OK, this will be my last post concerning our MH Advent customs, mostly because after today we get waaaaaaay too busy with our immediate Christmas preparations to manage any additional 'customizing'.
Today, though, is St. Lucy. Happy feast of St. Lucy - Luciadagen, if you are Swedish. She was a martyr of the fourth century of the Diocletian persecution, whose fama sanctitatis spread to Rome and from Rome to the whole Western Church.
There was something about a young woman whose name means 'light', and who is commemorated near to the Winter Solstice, that captures the imagination of the Christian people, and so multiple customs surrounding St. Lucy have developed over the years.
In Madonna House, Catherine Doherty introduced some of these European customs to us North Americans. One of the things she saw as a European living in the new world was that many customs and traditions had been lost or weakened, and that religious culture was more and more confined to what we did in church. The home was radically secularized, and this is of course a recipe for disaster. So in the early years of MH, she went out of her way to find and introduce various domestic church rituals for us, to recapture the sacred quality of the Catholic household.
St. Lucy is a perfect example of that. We are neither Swedish nor Croatian (for the most part!), but those are our customs here.
From Sweden, we have the young girl (one of our guests) come in the morning into the dining room with a crown with lighted candles, bringing us sweet coffee cake. Lucy, the harbinger of the Light of the World, brings light and sweetness into the winter darkness.
From Croatia, we have the planting of the St. Lucy wheat. Seeds of grain are planted in a small pot on this day, and tended and watered for the rest of Advent. By Christmas, the shoots of wheat are about six-eight inches high, and the pot is placed at the manger. Christ the light of the world is also the Bread of Life, and even in the dark and cold of winter when nothing is growing in the earth, this wheat is growing in the darkness and warmth of the womb of Mary.
Simple customs, childlike as all good customs should be, and carrying within them great symbolic spiritual meaning. St. Lucy's day comes in the heart of winter, a week away from the darkest day of the year, and often in a time of great coldness. It happens to be -20 Celsius here today. In the dark and in the cold, there is light and life. There is growth and renewal. There is sweetness and joy.
And so it is in our lives, although we often don't have the eyes to see it clearly. The darkest, coldest, and most barren seasons we pass through can be, once we are through them, times when the roots of Christ were plunged most deeply into the frozen earth of our hearts, and where his light, in fact, shone most brightly to give us the light we needed.
It is when there is nothing else to see by that Christ shines as the truest light. It is when there is nothing else to eat that the Eucharist is known as the true bread of life. It is when there is no other life that God's life becomes most fully ours. And it is when the full bitterness of life floods our senses and sours our digestion that the sweetness of the Gospel begins to attract us.
And all of this, of course, is precisely what the martyrs of the Church lived out. Lucy, of whom we truly know so little, died for Christ because she knew that to live for Christ was the only life that was truly alive. His light and sweetness were, for her, worth dying for.
And so as we munch on our coffee cake and enjoy the little girl with the candles in her hair (we invented the whole notion of the 'Girl on Fire' you know), and plant our little wheat seeds, we gracefully plunge into the very heart of the Christian mysteries, all wrapped up in homely customs that anyone can do. Happy Lucy day - may its light shine deeply into your heart.