across a distance from your beloved, or experiencing another longing of the heart, God teaches us--as he taught the saints--to embrace the suffering of the season. Have courage. The door will open by the force of suffering for love. And what’s on the other side but an oasis; whatever that oasis may look like for you, it is from God and it will be good.
It is not uncommon for God to deliver us to circumstances that stretch our patience and test our perseverance, both in our personal lives and in the liturgical seasons.
Like the time of engagement, the liturgy of Advent is about expecting and awaiting a union with the beloved; preparing our hearts and our homes for a new life in a new relationship. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “By sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: He must increase, but I must decrease” (524).
Waiting through Advent teaches us to decrease ourselves in order to create space for Christ. Waiting throughout our lives invites us to decrease ourselves in order to create space for our beloved.
This time of longing is not only about being patient, but also about surrendering ourselves to prepare for more love. Have courage in your love, in your suffering--you are promised an oasis.