Coming and Going in Advent

Coming and Going in Advent

by Sr. Prisca Ovat MMM                                        Nigeria                          29.11.2023

The approach of advent conjures in our consciousness the memories of Christ’s birth and all the events encasing this season. For whatever reason, waiting is uneasy. The experience can be uncomfortable. Either in anticipating interview/examination results or expecting laboratory test results, waiting comes with burdensome feelings. The apprehension accompanying these moments are emotions that we want to get over. Unlike every other waiting, however, at advent, we wait in gratitude for Christ, the Word made incarnate in the womb of the Virgin, without which our salvation would be incomplete. So, this waiting always leaves us with beautiful anticipated memories and imaginations. Indeed, Christ is worth all the wait.

An African adage says, “What faces one person backs another.” This saying expresses a binary or dual view of life. For missionaries, this adage is experienced in high intensity as a new mission imposes a dual heart-faint experience. On the one hand, the emotive weight of an advent is energy-sapping. On the other hand, bidding farewells are often emotional. So, how should a missionary handle this twin reality?
Saying goodbye is undoubtedly nothing they ever would have conceived, let alone deal with at the moment of their advent. But are there any positives in saying goodbyes? Just as advent leaves one with touchy feelings, so too does come with melancholic moods. Scarcely has there been a farewell offered from a place of elating joy since the term itself connotes a painful exit, a parting manageable only by a few. As it is human nature, we say goodbyes or face leave-taking from our loved ones and colleagues with whom we had worked and shared memories and experiences.

A missionary is a person sent, and for as often as the invitation to move beckons, we rise and go. As a Medical Missionary of Mary, I have had to say several goodbyes for about 13 years, leaving behind a people who had become a family and from whom I had been greatly enriched. But does it feel right to be immune to saying goodbye? So, is there something good about saying goodbye, or must goodbyes always embody sadness?

This was the last question posed to my team. A chain of lamentation followed in response: Where does this leave us? Who will give us all the things we have enjoyed all these years? What will happen to the poor? Valid and genuine as these are, what happens to gratitude for the decades of good things enjoyed? Where is the trust in providence?

The openness to embracing the latter question births freedom and makes an advent experience meaningful. Conceivably, holding on to an old order leaves no room for growth, but the courage to let go frees us to look at life through different lenses, away from the comfort of the norm. Everyone would have to let go through goodbyes. Parents would have to let their children grow and find their path. Teachers would let go of their students as they progress from class to class. Correspondingly, missionaries would unreservedly bid adieu to people whose lives they had deeply shared to take up new responsibilities. Whatever the emotions, goodbyes are undeniably necessary. But when done with an open mind, saying goodbye becomes therapeutic in shaping our future. It opens us to the awareness of the advent stirring at us.

Thus, the best goodbye that helps manage a looming advent experience in a missionary’s life is self-abnegation, distancing oneself from inordinate attachments. With this, advent is embraced with open and free hearts such that, like the blessed Virgin Mary, our response to new missions shall always be: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.”