It is with relief that I face this Ember Week. I need the discipline and introspection that it brings It seems that every Advent I start with great plans to "make straight the way of the Lord", and by this third week find that I have somehow been diverted from the road to Bethlehem by Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.
Contemplating this struggle, I realize that it is just another manifestation of the difficulty of practicing the faith outside of a Catholic culture. However, I have learned that there is so much more that I can do in my own little domestic church.
On the second Sunday of Advent, after we lit the Advent wreath, I read aloud to my family The Land Without a Sunday, by Maria von Trapp. (The link will take you to an online version on the Fisheaters website.) I have often seen it for sale in catalogs, but no one I know has ever suggested that I read it. If you have not, please do. I was amazed, saddened, and inspired by it.
First, The Land Without a Sunday is actually the title of a book written by the von Trapp's neighbors', Baron and Baroness K, after a six weeks visit to Soviet Russia. I was struck by the similarities between Baron K's description of Sundays in Soviet Russia with Sundays in the USA. He said that instead of a Sunday, the Russians had a day off at certain intervals:
What a difference between a day off and a Sunday! The people work in shifts. While one group enjoys its day off, the others continue to work in the factories or on the farms or in the stores, which are always open. As a result the over-all impression throughout the country was that of incessant work, work, work. The atmosphere was one of constant rush and drive;
As a Catholic, I know that Sunday is the Lord's Day, a joyful day, but Maria von Trapp showed me how truly anemic my celebration of Sunday has been. She described Sundays in Austria before World War II where the preparation for Sunday began on Saturday with housecleaning and cooking, followed in the afternoon by the ringing of the church bells, which was called "ringing in the Feierabend". Mrs. von Trapp explained:
Just as some of the big feasts begin the night before--on Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, Easter Eve--so every Sunday throughout the year also starts on its eve. That gives Saturday night its hallowed character.
On Saturday night they stayed home and went to bed early. That explanation gave both light and a piercing pain. Saturday nights have no "hallowed character" at our house.
It was a revelation to me to read about how Sunday was celebrated in Austria, but the real story starts when the von Trapps begin a study of the history of Sunday with their priest.
I realized that until I learn to prepare for and celebrate Sunday properly, I am going to struggle during Advent because
every Saturday is a little Advent, every Sunday a little Christmas Day.