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Christmas in the convent

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I have always loved Advent. The anticipation of something wonderful coming filled my childhood world with delight and awe. Of course, as a child, I was not fully aware of the true nature of my excitement and the anticipation was focused more on myself than on the true gift that was about to fill our world.

Now, as a Sister, Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, my anticipation is not one of frenetic excitement as much as silent expectation and a quiet pause that carries me through the four weeks of Advent to the crib at Bethlehem. The beginning days of this holy season are marked with the beautiful feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is a most special feast day for us as Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In preparation for this day, we join together in a twilight retreat on the evening before and we renew our vows publicly at the feast day Mass, usually celebrated with the school students. 

Walking with Mary and Joseph throughout these Advent weeks is a special tradition I do in my own heart each Advent. As a local community at St. James Convent in Falls Church, we have had faith sharing each Sunday evening surrounding these two powerful saints who lead us to Jesus each day, and in a special way during these sacred weeks. As Christmas draws closer, our IHM community celebrates a carol night. In the main rooms of each convent an Infant Jesus or a nativity scene is placed in a prominent position. Beginning in chapel, the Sisters gather with prayer and carols asking the Baby Jesus to bless our home and special places of gathering as a community. We process through the convent to each nativity scene and continue the prayers and hymns. We usually end at the dining room or community room and have supper.

On Christmas Eve, we have a long IHM tradition called "Courts of the King." Recognizing that Jesus came into the world as king of our hearts, we acknowledge we are members of his royal court.  We know that his castle was a stable and his throne a manger, and the members of the royal court were shepherds, animals, Magi and even the star. Each Christmas Eve we draw a card with a member of that court along with a virtue to embrace over the coming year. We then attend Christmas Eve Mass and welcome our Savior as he comes in the flesh and daily in the Eucharist. I’ve found that the more deeply I live the mysteries of Advent and Christmas, the more aware I am of Jesus’ ongoing invitation to allow him to bring his love to life through us.

Sr. Mary Sue, a Sister, Servant of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, is superior of the St. James Convent and principal of St. James School in Falls Church.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020