Advent Secrecy in the Monastery

The Advent, the seed of the world’s life, was hidden in Our Lady. Like the wheat seed in the earth, the seed of the Bread of Life was in her. Like the golden harvest in the darkness of the earth, the Glory of God was shrined in her darkness. Advent is the season of the secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of Divine Love growing in silence. It is the season of humility, silence and growth.
-Caryll Houselander

At Our Lady of Sorrows Monastery, Advent is certainly a season of “the secret” as British mystic Caryll Houselander says. Not only do we pray that Christ is growing secretly, silently in many hearts throughout the world and in our own, but we also hope to remain anonymous in the prayer and sacrifices we offer as part of our Advent Angel tradition.

What is an Advent Angel? It’s basically like a “Secret Santa” gift exchange: each sister draws the name of another sister a few weeks before Advent starts.
Then, she secretly decorates the door of that sister with anything from quotes to pictures or other Advent-related items all throughout the season.

Additionally, the sister also makes a card and a simple gift for Christmas, which could be something like note cards, a bookmark, or coupons for favorite activities. The real gift, however, is the gift of prayer for the coming year. Whoever is your “Angel” will pray for you and your intentions not only during Advent, but she will arrange a specific way to pray for you all year long!

Advent is a time to simplify our lives, to make room for the Christ Child through prayerful expectation and penance. However, it can be very easy to “fill” up our Advent—even in the convent!-- with all the activities of decorating and card-making.

So for the past few years, the Formation House (the house where the postulants, novices and the formation sisters live) decided to simplify things for the sake of being able to enter more peacefully into the Advent season.

This year, we all made our own Advent wreathes and decorated them beforehand with pop-up stars; that way the Advent Angel could focus primarily on how she is going to pray for the other sister since her door is pretty much already decorated.

It was fun to make them all together, and to see the uniqueness of each wreathe that reflects the tastes and creativity of the different sisters, even though we all started with the same pattern!

So where does the secretive part come in? Well, it’s one thing to decorate another person’s door without that person noticing, but it’s quite another thing to do it without anyone at all noticing! Especially when you live with 14 other people!

Needless to say, Advent involves a good many “secretive” moments to avoid being discovered as we all decorate doors and make cards, because even the smallest clue could give you away!

So do not be alarmed if you see sisters ducking into spare rooms in the wee hours of the morning to avoid being seen putting up items on another sister’s door. (One sister has been known to have fled into a nearby hall closet to avoid discovery!)

Or don’t be taken aback if you get panicked looks from sisters as you unsuspectingly walk into the craft area where “secret things” are being made! It can be very stretching for those of us who are not good at keeping secrets to avoid telling anyone at all who our “Advent Angel” is. But maybe that is simply the discomfort of the Christ-Child growing secretly within us, His life gathering towards His birth at Christmas.

We are praying that you have a prayerful and peaceful Advent. May Our Lady lead you ever deeper into the mystery of her Son!

-Sr. Maria Grace Jameson, novice

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